You’ve always wanted to visit the United States, so you obtained a B-2 tourist visa and made your long-awaited trip. A few weeks later, you were so impressed by the quality of American schools that you decided to apply for an F-1 student visa so you can stay in the country and benefit from its superior education system.
This situation is not uncommon. Every year, foreign nationals come to the United States on a B-1 (business visitor) or B-2 (tourist) visa and, inspired by educational opportunities, apply for an F-1 student visa. While it’s certainly possible to make the transition, applying at the wrong time or in the wrong manner can not only result in a refusal but also lead to further immigration problems down the road.
In this blog, the team at the Immigration Law Office of Los Angeles, PC outlines the steps you need to take to switch from B-1/B-2 visitor status to F-1, and how an experienced immigration lawyer can help.
When Switching to an F-1 Visa, Timing is Everything!
The first thing you should know is that applying for a change of status to F-1 too soon after being admitted could lead USCIS to conclude that you were admitted to the U.S. as a visitor with the intention of actually studying (“pre-conceived intent”). This is a basis for denying a change of status and could even lead to denial of future visa applications on the grounds that you misrepresented your intentions in seeking admission to the U.S, a grounds for permanent inadmissibility to the U.S.
While there is no clear answer as to how soon is too soon, there is a wide consensus that a change of status should not be denied on if a person does not take any steps towards becoming a student within the first 90 days after entering the U.S. After that, it is safe to assume that taking steps to apply for a change of status to student (such as applying to a school for admission) will not be, in itself, considered evidence the one sought admission to the U.S. with an intention of changing status.
Nevertheless, regardless of how much time passes before you begin seeking student status, It is important to note that you need to have a valid reason for changing your status from within the U.S. instead of leaving after your visit and seeking an F-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy back home. For example, you may have been in an accident and have difficulty traveling in the near future.
Who is Eligible to Change Their Status From B-1/B-2 to F-1?
Anyone who has been accepted at an approved and fully-accredited U.S. academic (not vocational) institution can apply for a change of status, provided they do so before their I-94 duration of stay expires. (This date will be on their B-1/B-2 visa.), and provided that the school is authorized to issue Forms I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status
Upon acceptance at your chosen school, you can work with the designated school official to obtain a Form I-20. This document certifies that you have:
- Been accepted to a full-time study program, and
- In the school’s opinion, have sufficient financial resources to pay for your studies and support yourself in the United States
Form I-20 is a necessary requirement for applying for a change of status with USCIS while within the country. Once you’ve received it, you must pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Program fee and file Form Form I-539: Application to Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.
Until your change of status is approved, you won’t be able to enroll in a course of study. You will want to contact your designated school official if you’re due to begin your studies in two weeks and have not yet received an approval notice from USCIS.
You Must Remain in the U.S. to Maintain Status; If you leave you will need an F-1 visa to return.
You must remain within the country while the change of status is pending: if you leave at any time during the processing period, USCIS will treat your application as abandoned. Further, if you leave the U.S. after your change of status to F-1 has been approved, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa from a U.S. consulate to return to the U.S. to study. The consulate will make its own determination as to whether it considers you eligible to study in the U.S. and need not attach any significance to the fact that USCIS approved your change of status to F-1. In fact, it is well known that some consular officers will consider the fact that someone changed their status to F-1 in the U.S. as evidence that the person lied to the consulate when it previously told it that they were coming to the U.S. only to visit and might, on that ground deny the person an F-1 visa, or any other visa they might apply for. Therefore international travel after changing status to F-1 in the U.S. always contains an element of risk of being stuck outside the U.S.
What if Your B-1/B-2 Visa Expires Before Approval?
You are not required to extend your B-1 or B-2 status while your change of status to F-1 is pending. This is a significant change in USCIS policy announced in a memo dated July 20, 2021. Prior to that applicants for a change of status to F-1 were required to continue to extend there B-1 / B-2 (or other) status while their application was pending. Fortunately, no more.
Can you get F-1 status without applying for a change of status.
You always have the option of departing from the United States and apply for your F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. In fact, this is a much faster option. Nevertheless, many people avoid it, both because it is widely believed that it is more difficult to get an F-1 visa at a consulate than by changing one’s status in the U.S., and also because if one is refused a visa at a consulate, one may not have a way of returning to the U.S., unless one has another valid visa (and consular officers have been known to cancel existing visas when refusing – or granting – new ones). Once a new F-1 visa received, you can return to study in the United States and travel in and out of the country as needed, for as long as your visa is valid. However, each time you seek admission to the U.S., even with a valid visa, the immigration officer at the airport or land border will make his or her own determination as to whether you are eligible for F-1 status, and if it is decided that you are not, the officer may refuse you admission and cancel your visa, and may even issue a removal order barring you from returning to the U.S. for five years. Sadly, there is usually no legal remedy for such refusals, no matter how unfair.
Note: You can request admission as an F-1 student directly at a U.S. port of entry if you are a Canadian citizen. Again, you must have a valid I-20 and evidence of your financial ability to live and study in the U.S. for the length of your educational program, as well as evidence of ties to your home country strong enough to persuade an immigration officer that you will leave the U.S. after the completion of your studies.
Upon receiving an F-1 student visa, you will be able to come to the United States with your qualifying dependent relatives and engage in your academic studies for as long as it takes for you to complete your program of study. Afterward, you may also be eligible for temporary employment (optional practical training) related to your area of study.
How Can a Los Angeles Immigration Lawyer Help?
Transitioning from B-1/ B-2 visitor visa status to F-1 can result in complications. For example, if you have to go home mid-study because a relative is sick, it can be risky to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas after you’ve had a Form I-539 change of status approved by USCIS within the United States. These applications have been scrutinized more and more, leading to higher denial rates.
It is therefore advisable to consult an experienced immigration attorney prior to seeking a change of status from B-1/B-2 visitor to F-1 student while in the United States. Your attorney can help you navigate the process and decide whether it is best to apply for an F-1 student visa overseas rather than change your status within the country.
Questions About Changing to F-1 Status in the United States?
Unlike some nonimmigrant visas, there is no cap on the number of F-1 student visas available. Millions of international students have therefore enjoyed the opportunity to study in the United States. However, the process to secure a student visa can be difficult and time-consuming, especially when you’re changing your status from B-1 or B-2 while you’re still in the country.
At the Immigration Law Office of Los Angeles, PC, we can help you obtain U.S. study authorization by guiding you through the B-1/B-2 adjustment process or preparing you for consular interviews back home. To schedule a consultation with one of our immigration lawyers, please call (213) 375-4084 or contact us online.