How to Change the Status of a B2 Tourist Visa
Tourists sometimes change their plans. You may come to the U.S. as a tourist on a B-2 visa but then decide that you want to stay and work. Or you may arrive with the intent to sightsee but realize you want to enroll as a student. In order to legally stay in the U.S., you need to apply for a change of your visa status. You can complete the required paperwork and submit it to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS).
Completing an Application
Find the date your visa expires.You need to apply before your visa expires. Ideally, you will apply at least 45 days before the expiration date. You can find the expiration date on your I-94 “Arrival/Departure Form.”
- If you were admitted into the country using a land port of entry, then you should receive a paper copy of your Form I-94. Hold onto it, as you will need to submit a copy with your application to change your status.
- However, paper I-94 forms are not issued if you enter the country by air or sea port. Instead, you will have to print off a copy by visiting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.At the website, you can enter your name, date of birth, passport number, and the name of the country that issued your passport.
Check that you qualify to change status.Not everyone can change their status, In particular, you cannot change your status if you’ve done something wrong while in the country. For example, the following may disqualify you:
- You entered the country unlawfully. If you snuck in and then got your tourist visa, you aren’t eligible to change your status.
- You committed a crime inside the United States.
- You did something other than act as a tourist. For example, if you already started working on a tourist visa, then USCIS will not change your status.
Identify the new visa that you want.You can change from a B-2 tourist visa to many different visa categories. A complete list is available from USCIS. However, the most common visas are the following:
- Work visas. There are many categories of work visas. Some are for temporary workers, intracompany transferees, or for athletes and entertainers.
- Student visas. If you want to study at a vocational school or a college or university, then you will need either an M visa (vocational) or F visa (academic).
Speak to your employer.In order to work in the U.S., there has to be a visa available in your worker category. For example, the U.S. government allots only so many H-1B visas in a year. The employer also has to complete paperwork in order to get permission to hire a foreign worker. You should talk with the employer about getting the visa.
- If you are approved for a work visa, then you will need to complete Form I-539 if you have children or a spouse who want to stay with you in the U.S. as you work.
Download Form I-539.You must complete Form I-539, “Application to Change Nonimmigrant Status.” This form is available online. You should download the form and its instructions.
- You can also order a form by calling USCIS at 1-800-870-3676. Forms are free.
Complete Form I-539.You should type the information into the form or write neatly using black ink. Answer all questions that apply to you and write “N/A” or “not applicable” to anything that doesn’t apply. The form will ask for the following information:
- your full name
- your Alien Registration Number (if you have one)
- your current mailing address
- the physical address where you are staying
- your foreign address
- your date of birth and country of birth
- your passport number and the date it expires
- the country that issued your passport
- any travel document numbers
- your I-94 record number
- the date you want your change of status to be effective
- details about prior applications to USCIS
- details about your criminal background
- your signature under penalty of perjury (required)
Writing an Affidavit
Format your document.You need to provide background information to USCIS so that they will feel confident that you are not trying to stay in the U.S. permanently. You should draft an “affidavit,” which is a statement signed under penalty of perjury.You can set the affidavit up like a business letter.
Explain why you want to change your status.You need to tell USCIS why you want a change from a tourist visa to your new status, as a worker, student, or something else. Go into as much detail as possible.
- For example, you might have suddenly been offered a job in the U.S. because of a contact you made at a social gathering. You should provide the person’s name, details about the job, and when it would start.
State when you plan to leave.Also provide details about your departure.USCIS will feel reassured that you aren’t intending to stay in the U.S. indefinitely if you can point to the date you intend to leave.
- You don’t have to book a flight home. However, you should provide a date and show that you know flights leave your city for your home country on that date.
Show that you can financially support yourself.You also need to explain how you will support yourself financially while in the U.S.The U.S. government doesn’t want you in the country if you need to use public assistance or other welfare programs. Accordingly, identify your income:
- your savings
- student loans or grants (if you are changing to student status)
- proposed salary (if you are trying to get a work visa)
- family support
Explain your ties to your home country.Let USCIS know why you will be returning to your home country even if your visa status is changed. For example, you could tell them that your family is back in your home country living in your house and that your job is only temporary so that you can learn new skills.
- If you are young and applying for a student visa, then it can be difficult to establish strong ties with your home country. USCIS is aware of this. Nevertheless, you should explain that your family lives in your home country and that you intend to return there.
Get supporting documents.You should support statements made in your affidavit with documents, if possible. For example, you should look for the following, which you could submit with your application:
- Bank accounts or pay stubs to show that you have enough money to support yourself in the U.S.
- An affidavit from friends or relatives stating that they will support you while you are in the U.S.
- Property records showing you have a home in your home country.
- A letter from a foreign employer, stating you have a job waiting for you when you return to your home country.
Sign the affidavit under penalty of perjury.Just above your signature line, you should include the words “I certify under penalty of perjury under United States law that I know the contents of this affidavit and that the information contained within it is true and correct.”
Completing Requirements to Become a Student
Check if you got a “prospective student” notation on your visa.When you applied for your tourist visa, you may have told the U.S. Embassy that you were interested in becoming a student. If you did, then a special notation should have been entered on your visa.
- You can still apply to change your status even if you don’t have the notation. However, you should explain in your affidavit how and why you suddenly became interested in becoming a student while in the U.S.
Apply to a college or vocational school.You should gain admission to a college or vocational school first. Most educational institutions have offices for international students. You should stop in. Someone in the office can guide you through the process.
- If you are admitted to a school, you will get a SEVIS I-20 form after paying a fee. You should read the form closely. The form should be signed by the school’s Designated Student Officer. If any information is incorrect, contact the Officer.
Gather required documents.You need to show that you are qualified to undertake your proposed plan of study. Accordingly, you should gather and assemble required documents, such as the following:
- standardized test scores
- your admission letter to the U.S. college, university, or vocational school
Submitting the Application
Get proof of “extraordinary circumstances” if your visa has expired.Ideally, you apply for a change of status before your visa expires. However, unforeseen circumstances might have prevented you. In this situation, you will need to get evidence of these circumstances, which could include:
- A medical emergency. If you fell sick or were in an accident, then your visa might have expired before you could apply for a change of status. In this case, get proof of the medical injury—doctor and hospital records, as well as medical bills.
- Theft. You might have had your passport and other documents stolen from you. If so, get a copy of the police report that you filed.
- Error in your application. You might have filed a timely application to change your status. However, the application might have been inadequate in some way and been returned to you (e.g., for forgetting the filing fee).
Write a check or money order.There is a 0 application fee. You can pay by check or money order, payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Do not use abbreviations like “DHS” or “USDHS”.
Assemble your application.Take your completed I-539, supporting documents, and I-94 and make a complete copy of your packet. This copy will be for your records. Then slide the complete application into a sturdy envelope.
Mail your application to the appropriate address.The address sometimes changes, so you should call USCIS 1-800-375-5283 to get the current address to send your completed application.Unfortunately, electronic submission is currently unavailable.
- You should mail using certified mail, return receipt requested, or by using a courier service such as UPS or FedEx.
Avoid accepting a job or enrolling as a student.You have to wait for your visa to be approved before you can either accept a job or enroll in a college or vocational school. If you don’t wait, then you are breaking the law and your change of visa status will be denied.
Provide follow-up information, if requested.USCIS might need additional documents, or they might want to talk with you, so they may schedule an interview. Provide all requested information as promptly as possible.
Receive your decision.After submitting your application, you should have received a receipt from USCIS. This receipt should have included an estimate of when USCIS would make a decision.USCIS should send you its decision in the mail.
- Your I-94 might expire before USCIS has made a decision. Technically, you are now considered “out of status” and in the country illegally. However, USCIS will not start any removal proceedings until it has made a decision on your application.
- If your change of status is denied, then your current visa may be immediately cancelled and you will have to return home.
- This article described changing from one nonimmigrant visa to another nonimmigrant visa.
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