Change of Status from an F-1 or J-1 Visa to B-2 Visa

By Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.

If an individual is in the United States on an F-1 or J-1 visa and they stopped attending school or ended their purpose for the J-1 has ended, then they need to consider changing their status to prevent accruing unlawful presence if they are not leaving the US within their grace period because of Covid-19. A J-1 visa is given to individuals approved to take part in work and study based exchange visitor programs. The F-1 visa is a temporary nonimmigrant visa that is available to individuals who wish to come to the United States to attend an academic program or English Language Program at a U.S. college or university.

A F-1 or J-1 visa holder can change their status to a B-2 visa (visitor visa). In order to do so, the individual must file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that a change of status application is submitted no later than 60 days before an individual’s authorized period of stay expires. The good thing about applying for a B-2 visa is that in most cases an individual does not have to leave the U.S. in order to change their status and it can be a useful way to remain temporarily in the United States to either tour, visit friends/family, or wind up affairs.

To qualify for a B-2 visa an individual must show USCIS that their stay is for a specific limited period of time; financially able to fund the trip and stay on their own; show proof that they have a residence outside of the U.S. and an intention of returning at the end of the visit; and they don’t have any other restrictions that would not allow them to stay in the U.S.  

Once an individual changes status to a B-2 visa they will not be able to work, whether paid or unpaid, or receive education towards a degree. They must stick to the parameters of the B2 category. The following are additional travel activities not allowed to partake in while on a B-2 visa:

  • Arrive in the U.S. as a part of a crew of a ship or an aircraft;
  • Work as a journalist, foreign press, or other information media;
  • Perform before a paying audience;
  • Manage a business located in the U.S; or
  • Permanently reside in the U.S.

Under a B-2 visa an individual may stay in the U.S. between one and six months, six months being the maximum. After the initial period of stay ends, an extension of stay may be granted for up to an additional six months for good reasons. The maximum total amount of time permitted in B-2 status on a single trip is one year unless there are exigent circumstances. There are no dependent categories of B-2 nonimmigrants, spouse and children under the age of 21. Each dependent who will join the B-2 visa holder to the U.S. must apply separately for their own B-2 visa.

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