USCIS recently issued a Policy Memorandum with helpful policy changes for nonimmigrant visa holders wanting to attend school in F-1 status. If you file your F-1 change of status application before your existing status expires:
- You will not need to apply for continual extensions of your current status as long as you are in status when you file the F-1 change of status
- USCIS may grant your F-1 change of status application before the 30-day period prior to the start of your program. It would not do this in the past.
- If you do receive an approved change of status to F-1 more than 30 days before your F-1 program starts, you must take care to not violate the terms of your student status.
From a practical standpoint, this means that you will not have to file continuous extension of status applications to stay in your current nonimmigrant status until the F-1 is approved. For example, if you are currently in B-2 or J-1 status and your status expired in July 2021 but the university program doesn’t start until September 15, file your change of status application to F-1 before your B-2 or J-1 expires.
Before USCIS Issued this Change
Until USCIS issued this memo, you would have had to keep extending your current nonimmigrant status until USCIS approved your change of status application. At the earliest, you would be in student status only 30 days before your program started, leaving you without status from July to September.
Technically, by filing an extension of status application before your other status expired, you maintain lawful status, even if the extension application were still pending due to USCIS’ inability to approve it on time. This process of timely filing an extension application while you are still in lawful status is known as bridging.
After this USCIS Change
This Policy Memo eliminates the bridging requirement. Instead of filing an extension of your current nonimmigrant status, your timely filed F-1 change of status application will serve this purpose. It will give you lawful status and you will not incur the expense of having to continuously file extension applications. Finally, USCIS saves time by not having to adjudicate all these extension applications when it is likely that USCIS will approve the ultimate change of status to F-1 student.
However, on a cautious note, if USCIS does not approve your F-1 change of status application, you will then be out of status if you did not file an extension of your existing status. The Policy Memo does not clarify whether USCIS will consider you to hold valid status if you did not file an extension in addition to the change to F-1 when it denies the F-1 change of status application. Until USCIS clarifies this point, the most cautious way to proceed is to continue to remain in valid status until USCIS approves the F-1 application.