Bridging the gap involves filing a Form I-539 so you can request an extension of your current nonimmigrant visa (such as the B-1 or B-2 visas) in addition to the other Form I-539 application to change to student status. If you don’t file the extension request, your Form I-539 request to change to F-1 or M-1 status will be denied.
The bridge requests are complicated because it can take a while for the extension to be approved. You may need to file multiple extension requests.
According to the Maryland State Bar Association, due to the lengthy processing times for the separate Form I-539 requests, “your F-1 or M-1 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.” This means you’ll need to obtain extensions – “up to the date which is 30 days before your new program start date.” You’ll need to pay separate filing fees for each Form I-539 request.
There’s a major complication though in seeking the extension of your B-1/B-2 visas so you can seek the change in status. One you seek to change your status to F-1 (through Form I-539) – if the application isn’t approved within 60 days from the requested start date in SEVIS – it will be canceled unless – the Designated School Official (DSO) manually defers the date of admission to either:
- A later date in the same term provided the student can start the course/school at the same time
- The start of the next term – if the foreigner’s nonimmigrant status doesn’t allow for school attendance until the B-1/B-2 to F-1 status request is approved.
According to the Maryland State Bar Association, “on April 5, 2017, USCIS issued a new policy requiring that the applicants in B-2 status extend their status to cover any “gap” between the expiration of their previous B-2 status and the program start date.” “On February 6, 2018, USCIS revised its instructions to include applications filed by applicants in all other initial nonimmigrant statuses.”
USCIS applicants need to find a way to bridge the gap from the end of their current visa status up to 30 days before the “deferred” program start date.
Generally, B-2 applicants can file for an extension of their status through a second I-539 Form request. The extension request can only be for up to six months. Given that the F-1 request may take up to a year or more, several B-2 extension requests may need to be made – in order to fully bridge the gap. Essentially, USCIS is now making it as difficult as possible to request a change of nonimmigrant status to F-1.