What are the requirements for a non-immigrant to become an F-1 student?
The person must be in the United States in a valid non-immigrant status. He or she cannot have entered under the visa waiver program.
The Technical College of the Lowcountry must have accepted the individual and issued a Form I-20 for a change of status. The non-immigrant must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee to SEVP. Then he or she must file a Form I-539, along with the fee and supporting documents, with USCIS. USCIS will adjudicate the application. If denied, the non-immigrant must be prepared to exit the United States. If approved, USCIS will update the student’s SEVIS record to reflect the change of status, send an approval notice to the student, and issue an updated Form I-94.
Can a nonimmigrant change status from a visitor/tourist (B-1/B-2) visa to an F-1 student visa?
Yes, however, if the adjudicating officer finds grounds to believe that the person initially entered without disclosing his or her intent to become a prospective student, USCIS may deny the application for change of status. It may also be denied if there is a significant gap between the expiration of the non-immigrant’s current status and the date the academic program starts. Non-immigrants may wish to file for an extension of their current status if they run the risk of that status expiring while the change of status application is pending with USCIS.
A non-immigrant who wishes to enter the United States and visit schools with the intent of possible attendance should declare his or her intention and have Prospective Student noted on the Form I-94. Otherwise, if a B-1/2 non-immigrant wishes to change to an F-1, he or she must provide evidence to explain the change of his or her primary purpose for entering the United States.
When non-immigrants apply to visit the United States, they must declare their primary purpose for visiting. Non-immigrants must declare this purpose at least twice: once when applying for a visa at a United States embassy or consulate and again at the U.S. port-of-entry (POE) where they arrive in the United States. The declared primary purpose determines the type of visa needed and the non-immigrant class of admission when admitted at the POE.
Can a nonimmigrant start classes while a change of status to F-1 is pending?
It depends on the nonimmigrant’s current status. Non-immigrants in B-1 and B-2 status may not begin taking classes until the change of status is approved.
Other classes of non-immigrants may begin attending school but their SEVIS record will not be activated until the change of status is approved. F-1 benefits do not start until the change of status takes effect.
We recommend that non-immigrants contact the DSO if USCIS has not adjudicated the change of status at least 15 days before the program start date on their Form I-20. The DSO can defer the program start date. Not deferring the program start date may result in termination of a SEVIS record and a denial of the change of status application.
Is a nonimmigrant that is pending a change of status to F-1 entitled to student benefits?
No. Non-immigrants with pending change of status to F-1 are not entitled to any non-immigrant student benefits (such as on-campus employment) until the change of status takes effect. Until that time, they do, however, retain the benefits for their current non-immigrant status. So, for example, an H-1b must continue to work while a change of status is pending.