by Immigration Attorney Michele Strickland
So you entered as a visitor and decided to go to college. You applied and were accepted to a school and the DSO issued an I-20, now what? It is very important to know that you may not enroll and attend classes while on a tourist visa (B-1/B- 2). You must first either leave the country and obtain an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate or remain in the U.S and apply to change your status.
For many it is a hardship to have to return to one’s home country to apply for a visa. You may apply to change your status to F-1 or M-1 if: you have not enrolled in classes; if your current status has not expired; and if you have not worked in the U.S. without employment authorization. To change your status you must file a Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Status.
One key factor to keep in mind is that you must remain in status while your application is pending. Many applicants must file a second Form I-539 – with a separate filing fee – to extend their B-1/B- 2 status. This applies to you if your current status will expire more than 30 days before the F-1 or M-1 program start date. USCIS may only approve the change of status if you maintain your status up to 30 days before your start date.
You must also file a second Form I-539 if your F-1 or M-1 start date is deferred to the following academic term or semester because USCIS did not make a decision on your application to change status in time to start classes. You must file the second Form I-539 in order to bridge the gap in time between when your current status expires and the 30 day period before your new program start date.
Make sure you check the USCIS processing times before filing your application to determine if you must plan to file two applications with two filing fees. Remember that you cannot enroll in classes until USCIS approves you change of status. This would be a violation of your status and you will not be eligible for a change of status.
It is always best to seek the advice of an immigration lawyer to explore your options and to ensure that you are following the law.