Changing Nonimmigrant Status

USCIS I-539 Application Changes Effective March 11, 2019

USCIS has revised Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status and new I-539A  which is now published on their website as of March 8, 2019. Starting March 22, 2019, USCIS will accept only the latest (02/04/2019) version of Form I-539 and Form I-539A.  (You can find the edition date at the bottom of the page on the I-539 form and instructions.) The new Form I-539A takes the place of the Form I-539 Supplement A of prior versions, for applications involving multiple individuals such as family members. For more information see here: USCIS to Publish Revised Form I-539 and New Form I-539AUSCIS will reject any revised Form I-539 that is missing any of the required signatures or biometrics fees, including those required for Form I-539A.
Old versions of the form must be received by close of business on March 21, 2019. USCIS will reject any Form I-539 with an edition date of 12/23/16, or earlier, that is received by USCIS after March 21. 
The revised Form I-539 includes the following significant changes:
  • Every co-applicant included on the primary applicant’s Form I-539 must submit and sign a separate Form I-539A, now available on the Form I-539 webpage as of March 8, 2019. Parents or guardians may sign on behalf of children under 14 or any co-applicant who is not mentally competent to sign.
  • Every applicant and co-applicant must also pay pay an $85 biometric services fee, except certain A, G, and NATO nonimmigrants as noted in the new Form I-539 Instructions published on March 8.
  • Every applicant and co-applicant will receive a biometric services appointment notice, regardless of age, containing their individual receipt number. The biometric services appointments will be scheduled at the Application Support Center (ASC) closest to the primary applicant’s address. Co-applicants who wish to be scheduled at a different ASC location should file a separate Form I-539.

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A person's nonimmigrant status must match the purpose of his/her stay in the U.S.  A change of status may be necessary when the objectives of the visit have changed. For example, a person may come to the U.S. to study on an F-1 student visa and then later decide to change to a J-1 Research Scholar to do postdoctoral work after completing his/her Ph.D. degree.

Changing nonimmigrant status can be a complex process.

The timing of the change is critical and must be done with care to avoid falling out of status during the transition. Before you undertake a change of status, it is critical that you speak with an adviser at Berkeley International Office about the process as early as possible to determine the appropriate process and timeline.

In general, there are two ways to change nonimmigrant status: 

  1. Travel outside the U.S. and re-enter in the new status, or
  2. Remain in the U.S. and request a change of status by application 
    to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

COMPARE THE DIFFERENT PROCESSES

 

CHANGE BY TRAVEL

CHANGE BY USCIS

Cost

  • Plane ticket to home country
  • Visa application fee (varies)
  • SEVIS Fee
  • USCIS Processing Fee of $370 
  • Biometrics Services Fee of $85 for each applicant and each co-applicant (dependent spouse or children)
  • SEVIS Fee

Processing
Time

Changing nonimmigrant status via travel requires visiting a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. to obtain the new visa stamp, so the length of time is dependent on how long that process will take. Due to delays, long processing times and security checks, we recommend speaking with an adviser at Berkeley International Office before choosing this option. Visa processing without security checks can be from 7-21 days. Security checks can take an additional 3 months.

NOTE:  Your re-entry date to the U.S. may be up to 30 days prior to your DS-2019 or I-20 start date.  If your re-entry date is delayed, notify your department and Berkeley International Office.

USCIS processing time for a change of status can vary. In recent Berkeley International Office experience, the process can take approximately 4-6 months or more. Biometrics scheduling will take 17 days on average (assuming no re-scheduling of biometrics requested). Processing times are subject to change and not guaranteed. Check USCIS Processing Times for the Service Center at which you submit your I-539 request.

NOTE:  This process does NOT provide you a new visa stamp.  The next time you travel outside the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to apply for a new visa that reflects your changed status.

While the application is processing, the change of status petitioner may not leave the U.S. or the application will be considered abandoned.

If your current US immigration status expires while the change of status is pending, this may cause serious problems with the change of status request.

Other Concerns

It is very difficult to obtain a visa stamp in Canada or Mexico if you are not a national of that country.  If denied a visa, you must return to your home country to apply for a visa there. Berkeley International Office does not recommend applying for a visa stamp in either Canada or Mexico unless you are a legal resident of these countries.   

Due to time restraints, changing nonimmigrant status via application to USCIS may not be the best option for certain student/scholars needing to begin full-time study or employment within less than 4 months.

If your current U.S. immigration status will expire within 6 months of filing for your change of status, changing status via USCIS may not be possible or may have a very high risk of denial.

Study or Employment in B-1/B-2 Status:
Visitors in B-1/B-2 status cannot begin full-time or degree-seeking study or begin employment until the change of status to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS.

Study or Employment in F-2 Status:
F-2 dependents may not begin employment until the status change to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS. F-2 spouses and children may enroll in UC Berkeley academic programs for less than a full course of study. F-2 spouses and children may not enroll full-time in a UC Berkeley program until a change of status to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS. 

Employment Issues:
F-1 or J-1 employment cannot be authorized until the change of status to F-1 or J-1 has been approved by USCIS. Until the F-1 or J-1 change of status has been approved, refer to the employment authorization rules which apply to your current visa status. Be aware that if your current visa status expires and your F-1 or J-1 change of status is still pending, no employment authorization is possible.

Prior J-1 Status Holders:
Individuals subject to the J-1 Two Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement are not eligible for change of status within the US unless they have proof that they have been waived of the requirement.

Change of Status tutorial cover

Tutorial currently unavailable—under revision regarding new I-539/I-539A procedures.