USCIS Revises Change of Status From B-1/B-2 to F-1 Policy
May 8, 2017
US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that it will revise its
interpretation of a rule regarding applications to change status from B visa (B-1 visitor for business and B-2 visitor for pleasure) to F-1 visa (for academic students) or M-1 visa (for vocational students). USCIS's new policy will make the application process more onerous for the visa applicants.
Under the current regulations, B visas are intended exclusively for individuals who enter the United States for a short, defined period of time, for a purpose consistent with the tourist or limited business related activities. An individual may not seek admission under a B visa in order to subsequently engage in activities outside the scope of the B visa requirements, such as working or going to school. If B visitors decide to enroll in school after entering the U.S. , and they meet certain requirements, they may apply to change status from B to F or M student. Change of status applicants should now consider certain procedural guidelines including the revised USCIS adjudication policy before submitting their application.
B-1/B-2 Visitors May Not Enroll in School The current regulations prohibit foreign nationals from enrolling in any course of study in United States while on B-1/B-2 status aside from very limited, short-term recreational study programs and professional conferences (i.e., courses that do not offer credit towards a degree). Enrolling in a course of study will automatically result in a status violation. Individuals in B-1/B-2 status who have violated their immigration status are prohibited from applying to change or extend their status. The regulations also require that B-1/B-2 visitors who wish to change their status to F or M students continue to maintain their status and not work in the US without authorization. The candidate may begin studying or working on campus only after the application to change status is approved.
Application to Change Status from B visa to F/M Student Must Be Approved Before Starting School The application to change status form B visa to F/M student is made on From I-539. The applicant's current nonimmigrant status must be valid at the time the change of status application is received by USCIS and must remain valid up until the date that the new status is requested to begin. In regards to F-1/M-1 nonimmigrant status, one's status is permitted to begin up to 30 days prior to the start of classes. Therefore, for one to change status from B-1/B-2 to F or M status, an applicant's B status must not expire more than 30 days prior to the start of the F or M program start date.
30-Day Revised Gap Rule As explained above, the regulations provide that there cannot be a gap greater than 30 days between the date the B-1/B-2 status expires and the F/M program start date. The USCIS practice was to count this gap period as the time between the expiration of the B-1/B-2 status and the requested (or initial) program start date if USCIS was unable to adjudicate the change of status application in time for the requested start date. The recently revised policy instructs applicants to file a second application to change status to bridge the gap between when the date B-1/B-2 expires and the deferred (actual) program start date. In other words, USCIS has now formalized their policy of requiring the applicant to file a "bridge application" in the event the originally intended F-1 or M-1 visa start date is deferred due to USCIS delay in adjudicating the application to change status. Given the current estimated 8-month processing time to adjudicate an application to change status, the reality is that most B to F or M change of status applicants will likely be required to defer their start date of any course of study.
B-1/B-2 visitors considering applying for a change of status continue to face significant legal and procedural challenges. The revised USCIS 30-day rule is just another complicating factor that creates new pitfalls and increased costs for foreign nationals who wish to study in the U.S. The practical reality forces foreign nationals to "consular process" or apply for new visas at U.S. consulates abroad in order to study in the U.S. within the time frames created by most schools.