How to Change a B-2 Visa to an F-1 Visa
by James Allen on February 10, 2016
The United States government requires full-time students to have F-1 status (read more about this here). Even if you have already been given a B-2 visa (also known as the visitor or tourist visa), you must have an F-1 status in order to enroll in full-time classes. Some schools, like Embassy English, have part-time classes which you can attend with just your B-2 tourist visa. However, if you want full-time classes, F-1 status is required.
If your B-2 visa has not expired, you can request to change your nonimmigrant status from B-2 to F-1 while inside the U.S. Be aware that while there are advantages to this, there are also disadvantages:
Now that you’ve read the advantages and disadvantages, you must decide whether it makes sense to try to change your status or simply apply for a new F-1 visa. If you would rather travel back to your home country and apply for a new F-1 visa, read this how-to guide: How to Get an F-1 Student Visa. If you want to stay in the U.S. and try to change your status, continue reading the steps below.
There are 4 steps to change your status from B-2 to F-1:
1. Apply to an SEVP certified school; if accepted, you will get an I-20 form
2. After you receive the I-20 form, you must pay the $200 SEVIS fee online
3. Fill out form I-539 and mail it together with the $290 filing fee and all other required documents
4. Wait for a response – if all goes well, your request will be approved
Now, let’s look at each one of these steps in greater detail.
In order to receive an F-1 status, you must first be accepted by an accredited school that is SEVP certified (SEVP is the acronym for Student Exchange Visitor Program). This is because schools must be approved by the U.S. government to accept international students with F-1 visas.
All of the schools that Passport Scholars works with are SEVP Certified. To see SEVP Certified schools, visit our school search page or the school search page on the Study in the States website. Once you have applied and have been accepted, the school will send you an I-20 Form. Keep in mind that in some cases, schools will require you to send the entire tuition amount before they send you your I-20 form. If your visa request is denied, the school will issue you a full refund.
The I-20 form is a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” (learn more about that here) and will let your visa interviewer know that you have already been accepted by an SEVP Certified school in the U.S. Once you receive your I-20, be sure to keep it safe and make several copies! You will need the I-20 again when you enter the U.S. and for applying for other government documents like a driver’s license (learn more here).
Once you receive your I-20 from the school you wish to attend, you must pay the I-901 Sevis Fee.
You must use the information found on your I-20 form to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee (watch a video tutorial or read written instructions to see exactly how to pay the fee). Once you are ready to pay, visit fmjfee.com to make your payment online.
There are several ways you can pay this fee. These include paying with a debit or credit card, check, international money order, or through Western Union Quick Pay. Once you have paid the fee you, can return to the website to check on your payment status. If someone is sponsoring your studies for you (e.g. your parents or family members), they can pay that fee for you.
After the payment is made, be sure to print out and save the SEVIS fee payment confirmation. Make several copies of the payment confirmation receipt in case you lose the original, because you will need to submit this receipt along with your I-539 form.
This may be the most confusing step, since Form I-539 is quite long (9 pages). It is important to make sure you fill everything out truthfully and correctly. If there are mistakes, your request to change your status may be denied and you may have to leave the U.S.
Below is a list of all the items and documents you must mail to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):
As I mentioned above, Form I-539 can be confusing to fill out. If you have questions about how to fill it out, you can read the official Form I-539 Instructions here. You can also ask us for help if you are one of our clients.
The two other potentially confusing parts of this step are the “detailed evidence of financial support” and “detailed letter requesting to change your status and explaining why this is necessary.” Here is an explanation of how to properly prepare these documents:
Detailed evidence of financial support:
When you apply for F-1 status, you and/or your family are entirely responsible for all of your costs of tuition, travel, and living expenses. The U.S. government wants to make sure that you have sufficient funds to support all of your expenses while you are in the United States. If someone else is paying for your studies (for example, your parents), they must provide you with 6 months worth of bank statements. If you are paying for the studies by yourself, then you must provide your own personal bank statements. If you have applied for a loan to fund your studies and have been approved, bring the approval letter.
If someone other than your parents will help fund your studies (for example, aunts or uncles, friends, or your employer), they will need to give you 6 months of their bank statements. If they are not U.S. citizens, they must submit a signed and notarized letter guaranteeing that they will pay for your tuition and living expenses. If they are U.S. citizens or are living legally in the U.S., they must instead complete, sign, and mail Form I-134 to you (faxed or emailed copies will most likely be rejected). You must include this when you mail Form I-539. Both Nolo.com and AllLaw.com have good advice on how to properly fill out Form I-134.
Detailed letter requesting to change your status and explaining why this is necessary:
If you have not already entered the U.S., remember to declare yourself as a prospective student when speaking to the immigration officer when you do enter the U.S. This will allow the officer to stamp your visa with a “prospective student” and will improve your chances of successfully changing your status from B-2 to F-1. If you already entered the U.S. and did not declare yourself as a prospective student, you may have more difficulty with changing your status and you will need to answer all of the following questions in your letter:
Below is a sample cover letter:
Dear U.S. Department of Homeland Security Official:
I am currently in the U.S. holding a B-2 visa and would like permission to change my status to F-1 student. I entered the U.S. in a non-student status in order to __________________ (describe your purpose for visiting the U.S. at the time of entry). When I entered the U.S., I told the immigration officer that my purpose for visiting the U.S. was ____________________________.
In __________ (month/year) I decided to apply for admission at ____________________ (the name of your school) because ___________________ (your reason for wanting to study in the U.S.). I was accepted to study ____________ (your area of study, e.g. English as a Foreign Language) in ____________ (month/year).
I intend to enroll full-time and would like to complete my studies from ________________ (start date) to _________________ (end date). I do not wish to leave the U.S. at the present time to change my status because I would suffer the following hardship(s): __________________________________________________________________________________ (e.g. cost of travel).
Please find my I-539 application, I-20, I-94, and supporting materials. My permanent address abroad is: _____________________________. My address in the United States is: ______________________________.
Your assistance and prompt attention to this matter is appreciated.
Once you have prepared all of the required documents, along with your check or money order for the $290 filing fee, you must mail everything together to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox Facility:
If using the U.S. Postal Service, use this address:
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266
If using Express Mail or Courier Delivery, use this address:
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
Important Tip: Be sure to answer all the questions in Form I-539 truthfully and accurately. Also check your other documents, check/money order, and letter for accuracy. Errors can cause delays and prevent you from changing your status.
Processing times vary and can take a long time. You should be prepared to wait anywhere from 3 to 6 months to find out the U.S. government’s decision. This decision is referred to as Form I-797 Notice of Action. This is an important document! Once you receive it, you must keep it in a safe place with your passport, I-20, and I-94.
While waiting to recieve Form I-797, you can check the status of your request online at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/jsps/index.jsp by entering your receipt number. USCIS will typically mail you a receipt after they receive your Form I-539 and the $290 filing fee. If you have online banking, you can also look at the image of the check after it is cashed by USCIS to find the receipt number.
There are some important things to keep in mind:
If your request to change your status is approved, congratulations! You will now be able to begin taking full-time classes. If your request is denied, you may unfortunately have to return to your home country and apply for an F-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate closest to your home.
You should carefully decide whether or not it makes sense to try to change your status from B-2 to F-1. In some cases, it may be easier and faster to travel back to your home country and apply for an F-1 visa. While it may cost more due to travel expenses, it may be the better option.
If you have not yet entered the U.S. with your B-2 visa, be sure to mention you are a “prospective student” to the immigration officer when you do enter the U.S. This will improve your chances of successfully changing your status.
We provide visa advice and assistance to all of our clients, along with support letters to help them in their interviews. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. I wish you all the best as you work to obtain F-1 status!
Do you have questions, comments, or concerns? Get in touch or voice your opinion on social media!