This post was most recently updated on October 15th, 2018
What is a B1/B2 Visa?
A Business Visa is a non-immigrant visa that a foreigner may apply for to the USA. This type of visa grants entry for a temporary period. A business visa is appropriate for different business related activities such as attending a conference, business meetings and several other purposes. It is not however appropriate for conducting business.
A Business visa is one of a category of non-immigrant visas issued by the United States government to foreign citizens. The two types of B visa are the B-1 visa- given to people seeking entry for business purposes; and the B-2 visa- given to people seeking entry for tourism or other non-business purposes. A B1/B2 visa combination is usually given to the applicant, simply meaning it can be used for business and pleasure.
What is an F1 Visa?
An F1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those wishing to study in the U.S. An F1 visa is issued to international students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program at a US college or university. F-1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status.
Can I change my B1/B2 visa to an F1 visa?
Yes. If you are in the United States as a tourist (on a B-2 visitor visa), it is possible to change your status to F-1 student, by submitting a request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Approval of this change though is completely subject to USCIS’s discretion. You will have to demonstrate to USCIS’s satisfaction that you arrived without a “preconceived intent to study”.
What is A “Preconceived Intent to Study”?
The B-2 visitor visa is intended only for nonimmigrants who wish to travel to the United States on a temporary basis for pleasure, tourism, or medical treatment. While this can include a short course of study that is recreational in nature, it cannot include course work that will count as credit towards a degree. Many foreign nationals who already have a B-2 visa in their passport assume that they can use it to enter the United States, even when their intent is to study. This is actually inappropriate. The common assumption is to simply file a change of status application once they have been accepted into an academic program. This is what is commonly referred to as a preconceived intent to study.
Your change of status application will most likely be denied, if the USCIS has a reason to believe that you had a preconceived intent to study when you used your B-2 visa for U.S. entry.
If you did not have a preconceived intent to study, you will need to demonstrate and document the situation that led to your decision to pursue an academic program after you gained access into the United States.
A preconceived intent is more difficult to refute if you had made contact with your academic institution soon after your arrival.
What are my Options?: Obtaining a B-2 Prospective Student Visa
You can apply for a B2 Prospective Student visa instead. The B-2 prospective student visa eliminates USCIS’s concern about preconceived intent and actually increases your chances of a successful change of status application. The issue of preconceived intent can be worked out before entering the U.S if you are honest about your intentions when you apply for the B-2 visa. If you truly are traveling to the United States as a tourist with the intent to study, you can request a B-2 prospective student visa. This visa can be issued if you are;
- undecided about where you want to study
- have good reasons for entering the United States more than 30 days before your academic program starts, or
- you are scheduled for an admission interview or entrance exam.
Requirements for a Change of Status from B1/B2 to F1.
- Submit Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to USCIS, by mail. The I-539 application must include supporting documents that show that you are eligible for F-1 status. This documentation should include, but is not limited to the following:
- Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status) issued by the academic institution you are going to attend.
- Proof of liquid assets to cover your estimated education and living expenses; and
- Proof that you have significant ties to your home country and will return when you complete your academic program.
- Pay your I-901 SEVIS fee
- Pay the USCIS filing fee for I-539
- Finally, Prepare for your change of status interview.
When you prepare the I-539 application, you will have to consider the fact that you are required maintain your B-2 visitor status at the time of application. It is important to include any evidence that you have to counter any preconceived intent to study when you filed for B1/B2 status, in your application.
Lastly on Timing
USCIS will only approve your Form I-539 change of status request if you are maintaining your B1 status up to 30 days before your program’s initial start date. If your status will expire more than 30 days before your F1 program’s initial start date, you must file a second Form I-539 requesting to extend your B1 status. If you are concerned that you will not be able to file a successful change of status application, or if your change of status application gets denied, you can leave the United States and apply for your F-1 visa in your home country. The processing time for this is generally shorter than going through a change of status with USCIS.