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What to watch out for when changing to F-1 status

While in the U.S., you may need to change your status to a student F-1 visa from another non-immigrant visa in order to extend your stay. Because of a common misunderstanding that adjusting to a student visa requires only financial evidence and an I-20 form, it is important to understand that F-1 applicants are put under closer scrutiny by USCIS and that many of these cases are rejected. 

The most attractive aspect of changing your status to that of a student is that there is no time limit on your stay in the U.S., as long as you maintain a valid I-20. However, if you continue studying only English for an extended time period, you may be suspected by the USCIS of only maintaining your studies in order to reside in the U.S. 

Changing to an F-1 student visa also allows you to use Optional Practical Training, or OPT, after graduation — which means that if you are able to find a work sponsor via OPT, a road to obtaining a work visa or a green card opens up to you. 

Recently, USCIS eliminated a policy that required individuals who requested a change of status to F-1 student to maintain their nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the program start date listed on their I-20 form. This meant that, even for request to change status cases that took up to one year, those who were pending change in status had to apply to change or extend their nonimmigrant status to “bridge the gap.” 

Going forward, USCIS will grant the change of status to F-1 effective the day they approve an application to extend or change an individual’s nonimmigrant status. If USCIS approves an application more than 30 days before the student’s program start date, it will require the student to not violate their F-1 status during that time. 

USCIS said the new policy will reduce workloads and costs for both the applicants and USCIS. In addition, USCIS will keep the grace period, which is the amount of time F-1 students have after the end of their program to leave the U.S., at 60 days, despite their announcement last year that they would reduce it to 30 days. 

Though changing your status to F-1 student may seem simple, as stated above, it is important to keep in mind that these cases are looked into closely. You are advised to prepare carefully before applying for the change.

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