What is Change of Status?
When an immigrant enters US, that alien is given a visa category. This is mentioned in the I-94 that is issued at PoE (Port of Entry). Immigration laws allow the alien to move from one visa category to another (say from H-4 to H-1 or F-1 to H-1 or L-1 to H-1 etc), w/o needing to go out of the country and getting the visa stamped for the new category. This process is called Change of Status.
What is the process for COS?
When applying for COS, following steps happen:
1. The applicant submits COS form (I-539).
2. Additional documents need to be submitted to show that the alien has been maintaining valid status in US, and will be able to maintain status in the new visa category. To demonstrate this, one needs to submit:
– copy of current I-94
– copy of payslips and W2s (when current visa category is H-1 or L-1 or F-1 OPT)
– copy of spouse’s payslips and W2s (when current visa category is H-4 or L-2)
– employment documents (when new visa category is H-1 or L-1)
– spouse’s employment documents (when new visa category is H-4 or L-2)
How long does COS take to process?
If just the COS is filed, then it takes around 2 months to process. If the COS is filed along w/ I-129, then it can take 2-6 months to process. The actual processing times are available at USCIS website.
Can I expedite 221g processing?
If just the COS is filed, then it cannot be expedited. If it is filed along w/ I-129, then it can be upgraded to premium processing. In this case, it will be adjudicated within 15 calendar days.
What happens once COS is approved?
If USCIS approves the COS, then they would issue approved 797 along w/ an attached I-94. The attached I-94 will have the start and end date of the new visa category along w/ annotation for the new visa category. The alien will be on the new visa category from the start date mentioned in the approval notice, and is supposed to start maintaining the new status from that date. For example, if COS is applied from L-1 to H-1, then L-1 status needs to be maintained until COS approval date, and H-1 status needs to be maintained thereafter.
What happens once COS is denied?
If USCIS denies the COS, then alien would continue to remain on your current visa category and need to maintain the same.
Is no stamping required w/ COS?
When COS is approved, the alien’s visa category changes immediately. No need to immediately go for stamping. However, when the alien leaves the US next and wants to return to US, then they will have to go for the visa stamping of that visa category.
[As I get more information on COS and based on most commonly asked questions in the blog, I will continue to update this post]