USCIS Eliminates Need for “Bridge” Applications for F-1 Change of Status Applicants

USCIS announced that individuals applying for a change of status (COS) within the U.S. to F-1 student status no longer have to apply to change or extend their nonimmigrant status while their initial F-1 COS application is pending. This eliminates the need to maintain another nonimmigrant status up to 30 days prior to the program start date listed on the student’s Form I-20. Under the previous policy, applicants for student status often had to file an initial COS and subsequent extensions of another nonimmigrant status to ensure there was no gap in status.

The new policy allows USCIS to grant the change of status to F-1 effective on the day the applicant’s I-539 is approved. In order to be eligible for a COS to F-1 student, the individual must be in a valid unexpired nonimmigrant status at the time of filing the initial COS application.

Although the policy is effective immediately, USCIS is still in the process of updating Form I-539 and the form instructions.

Additional Information from USCIS on Changing to Student Status

Changing to F or M Status from Another Nonimmigrant Status

If you are in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status for a purpose other than to attend school and wish to change your nonimmigrant status (PDF) to a student status while remaining in the United States, you must meet the criteria below and submit an application with USCIS to change your status.

In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the United States if:

  • You were lawfully admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant status;
  • Your nonimmigrant status remains valid;
  • You have not violated the conditions of your status; and
  • You have not committed any crimes or engaged in any other actions that would make you ineligible for change of status.

Until you receive notice of approval from USCIS, do not assume the requested status has been approved. Before USCIS may approve your application, you must take the following steps:

Not all nonimmigrant classifications are allowed to change to student status. Read the Form I-539 instructions carefully to ensure that your category is eligible.

What if My Current Status Doesn’t Allow Me to Enroll in Classes?

If you are requesting to change from another nonimmigrant status to F or M student status and your current nonimmigrant status does not permit you to enroll in classes, do not enroll in classes or begin your studies until USCIS has approved your change of status. 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 does not grant your request to change status prior to the start date of classes, you may need to defer attendance and wait until the following term in order to begin your studies at the school in F or M status.

Please note that if you are applying to change status to M status, you must maintain a valid nonimmigrant status while your Form I-539 change of status application is pending.

We encourage all students and prospective students to 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 My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Still Pending Within 30 Days of My F-1 Program Start Date?

Due to processing times, you may have to request that your DSO defer the F-1 program start date 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 program start date. If your COS application is approved, your change of status to F-1 will be effective as of the date of approval. You are not required to obtain status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”), provided that your nonimmigrant status is unexpired at the time of filing the change of status to F-1 application, and you otherwise remain eligible for a change of status.

What if My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Approved More than 30 Days Before My F-1 Program Start Date?

If we approve an application more than 30 days before your program start date, you must ensure that you do not violate your F-1 status. An example of a violation would be engaging in employment, including on-campus employment and practical training, more than 30 days before the program start date as listed on your Form I-20.

Leaving the United States to Become an F-1 or M-1 Student

You may consider consular processing if you are concerned about maintaining your nonimmigrant status to within 30 days of your M-1 program start date (which may be deferred as described above) or are otherwise not eligible to change status to F-1 or M-1 status in the United States. You will need to do the following:

  • Apply to and receive acceptance from a SEVP-certified school.
  • Receive a new initial Form I-20 from your designated school official (DSO).
  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
  • Apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy for an F-1 or M-1 visa to travel to the United States in order to seek admission as a student.
  • If you are from a country where no visa is required, such as Canada, you may proceed directly to a U.S. port of entry or a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station and apply for admission to the United States as an F-1 or M-1 student.
  • Once admitted by an immigration officer in F-1 or M-1 status, you may begin your studies.

For more information about consular processing, please visit the Department of State Travel page. For information about SEVP, please visit the ICE Student and Exchange Visitor Program page or the DHS Study in the States page.

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