The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows a “grace period” of 60 days for F-1 visa students and 30 days for J-1 visa students. During this grace period, students with F-1 or J-1 visas are given time to figure out their plans or prepare accordingly to return to their home country. Specifically, students may use this grace period time to change their visa status, start new programs, prepare for departure to their home country, or even transfer between schools. It is imperative that students are mindful of the fact they can not travel outside of U.S. borders during this grace period or between programs that fall outside of the grace period because they will not be able to re-enter with their current visa status.
If an F-1 student wants to transfer to another school, they must first show the current designated school official (DSO) written confirmation of acceptance to another Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, contact information of the new school’s DSO, and the new school’s SEVIS code. The student will then work with the DSOs of both current and new schools to find a transfer/release date for that student’s F-1 U.S. government SEVIS I-20 record. This process known as a “SEVIS transfer” allows the DSO at the student’s new school to have full responsibility of the student’s SEVIS record. When a SEVIS transfer is implemented during the time of the grace period, the student does not have to pay the $200 SEVIS fee again, can remain in the U.S. in between programs, and maintains the same current SEVIS ID number. If the time between programs is longer than the grace period (60 days) and less than 5 months, the student is allowed to stay in the United States but must maintain status by registering for classes and contacting the new DSO within 15 days of the program start date listed on the new Form I-20. However, if the time between programs is longer than 5 months, the new school must issue a new I-20 form with a new SEVIS number. That student must leave the United States within the 60-day grace period and re-enter no earlier than 30 days before the start of the new program start date.
One may be eligible for a SEVIS transfer if he or she has completed a program at one school and wants to start a new program at a different school, is currently studying at one school and decides to change schools before completing their program, or is currently doing Optional Practical Training (OPT) (temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study) and starting a new program of study at a different school.
If a J-1 visa student wants to transfer programs, their ability to transfer or not lies in the hands of the responsible officers of the current and new programs. In addition, the new program must be within the same category of study. Upon verification of visa status and eligibility, the student must complete a new Form DS-2019 to reflect their intent to transfer and obtain release from their current program. Though a student may be eligible for transfer, not all programs are permitted transfer.
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