A common question from B1 or B2 visa holders is whether they are allowed to enroll in school. The short answer is no, not directly. If you wish to study in the U.S. while in B status, you must change it to F or M status first.
If you enroll in a full course of study while in B1, B2 or B1/B2 status, you will be considered out of status. This violation of visa terms will make you ineligible to extend your stay under B status, or later change your status to another non-immigrant class such as F or M.
If you want to go to school while in B status, the correct procedure should be:
- Contact the school you’re interested in and find out all eligibility requirements (test results, financial support, etc.);
- After being admitted to the school, work with the designated school official (DSO) to obtain proper documents for foreign students (I-20, for example), but do not enroll in any classes;
- Apply for Change of Status (Form I-539) with USCIS, to change your B visitor status to F or M student status. Whether to choose F1 or M1 depends on the type of school and program you intend to enroll in. Do this before your authorized stay under B status expires, which is specified on your I-94 card. If your B status is about to expire, you may apply for an extension of stay (Form I-539);
- Once you have received USCIS approval on your change of status request, you may begin enrolling in classes. You will also receive a new I-94 from USCIS indicating your student status and a new period of authorized stay;
- If for some reason you cannot change your status to F or M while in the U.S., you may still be eligible to apply for a student visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad. In this case you will have to leave the country first, apply for a new F or M visa, and re-enter under the new F or M status.
The discussion above refers to a course of study, such as a formal program leading to an academic degree or vocational certification. If you are only interested in recreational classes or casual, short courses that generally do not require academic enrollment, you may take such classes without acquiring a student status first. Again, contact the school or class provider to find out whether the class you’re interested in is a course of study in nature. Below is an example of what’s permitted from the U.S. Embassy in Sweden:
If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study which is recreational (and not for credit towards a degree), and the course is less than 18 hours per week, this is permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa.
Important: All children in the U.S. have the right to public education, regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. So a school-aged child in B1 or B2 status is allowed to attend K-12 schools, as long as studying is incidental and was not the primary purpose when s/he applied for the B visa.