The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Agency provides a few useful questions and answers for foreigners in the United States who want to enroll in a course of study at an approved American institution:

What can I do if my current nonimmigrant visa status doesn’t allow me to change my current status to a course of study program?

The first thing you need to know is that you should NOT enroll in any classes or start your study program – until the USCIS has formally approved your change of status request to F-1 or M-1.

If you enroll or start the studies without approval from the USCIS, it can jeopardize your current nonimmigrant status. Your current request or any future request for F-1 or M-1 status may be denied.

USCIS recommends that if “USCIS has not adjudicated your change of status at least 15 days before the program start date on your Form I-20, contact the Designated School Official (DSO) at your new school.”

If USCIS hasn’t granted your change of status request:

  • You’ll need to defer your attendance until the following terM
  • You’ll also need to wait until the following term to start your studies – once you obtain approval of the F-1 or M-1 change request.

If USCIS does not grant your request to change status prior to the start date of classes, you will need to defer attendance and wait until the following term in order to begin your studies at the school in F or M status. During the delay for your Form I-539 change request, you must still keep your nonimmigrant status in a valid condition. USCIS recommends that students “work closely with their DSO to coordinate the timing of applying for change of status and enrolling in a course of study.”

NOTE: If you are an M-1 student, you may not change to F status while you are in the United States.”

What if I Have a Gap in Status?

The short answer is that the best step is to contact an experienced visa lawyer. Bridging the gap in status from B-1/B-2 status to F-1/M-1 status is very complex – and apt to be very frustrating. Skilled lawyers can explain your rights, the probable time frame, and the practical issues for meeting the gap requirements.

The first date to consider is whether your nonimmigrant status will “expire more than 30 days before your F-1 or M-1 program start date.” If you want to stay in America (as opposed to leaving and applying for F-1/M-1 status from abroad), you do need to “find a way to obtain status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”).”

Generally, if you want to change your status from B-1/B-2 (or another nonimmigrant status) to F-1/M-2, you must file a Form I-539 request to either:

  • Extend your current status
  • Change your status to another nonimmigrant status

This Form I-539 is in addition to the original I-539 request to change your status to F-1/M-1.

If you don’t file the second I-539 form, your first I-539 form will be denied.

You’ll need to continually check “the USCIS processing times while your Form I-539 change of status request is pending to determine if you need to file a request to extend or change your nonimmigrant status.”

Foreigners seeking to study in the US through an F-1 or M-1 visa should also understand that their “program start date may be deferred to the following academic term or semester because USCIS did not make a decision on your Form I-539 change of status application – before your originally intended F-1 or M-1 program start date.”

In some cases, applicants may need to file multiple bridges the gap requests. In addition, these potential students need to understand that there are separate filing fees for each form they file.

Call Herman Legal Group at 1 (216) 696-6170 or fill out our contact form to talk with us about any questions you have regarding changing your B-1 or B-2 status to F-1 or M-1 status.

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