USCIS Memorandum for F1 Students and Change of Status
Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
Applicants for Change of Status to F-1 Student No Longer Need to Submit Subsequent Applications to ‘Bridge the Gap’
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced new policy guidance that eliminates the need for individuals who have applied for a change of status (COS) to F-1 student to apply to change or extend their nonimmigrant status while their initial F-1 COS application is pending. Previously, people who wanted to apply for COS to F1 student status, needed to continuously maintain status while their F1 petition was pending. Because of backlogs this process would sometime stake anywhere from 10 months to 18 months (or longer in some situations). And those applicants would need to apply for Visitor status every 6 months to maintain status until the F1 visa was adjudicated. This would often become an expensive and very arduous process.
Under the previous policy, applicants needed to maintain status up to 30 days before the program start date listed on their Form I-20, Certificate for Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, which required them to file extensions, or an initial COS and subsequent extensions ensuring that they would not have a “gap” in status.
There are several reasons why a COS to F1 is not desirable and the time it takes to adjudicate the petition because of huge backlogs, is a main factor. It is so much easier and more efficient to apply for an F1 Visa at a consulate or embassy because the decision is rendered usually more quickly. HOWEVER, in a Covid-19 world with variants and uncertainty to consular post functionality and Presidential suspension orders, the prospect of doing any visa applications or processing through a consular post or the embassy is a daunting thought.
In light of the above, considering a change of status to F1 visa may be a worthwhile consideration. It is always recommended that potential students think long and hard about the options before taking the plunge. There are risks involved including, but not limited to, accidental overstays, denials of extensions, running out of money, or complete and utter boredom from just sitting idle without any purpose for many many months, possibly more than a year.
To prevent a “gap” in status, USCIS will grant the change of status to F-1 effective the day we approve an applicant’s Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. If approved, an application more than 30 days before the student’s program start date, the student must ensure they do not violate their F-1 status during that time. An example of a violation would be engaging in employment, including on-campus employment, more than 30 days before the program start date as listed on their Form I-20.
The new policy will reduce workloads and costs for both the applicants and USCIS. USCIS is in the process of revising the Form I-539 instructions to reflect these changes.