Change of Status from B-1/B-2 Visitor to F-1/M-1 Student

Every year, tens of thousands of visitors arrive at the United States on their B-1 business visitor visa or B-2 visitor visa for pleasure.  Many of them would like to change status from B-1 / B-2 visitor visa status to F-1 student status after their arrival. Some foreign travelers would like to enroll in an ESL course to brush up their English; some others intend to pursue an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in one of the fine institutions in the United States. In these situations, foreign visitors must submit a formal application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to change their status.  They must wait till their request has been approved before starting their academic studies.

Generally speaking, USCIS has the discretionary power to approve or deny this type of applications for non-immigrant status change in the United States, meaning that USCIS will decide whether or not to approve an application based on the facts and circumstances of the case. For example, if an applicant made a false statement when they applied for her B-1 / B-2 visa, the request for a change of status will likely be rejected.

In addition, there has been important policy changes regarding this type of application since 2017.  Not only that applicants must prove that they have maintained their lawful visitor status at the time of submitting the Form I-539, Application for Extension / Change of Nonimmigrant Status, the applicant must also maintain their lawful status throughout the application process until 30 days before the term of the academic studies begins.  For examples, if an applicant's authorized stay in the U.S. has expired, then she is considered to have failed to maintain her immigration status. 

This requirement makes it more difficult for foreigners to apply for changes of status to F-1 because the usual maximum period of authorized stay in B-1/B-2 status is only 6 months.  One way to comply with this new requirement is to submit a timely I-539 application to extend one's B-1/B-2 status to "bridge the gap" in status.  Hence, an applicant must plan her application process and academic studies carefully.  Sometimes more than one extension application is required due to longer adjudication schedule in recent months.  Timing is critical here.  Careful consideration must be given to the academic schedule as well as the USCIS processing schedule.  Sometimes deferral of studies to the following term is necessary.
In short, a foreign visitor may still apply for change of status from B-1/B-2 status to F-1 student status (or M-1 vocational student status).  under the new immigration policy.  However, one must be very careful about maintaining her lawful immigration status throughout the application process.  Extension of status may be required to maintain one's lawful status.  An applicant should work closely not only with her immigration lawyer but also the educational institution's adviser (designated school official) to ensure that both the timing and documentation requirements are met. 


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We serve clients from all countries and walks of life from investors, professionals, skilled labourers, and people wishing to join their family members in the USA.

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Paul Szeto LLC.
190 State Route 27
No. Edison, NJ 08820 USA

Languages: English, Cantonese, Mandarin



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Bar Admissions:
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  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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  • Middlesex County Bar Association
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