What is Change of Status (COS) ?
When a non-immigrant or an international student/ worker 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/ international student/ worker to move from one visa category to another, with few exceptions, like from H4 visa to H1B or F1 visa to H1 or L1 to H1B, without needing to go out of the country and getting the visa stamped for the new category. This process is called Change of Status and commonly referred as COS in immigration context.
What is the process for Change of Status (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, that states you are in valid status and not I-94 not expired
- Depending on the status you are in, you need to submit additional documents.
- If working on H1B or L1, copy of most recent payslips/ pay stubs and W2s
- If on H4 or L2 as dependent, then copy of spouse’s payslips and W2s (when current visa category is H-4 or L-2)
- If on F1 visa, copy of I20, if working on F1 OPT, relevant pay stubs as well.
- If working employment documents like employment letters, etc.
- Also, if on H4 or L2, then spouse’s employment documents and approval notice of H1B/L1
The above documents are just few examples, if you have any other documents that can prove your status, submit them accordingly.
How long does Change of Status (COS) take to process?
If just the COS is filed, then it takes few months to one year process, there is no specific timeline define. You can check USCIS website to see current processing times. If the COS is filed along with H1B with I-129 form, then it can also take anywhere from few weeks to few months to process. The actual processing times are available at USCIS website. If you have premium processing option available like for moving to H1B, then you can get it done in 15 days, but you need to check USCIS website, if that is available at that point. For instance, in September 2018, USCIS suspended premium processing until Feb 2019
How long can I stay in US with COS in pending state ? What if my I-94 expires ?
In general, you can stay in US, as long as a final decision on your Change of Status (COS) application is made. In general, if your I-94 expires, your status in US ends and you are considered out of status. But, in the case of COS pending application with I-94 expired, you do not accrue ‘unlawful presence’. If your COS is approved, your I-94 tie back to the expired date and you will be considered as maintaining proper status. If let’s say you get denial on your COS application and your I-94 has expired for the previous status, then you will need to leave US immediately after you get the decision notice. .
Can I expedite 221g or RFE processing?
If standard 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. If your COS petition is filed under premium, then once your RFE response is given, the 15 days calendar days clock kicks in and will be expedited.
What happens once COS is approved?
If USCIS approves the COS, then they would issue approved 797 along with 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 go for stamping. However, when the alien leaves the US next and wants to re-enter on new visa status into US, then they will have to go for the visa stamping of that visa category.
Any other questions ?