It often happens that visitors to the United States (B1/B2 visa-holders) decide that they want to become college students (F1 visa-holders). While it is possible to make such a change of visa category, there are disadvantages to such a change. So before explaining how to apply for such a change, I will review these disadvantages.
Nevertheless, many changes from B2 to F1 are actually approved by INS. The form that you will need to use is called I-539. So, if you want to try to obtain approval for such a change, here is the recommended procedure.
- In most cases it will take about three or four months to gain approval for a change for B1/B2 to F1. In some cases it takes even longer. Nearly always a six-month visitor's visa will expire while you are waiting for INS to approve the change, thus leaving you without a valid visa for re-entering the US should you have to leave the country while waiting for the change to be approved.
- Even after INS approves the change, you are still left without a valid visa. After approval you will be legally present in the US as a student; but if you leave the US, you will have to obtain a new visa in order to re-enter this country. And there is no guarantee that officials at consular offices and embassies will agree to issue the new visa.
- While waiting for INS to approve the visa category change, you will remain in B1/B2 visitor's status. There is no possibility of getting employment authorization or a Social Security number while you are in B1/B2 status. Since many states in the US will not issue a driver's license to persons without Social Security numbers, you may run into transportation difficulties.
- In order to gain approval of a change from B2 visitor status to F1 student, your application will have to convince INS officials that you did not enter the US on a visitor's visa because you could not, or thought you could not, obtain a student visa.
- If you apply for a change from B2 to F1 very soon after arriving in the US, INS officials will probably deny your application. INS considers that a rapid change from visitor's status to student status is evidence that you misrepresented your purpose for coming to the US and that you should leave the country and apply for a student visa in the normal manner.
I-539 Application Process
- About 30 days before the departure date indicated on your I-94 departure card, you should visit the school you are trying to join and discuss admissions requirements with the international student advisor at that school. If you can satisfy that school's admission requirements, you will be issued an I-20 Certificate of Eligibility.
- If you receive an I-20 from the school, you should then request form I-539 and complete that form, and attach to it a $120 processing fee, and supporting documentation. (The international student advisor will tell you what that supporting documentation should include -- copies of passport, I-94, visa, cover letter, etc.)
- You then mail your application and your new I-20, the $120 fee, and all the supporting materials to the appropriate INS regional document processing center. It will take from 90 to 120 days for INS to make a ruling on your application.
For more useful advice on obtaining US student visas, go to "How To Get an American University Degree."
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