If you begin your program of vocational study in the U.S. and decide that this is not the school or program for you, act quickly. M-1 visa holders can freely transfer only during their first six months of study. After that, you may be able to transfer only if you can show all of the following:
- you have maintained your nonimmigrant, student status for the past six months
- you are unable to continue at this school due to circumstances beyond your control
- you are still capable of supporting yourself financially, and
- you plan to be a full-time student at the new school.
For example, if the professors teaching in your subject area have left for another school, this might be a “circumstance beyond your control” that USCIS would recognize. You can transfer only to another vocational program, not to an academic program that requires an F visa.
If you are eligible for a transfer, your first step is to apply to and be accepted by a new school. They must send you a new SEVIS Form I-20 upon acceptance. Then you will need to fill out an application form and assemble certain documents, as described next.
Application Form for M-1 Student Transfer
You will need to deal with only one form to request a school transfer, Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
You will complete Form I-539 as though you are requesting an extension. Your DSO should be able to review the form or answer any questions you have about completing it. When you’ve got a copy of Form I-539 in hand, follow these line-by-line instructions.
Part 1. Information About You: Mostly self-explanatory. You will probably not have a Social Security number unless you formerly had a visa or status that allowed you to work. If you don’t have a number, enter “None.”
You will have an A-number (an eight- or nine-digit number following the letter “A” for Alien) only if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings or submitted certain immigration applications, particularly for permanent residence. If you were in proceedings or had any applications denied, especially for reasons such as fraud, see a lawyer.
Your I-94 number should appear on the small white card that you received at the border. As of April 2013, Form I-94 has been automated for many U.S. visitors and you may have not received a paper I-94 if admitted after that date. For those nonimmigrrants, Form I-94 is accessible online.
For “Current Nonimmigrant status,” write “M-1 student.” Your “expiration date” will be on Form I-94.
Part 2: Application Type:
Question 1: Check box 1a, requesting an extension of stay.
Question 2: This is where you make sure your family members get included in your application. If you want them to maintain their status in the United States with you, check box 2b. The number you should enter is the total number of family members plus you.
Part 3: Processing Information:
Question 1: You will use the program end date on the I-20 form issued by your new school.
Questions 2 to 4: Answer No.
Part 4. Additional Information:
Questions 1 and 2: Self-explanatory questions based on the information in your passport and calling for your overseas address.
When does your passport expire? If the expiration date in your passport is within the next six months or less, you should have it renewed. You can usually do this at a consulate of your home country in the United States. If there isn’t a consulate in the city where you’re living, you can locate one in the phone books for Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Chicago, or by looking on the State Department’s list of U.S. embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions.
Question 3: These questions are designed to see whether you are inadmissible. Think carefully before entering your answers, and make sure you understand all the details. If you aren't sure what the question is asking, or if you have to answer yes to any of the questions and there is no other solution, you’ll need to see a lawyer.
Question 3a: If you (or any members of your family) have submitted an application for an immigrant visa, which shows that you’re seeking a green card, USCIS will probably conclude that you have no intention of returning home after your student stay. Your application may therefore be denied. There isn’t a solution for this, and hiding the other application is impossible.
Question 3b: This is similar to the question above except that instead of referring to an application that you filed yourself, it asks whether someone else has filed a petition to start the process of you permanently immigrating to the United States. Some petitions will only place you on a waiting list that will last many years before you see an immigrant visa. Nevertheless, USCIS will likely deny your application if your answer to this question is Yes.
Question 3c: See advice for question 3a. Form I-485 is simply the U.S. version of a green card application.
Question 3d1: If you were simply arrested and not charged (for example, the police picked up the wrong person), you are safe entering “Yes” here and attaching a written explanation and a copy of the police report. But for more serious arrests, you must consult a lawyer before going any farther. Most convictions will make you inadmissible to the United States.
Questions 3d2-3d4: If you answer yes to any of these questions, you will need to see an attorney. These situations are not easily explained and are more likely to result in a finding of inadmissibility.
Question 3e: See Section B, above, for a reminder of what actions would be violations of your student status. If you have violated your status you will have to apply for reinstatement along with applying for an extension (see Section D, above, for -instructions on the reinstatement application).
Question 3f: If you are now in removal proceedings (formerly known as exclusion or deportation proceedings), see a lawyer. It’s likely that your immigration status is completely in the hands of the court, which would mean the USCIS administrative office will have no power to act on your application.
Question 3g: If you have been employed, you should have had authorization to do so. M-1 students are only eligible for post-completion practical training so it is unlikely you will answer yes. If you were previously employed in a different status, attach a photocopy of the documents showing you had authorization and explain your employment in "Part 4 Additional Information" on page four. If you answer “No” to this question, you have to explain how you are supporting yourself in "Part 4 Additional Information" on page four.
Question 3h: If you were ever in J-1 or J-2 status, you will need to provide copies of your DS-2019 forms with your application.
Part 5. Signature and statement that you understand English: Self-explanatory.
Part 6. Interpreter's Statement: If an interpreter helped you fill out this application, that person must complete this section.
Part 7. Signature of person preparing form if other than above: This is where a lawyer or legal assistant would sign. If you simply had some typing help, the person does not need to sign.
Line-by-Line Instructions for Form I-539 Supplement
Form I-539 Supp. is a one-page, single-sided form that you'll find at the back of the main I-539 download from USCIS. You’ll need to use it only if you have a foreign-born spouse and/or children staying with you in M-2 status. It has repeating blocks for information about your spouse and children. Most of it is self-explanatory.
Under Date of Arrival, put the person’s most recent arrival into the United States (many people mistakenly put their first arrival). The spouse or children’s current nonimmigrant status is M-2. “Expires on” refers to the date their status expires, which will be on their Form I-94. When you enter the expiration date of the family member’s passport, make sure that it is at least six months past the date you plan to leave the United States. If not, get the passport renewed. However, if waiting for the renewal will cause problems for this application, simply submit this application, write in the existing passport expiration date and then add “renewal pending.”
Documents for M-1 Student Transfer Application
In addition to your application form, your transfer application will need to include the following:
- fee (currently $290, but double-check for changes with your DSO). Pay in check or money order, payable to the Department of Homeland Security; do not send cash
- your new I-20 form
- copies of your current and prior I-20 forms
- your I-94 card, if issued (original preferred, but keep a copy for yourself -- or send a copy if you no longer have the original)
- I-94 cards of your family members, if applicable, and
- if your transfer is after six months of study, a written statement by you showing that your reasons for needing to transfer are beyond your control, that you have maintained valid student status for the previous six months and that you can still support yourself financially. Include any proof, such as a letter from a professor or school official confirming any changes in program offerings. For more information on how to write this statement, see Section D, above, which pertains to F visas and reinstatement -- but many of the issues are similar.
When you’ve assembled your application for a transfer, submit it to the USCIS Service Center that serves your school. The addresses are on the USCIS website here. You also have the option to submit your application online through the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS), which you can access here.
What Happens After You Send the Transfer Application
After sending your application by mail, you should get a receipt notice from the Service Center within two to three weeks. The receipt will include a case number that will allow you to check the status of your application online at www.uscis.gov.
If USCIS doesn’t send you a decision on your transfer within 60 days, you are permitted to take your chances and transfer schools anyway. However, this involves some risk. If USCIS ultimately says “no” to your transfer, you will automatically fall out of status and either have to apply for reinstatement or face the possibility of being sent to Immigration Court for removal proceedings.
If you are approved, you will receive an I-539 approval notice on Form I-797. You will also receive your I-20 form, endorsed by USCIS. The DSO at your new school will then be able to print you a new I-20 form indicating that the transfer is complete.