US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on July 20, 2021 a new policy regarding Change of Status (COS) to the Nonimmigrant Student (F-1) visa classification. The new policy eliminates the need to document maintenance of nonimmigrant visa status up until the approval date of the COS to F-1 student visa status. Maintenance of another nonimmigrant visa status acted as a “bridge” to fill the gap to keep the applicant in status for the duration of time that it took for USCIS to adjudicate the Form I-539 COS to F-1. Since it has been taking more than one year to adjudicate the COS I-539, applicants have been forced to file multiple I-539 forms requesting B-2 status extensions in six month increments to fill the gap in status. In order for the change of status to F-1 be granted, the applicant had to not only document there was no break in immigration status, but also needed to provide a school’s I-20  documenting a program start date no later than 30 days from the expiration of their  status. This resulted in not only the need to file multiple I-539 applications, but the need for schools to defer program start dates often more than once.

Under the new policy, an applicant must still be in valid nonimmigrant status at the time the I-539 application for COS is filed with USCIS. USCIS will grant F-1 status effective the date the application is approved which may be earlier than 30 days before the program start date. If approved more than 30 days prior to the program start date, the applicant must ensure USCIS that they will not violate their status during that time.

This is a welcome change in policy, as applicants wanting to file a COS to F-1 will no longer have the expense of filing multiple applications in order to “bridge” the gap. This will also be beneficial to USCIS cutting down on the number of I-539 forms that have to be adjudicated and often requiring the issuance of a Request for Evidence (RFE) asking for evidence of maintenance of status during the pendency of their application or an I-20 with a deferred start date.

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