If you are in the United States in a valid nonimmigrant status, such as B1/B2 tourist, you may be able to change your status to an F-1 (international student) status from inside the United States. This process is called a change of status. There are many benefits and important things to keep in mind when considering a change of status.
Change Your Status in The United States
In short, to do a change of status process, you must submit an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requesting the change. This application is called the I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Along with the application you will submit supporting documents showing that you qualify for F-1 status. Generally, you should submit the following types of documents:
Ties to your home country;
Financial documents (showing you can afford to study in the United States and not work); and
Documents from School in the U.S. (Admission letter, Form I-20, SEVIS Fee payment).
Benefits and Challenges of Changing Your Nonimmigrant Status in The United States
You are allowed to stay in the United States during the entire process. In other words, you must stay in the United States until the application is decided.
Family members are usually allowed to change their nonimmigrant status along with the primary applicant.
There is no interview during the change of status process. USCIS will make a decision based on the documents submitted.
If approved, you will not receive an F-1 visa in your passport. You will only receive an approval to stay in the United States as an F-1 student. If you choose to travel after approval, you will need to go to an interview at a U.S. Consulate abroad and acquire the F-1 visa.
If you are in B1/B2 status when filing, you are not allowed to enroll in a course of study until after the change of status application is approved.
Should You Change your Status in the U.S.?
Before making this decision, you must consider the following questions:
What is your short-term and long-term immigration goal?
Do you need to travel outside of the United States soon? (If you do, then a change of status to F-1 might not be the best option for you)
You must be in the U.S. at the time of application and remain in the country until the application is decided.
You must be in valid status at the time you apply for the change of status.
The application will only be approved if you are able to show evidence that you meet the requirements to be an F-1 student in the U.S.
If you entered the country on a visa waiver program (VWP or ESTA), you will not be able to file a change of status. Instead, you will need to go to a U.S. Consulate abroad and apply for a visa there.
If you are thinking of filing for a change of status to F-1, you should carefully consider the processing times, expiration dates, documentation requirements, etc. It is advisable to consult with an immigration attorney to identify the best option for you.
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