Can I Change My Tourist Visa to Student Visa in USA?

The 2018 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange states that the number of international students in the US crossed the one million mark for the third consecutive year in 2018.

While many tourists have a clear idea about the nature of their visit to the United States, there are times when there could be a sudden change in plans during the trip. For instance, what if you are visiting on a tourist visa but find an interesting course that you wish to enroll for. The B2 visa prohibits travelers from studying in America. You will need to change your visa status to a student visa before you can enroll for the program.

So, if you are in the US and need to change your visa status, you can do so by submitting a request to the USCIS. However, it could be an uphill task to get your request approved. This is because you will need to convince the USCIS that you initially arrived without a “preconceived intent to study.” Let’s understand what this phrase really means.

Preconceived Intent to Study

A lot of foreign nationals with B-2 visas assume that they can use it to enter the US, even when they actually want to pursue a course of study. They assume they can apply for a change of visa status once they get accepted in an academic program. This is known as “preconceived intent to study.”

Such a decision creates a conflict with the purpose of the tourist visa. So, if the USCIS even gets a whiff of you having had any such ideas in mind at the time of applying for the B-2 visa, your request for change of status will most likely be denied.

But in case you did not have any preconceived plans on staying in the US for study, you will need to document the reasons for taking the decision after entering the country.

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How to Apply for a Change of Visa Status

If you’re confident that you can demonstrate to the USCIS that your intent to study arose only after entering the US, then you do have a chance to get a status change. Here’s a look at the process to change your tourist visa to student visa while in the US.

  • First, you need to submit Form I-539 to extend/change your non-immigrant status, via mail.
  • The form needs to be supported by documents that prove your eligibility for the F-1 status. Some of these documents are:
  • Proof of liquid assets to bear your education and living expenses.
  • Proof of economic and social ties to your home country, and that you will return to your home country after completion of the academic program.
  • The Form I-20, which is issued by the academic institution.

A Word of Caution

Do not start attending school until you receive approval from the USCIS regarding your status change request. In case you fail to maintain your non-immigrant status, you can be deported from the US and/or barred from returning to the country in future. You authorized status and its expiry date are given on the lower right-hand corner of Form I-94, which is the Arrival-Departure Record.

What if My Request is Denied?

If your status change request is denied, you can leave the US at the end of your trip and apply for a new F-1 visa from your home country.

Here you won’t have to stress over the preconceived intent, and the application process is faster as compared to applying for a status change in the US.

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Mani Karthik

About the Author

Mani Karthik

Ex “NRI” and Founder of the “Back to India” movement. I share my experience about immigrating to USA here.