Change of Immigration Status
Many people already living in the United States must change their visa status in order to become a full-time student or once they have completed their studies, choose to change to a tourist or worker status. If you are in the U.S. in F-2 (spouse or child of an F-1 student) or B-2 (tourist) status you CANNOT begin your studies until your change of status is approved by the Immigration Service. Those on other visa statuses, please consult with our office as to your eligibility for study under your current status.
Changing immigration status can be done two different ways:
- Traveling abroad and applying for a new visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate OR
- Filing a change of status application while remaining in the U.S. This process usually takes about 60 days, so you must plan accordingly if you are required to change your status prior to beginning your studies. As long as you file before you current status expires, you are allowed to remain in the U.S. until you receive a response from the Immigration Service. Please note that the next time you travel outside of the country, you will still need to apply for a new visa stamp at the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
Here are some examples of typical changes of status:
A. Change from B-2 Visitor to F-1 Student
It is not recommended to come to the U.S. on a B-2 visitor’s visa if you are planning to attend school full-time. The Immigration Service often will deny the applications for changes from B-2 to F-1 if they feel that the person falsified his or her intentions when entering the U.S. and simply entered on the visitor’s visa to avoid the hassle of applying for an F-1. Please note that you CANNOT come in on the Visa Waiver Program and change to F-1.
If you must enter the U.S. before obtaining your F-1 student visa, you should apply to the U.S. Consulate for a B-2 prospective student’s visa. The Consulate usually will grant the visa if you show them an admission letter and explain why you cannot wait to receive the I-20 Form. Changes of status from this type of visa to the F-1 visa are usually easily approved in the U.S.
If you are not able to do either option and must enter the U.S. before obtaining your F-1 student or B-2 prospective student visa, you should inform the inspecting immigration officer at the port of entry of your intent of becoming a student and show some proof if possible (such as an admission letter.) The immigration officer will then write the notation on your I-94 card that you are a “prospective student.” This should allow you to change your status to F-1.
Note: You will not be allowed to enroll at BC if you are in B-2 status and waiting for your change of status to F-1. You cannot begin classes until your change of status has been approved by the USCIS and you are officially in F-1 status.
B. Change from F-1 Student to B-2 Visitor
As part of your F-1 student status, you have a 60-day grace period to remain in the U.S. after you complete your studies. If you wish to stay longer to be a tourist, you can apply for a change of status to B-2 visitor. You must document that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during this time since no employment is permitted on the B-2 visa. You also will need to convince United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and of your intentions of returning home after your visit. USCIS generally will only allow you to remain in the U.S. for an additional 30-day period unless you have a compelling reason for staying longer.
If you already have a valid tourist visa in your passport or you are from a country which allows you to enter on a “tourist waiver”, the change of status can be accomplished by leaving the country and re-entering as a tourist.
C. Change from F-1 Student Practical Training to H-1b Temporary Worker
For students who wish to continue employment after the expiration of their practical training in most cases it is possible to change status from F-1 student to H-1b temporary worker. However, unlike practical training where no job offer is required, the H-1 visa is employer and job specific. The employer must be willing to “petition” an H-1 for you. Obtaining an H-1 is much more complicated than other visa categories and involves the Department of Labor as well as the Immigration Service. Often the services of an immigration lawyer are advised.
D. Change from F-2 Dependent to F-1 Student
As of January 1, 2003, an F-2 dependent is required to change to F-1 status in order to pursue full time studies (except for F-2 minors studying at the primary or secondary level). If you would like to study full-time in the U.S., you must apply to USCIS for a change of status to F-1. With the application you will need to certify that you have the minimum TOEFL score and sufficient financial certification to cover your tuition and living expenses for the first year of your program. Please be aware that you absolutely CANNOT begin your full-time studies while the petition is pending. Therefore, please apply as far in advance as possible as it can take one month or more for your application to be approved.
E. Change from J-1 Exchange Visitor to Other Visa Categories
Students and scholars who are not subject to the two-year home residency requirement are free to change status to any other visa status for which they qualify. However, if you are subject to the two-year home residency requirement then you are prohibited from changing your visa status to that of an H-1, L-1, or permanent resident until you fulfill the requirement or obtain a waiver. Additionally, if you are subject to the requirement, you cannot change status to F-1 student within the U.S. You must leave the country and apply for the F-1 student visa at a Consulate abroad. This is most easily done in your home country. Please be aware that even if you do return to the U.S. on the F-1 student visa, you are still subject to the residency requirement and will not be able to obtain the H-1 or L-1 visas or permanent residency until you fulfill the requirement or obtain a waiver.
Exchange Visitors are also prohibited from changes in categories within the Exchange Visitor Program in the U.S. For example, you cannot change from a J-1 student to a J-1 scholar or vice versa. Usually you can leave the U.S. and begin a new program.