Can I Change My Tourist Visa to a Student Visa?

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Change of Status: A Comprehensive Guide to Switching from a Tourist Visa to a Student Visa

The United States boasts renowned educational institutions and the prospect of pursuing a degree from an American university is enticing. If you find yourself in the US on a B-2 tourist visa and harbor dreams of pursuing education, the option to switch to an F-1 student visa is within reach.

This guide delves into the intricacies of the application process, the criteria for a change of status, and the documentation required by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be granted a student visa.

At Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, we are dedicated to offering comprehensive guidance through the maze of immigration laws in Texas. Contact our immigration lawyers today and have your questions answered by a qualified and experienced immigration attorney.

Eligibility Criteria

Ensure that you meet the following eligibility requirements.

  • Valid Visa Status: Your B-2 visitor visa must still be valid during your application. You cannot do a change of status application if you’re on a visa waiver program. Always ensure that your nonimmigrant status remains valid to avoid any trouble.

  • Acceptance: You must have been accepted under a US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). The educational institution, whether public or private, must be approved by the US Department of State.

  • Form I-20: The Designated School Official (DSO) of the SEVP-certified school must issue a Form I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Status. This indicates your registration with the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS). The DSO should specify the change of status in the Issue Reason section of Form I-20.

  • Duration of Stay: If your visitor visa will expire more than 30 days before your program start date, you can either extend your current status through USCIS (with a separate filing fee) or leave the US and apply for a student visa through consular processing. Check out the USCIS processing times to make an informed decision.

  • No Preconceived Intent to Study: You must not have entered the United States on a B-2 visitor visa with the intention to take coursework. A change of status application may be denied if the USCIS suspects preconceived intent to study.

If your spouse and children will stay with you while you study, they will also need to obtain a Form I-20, get registered on the SEVIS, and secure a visa.

File your change status application promptly, and let your immigration attorney assess your eligibility based on your circumstances and documents.

Required Documentation

To qualify for the F-1 visa, submit the following documents for USCIS processing:

  • Identifying Documents: A passport valid for at least six months beyond your stay in the United States.

  • Financial Proof: Demonstrate financial capacity for living and studying in the US. Documents such as family bank statements, sponsor details, scholarship letters, financial aid letters, and employment certificates are acceptable. Before issuing a Form I-20, the DSO must have been convinced that you have the financial ability to study in the US.

  • Educational Certificates: Transcripts, certificates, diplomas, and standardized test scores required by the US institution.

You may also need to draft a letter of intent stating your commitment to leaving the US after completing your studies.

If you’re already in the United States on a B1/B2 visa, obtaining the necessary financial and educational proof can be challenging. Your best bet is to get in touch with an immigration attorney who can advise you on how to go about securing those documents.

Procedures and Timelines

When filing for a change of status application, you must file the correct forms (I-539 and I-94). The I-539 form allows individuals with B-1/B-2 visitor visas to apply for an extension or change of status before their lawful admission to the US expires. You must also attend the scheduled interview unless it’s waived by the USCIS.

Filing the Application

Complete Form I-539 legibly and accurately. Use Part 8 for additional information if you need extra space to answer an item. If the answer does not apply to you, put “N/A.”

Submit the form with the original I-94 form (arrival/departure record). You must also include a written statement that details the following:

  • The reasons you are requesting an extension or change of status

  • The temporary nature of your extended stay

  • The impact of your extended stay on your residency or employment in your country

The Interview

You may be required to appear at a USCIS office for your biometrics and interview. The interview typically focuses on identity verification, background checks, and addressing questions about entry, security concerns, and potential fraud.

Timeline for Approval

The processing time varies depending on where the application is filed. At the Texas Service Center, the average processing time for a change of status application is 4.5 months, while the average processing time at the California Service Center is 7.5 months.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Falsehoods and Concealment: The worst mistakes you can make are to willfully falsify, conceal a material fact, or misrepresent your intentions in obtaining a visa. Your application will be denied if the USCIS finds out about the concealment or inaccuracy. You may also be charged with a crime such as perjury and face severe penalties.

  • Violations of Current Status: When applying for a change of status, avoid engaging in activities that will violate your current status, such as working or starting school while awaiting USCIS decisions.

If the school term is about to start, but you have yet to receive your F-1 visa, you should consider deferring your studies.

How Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law Can Help

Dreaming big and pursuing the American Dream is commendable. If studying in the US is your aspiration and you have a valid B-2 visa, we can guide you through the change of status application. Ensure you meet the eligibility criteria, possessing a valid B2 visa, an acceptance letter from a SEVP-approved US academic institution, and proof of financial capacity or scholarship.

Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, can help you with form completion, drafting required letters, and advising on necessary documents to showcase your sincere intentions to study in the US.

Do you have doubts about your chances of securing an F-1 visa? Contact an immigration attorney today, and let’s discuss your options.