On June 12, 2023, USCIS announced that it is finally expanding premium processing (i.e. expedited processing for an added fee) to applicants who are seeking to change their nonimmigrant status to F, M, and J status. Specifically, the expansion applies to individuals who are presently in the U.S. pursuant to another nonimmigrant status, and have filed or will file an I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to F-1 student status, M-1 vocational student status, or J-1 exchange visitor status, as well as the status for their dependent spouse and/or children.
What is Premium Processing?
USCIS allows applicants seeking certain immigration benefits to pay an added processing fee to receive an expedited decision within a set period of time. The timeframe by which USCIS must issue a decision with premium processing varies depending on the benefit sought. For individuals seeking a change to F, M or J status, USCIS will issue a decision within 30 days of the request for premium processing, but only after all prerequisites have been met.
In order for USCIS to start the 30-day premium processing clock, the following prerequisites must first be met:
USCIS will not start the premium processing clock until it has successfully captured the applicant’s biometrics. In the event that USCIS cannot adjudicate the application within the premium processing timeframe, it must refund the added premium processing fee.
Please note that USCIS may issue a variety of decisions within the required timeframe, including an approval, denial, Request for Evidence (RFE) or a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). Meaning, paying for premium processing does not necessarily expedite an approval, but rather a decision. In the event that USCIS issues an RFE or NOID, the premium processing clock starts over once the applicant submits their response.
How Much is Premium Processing?
The premium processing fee varies depending on the immigration benefit south, but in the case of applicants seeking a change of status to F, M or J status, it is currently $1750. The premium processing fee is an add on to the required filing fee for the Form I-539, which is currently $370. Additionally, the applicant and each co-applicant dependent (spouse and/or child) seeking F, M and J status must also pay an $85 biometrics fee.
When Can I Seek Premium Processing?
The premium processing expansion for applicants seeking to change to F, M and J status is being rolled out in stages:
The request for premium processing must be submitted in the same manner as the I-539, whether it be on paper via mail, or online.
Why Should I Use Premium Processing?
Applications to change status to F, M, or J status are currently taking between 5-14 months, based on USCIS processing times for I-539 applications filed without premium processing. USCIS regularly updates its average processing times depending on its volume and capacity, and it is not beholden to issue a decision within any specific period of time. In some instances, an applicant seeking to change to F, M or J status cannot participate in activities related to the new status that they are seeking until the I-539 application is approved. For example, individuals who are in the U.S. pursuant to B-1 business visitor or B-2 tourist status cannot attend school until their F-1 student status is approved. Similarly, individuals who are in the U.S. pursuant to a status that does not permit work authorization cannot engage in work-authorized activities related to their new status (e.g., CPT, OPT, J-1 employment) until the I-539 is approved. As a result, depending on the USCIS processing time for applications filed without premium processing, it may be advantageous to pay the added premium processing fee in order to fully engage in activities permitted in the new status.
If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to contact our office at (312) 427-6163 or schedule a consultation online.