Change of Status Journey
by Opeyemi Omidele
WHAT IS Change of Status?
This is when there is need to change the purpose of your visit while in the United States and you must file a request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the appropriate form (Form I-539) before your authorized stay expires.
I came into the United States in the first week of December 2016, on a B-2 (Visitor) Visa, to spend some time with my sister and her family that I haven’t seen in 8 years. I intended staying for a month.
While here, there were two significant things that made me start considering schooling In the US, as this was not my plan at all initially, namely:
I met a family friend who is a professor at a certain University. We talked at length about the teaching method and how very different it is from what exists in our home country and how it is very well backed up with real live scenarios and field trips that are much related to the course of study.
My Brother-in-law is an IT professional here in the US for over 10 years (he had his graduate studies here). I was working in the IT industry back home before my visit for over 6 years in the Information Technology Service Management in a Telecommunications company. We got talking about processes and technology and I knew that there is a lot to learn and take home from here in areas of processes and IT technology.
After these two instances, I started considering schooling in the United States and having a graduate degree in IT. I had my undergraduate study in Chemical Engineering but got a job as an End User Support Engineer, so I decided it was time to have a degree in IT since I have over 6 years work experience in IT.
I started looking and researching about the possibility of COS and also for schools that offer courses related to my course of interest, bearing in mind that I need to file my application to the USCIS at least 60 days to the expiration of my B-2 Status. Please note there is something called intent. This is when you apply for COS within 30/60 day of coming into the country, and it isn’t looked favorably upon by the USCIS. It is advised you apply after 90 days of being in the US.
Another important aspect of COS is strong ties to your home country and your financial situation. The USCIS expects every applicant to prove beyond doubt that he/she will return to his/her home country after the course of study or Academic program. It is also expected that you provide a financial statement in excess of the Tuition of your academic program. If you are being sponsored by Family, you would require a notarized affidavit of support duly signed by your sponsor.
You are advised to have a cover letter attached to your application (Form I-539) that explains why you came to the US on a different visa (e.g. B-2 Visitor Visa), why you now want to change to Academic (F-1 ) visa, what led to the change of mind, how soon after you got into the US did you change your mind, when was the first time you contacted the school, how many schools did you contact , when did you get the I-20 and what informed the choice of the school you settled for? You might also want to explain how your tuition will be paid and what you intend to do on completion of your studies in the US. This is also a good opportunity to explain your strong ties, and also convince the adjudicating officer that you will go back home and not become a liability to the US government.
The COS is a process that takes a long time. It is advised that applicant goes to https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times to have an idea of how long would the wait time be. It is also advised that the applicant does not engage in activities that might void their current non-immigrant status, such as working without authorization, having run with the law, traffic offenses, or any other illegal activities while waiting. Let me emphasize that applying for COS doesn’t mean you changed your status yet until you get an approval notice from the USCIS. It is also important to note that before you B-2 I-94 expires, you need to apply for an extension of status. That means filing another I-539 Application. You cannot be out of status while you are seeking to change status.
It is also very important that applicants check regularly on the USCIS website for changes and updates as it concerns their applications, also join forums such as http://trackitt.com/ and a couple more, that will help understand more about how the cases are adjudicated and get valuable hints and advice. Also work very closely with your DSO, so that your SEVIS status can always be active and your program start date can always be deferred accordingly.
Like I mentioned earlier, this process takes longer and there wouldn’t be any updates until approval or denial, so it was a very frustrating and depressingly long wait for me. There were times I wanted to give up on the whole process, or I wasn’t sure anymore, or I did not know what to expect. There is also the fact that if you get denied you have to leave the United States immediately. There was a lot of uncertainties hanging in the air. I weighed my options and felt maybe I made a wrong decision especially when I saw other people updates about responses and correspondences with USCIS, RFEs ( Request for Additional Evidence), etc.
To be very honest, if I did my research properly, such as checking the current processing time before I applied, I might not have applied to change my status at all. I am married with a daughter that was about 22 months old at the time. I thought that the process would last 3-4 months, which is what I conveyed to my wife, alas it was not to be so. I also thought that doing the COS would help save money as against going back home to apply for the F-1 Visa. However I ended up having to pay for my wife and daughter to come to the US in February 2017 when it was obvious I still had a long wait. Thereby I did not save money by doing the COS. It was also a huge strain on the family as we weren’t ready to be separated for that long at the time. I also missed my daughter’s 2nd and 3rd birthdays. I finally getting ready to leave the US by the third week of December 2017 because I wasn’t ready to miss another Christmas, New Year and most importantly my daughters 3rd year birthday when I finally received the approval from the USCIS on the 18th December 2017, a week to Christmas.
My COS took 9 months to be approved.
I wish everyone who really has a genuine need to take this path the best of luck.