Transferring Schools on an M-1 Visa

Find out whether you're eligible to transfer and how to fill out the application forms.

If you begin a 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 school. After the initial six month period, 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 your school closes, this might be a “circumstance beyond your control” that USCIS would recognize as valid. 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. The school must send you a new Student and Exchange Visitor Information Systems (SEVIS) record Form I-20 upon acceptance.

After you receive your SEVIS record, inform the designated school official (DSO) of your intent to transfer schools. Finally, you need to submit Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and assemble certain documents, as described next.

Line By Line Instructions for Form I-539 M-1 Student Transfer

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.

You will have an Alien Registration Number (“A-Number”) only if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings or submitted certain immigration applications, particularly for permanent residence.

Your I-94 number can be located on your arrival/departure record. If you arrived in the U.S. prior to April 2013, it will appear on a small white card in your passport you received at the border. Otherwise, you can retrieve this information online.

For “Current Nonimmigrant Status,” write “M-1 student.” Your “expiration date” will be on your Form I-94.

Part 2. Application Type: Check box 1, requesting an extension of stay. If you are the only applicant, check box 4. If you have family members in the U.S. with you on an M-2 visa, check box 5 and include the number of family members in box 5.a.

Part 3. Processing Information: You must include the date of expiration of program on the Form I-20 issued by your new school in Question 1.a. The other questions in this section are applicable only if you are filling out this form as a family member in M-2 status. Make sure to fill out your passport information. 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.

Part 4. Additional Information: Provide your foreign home address here. The remainder of the questions are designed to determine whether you are admissible to the United States or whether you have the intent to apply for permanent residence in the United States. If you have to check “yes” to any question, you should contact a reputable immigration attorney before you submit your application to USCIS.

Questions 3-5: 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 be denied.

Question 6: If you or a family member included in the application has been arrested or convicted, seek legal advice before proceeding further. If you were simply arrested for a misdemeanor and not charged with a crime, you still need to check “Yes” and attach a written explanation and a copy of the police report. Unresolved arrests may also pose a problem for immigration authorities.

Questions 7-16: These questions are meant to determine whether or not you are admissible to the United States. While some “yes” answers will likely result in a denial of your application such as having engaged in torture, genocide, or restricted other people’s rights, others, like having received military training, will likely not result in USCIS denial of the application. Regardless, you still need to submit a statement explaining the extent of your military training and such information.

Question 17: Examples of violations of your nonimmigrant status might include failure to attend class or having changed your program of study without prior authorization. If you have violated your status, you will have to apply to USCIS for reinstatement of your status along with applying for an extension. Contact your current school’s DSO for more information.

Question 18: If you are now in removal proceedings (also known as deportation proceedings), see a lawyer and do not submit Form I-539. 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 19: 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 for Item Numbers 18., 19., and 20." on page six.

Question 20: If you were ever in J-1 or J-2 status, you will need to provide documentation showing the dates you were in the U.S. on a J visa.

Part 5. Applicant’s Statement, Contact Information, Certification, and Signature: Self-explanatory.

Part 6. Contact Information, Certification, and Signature of the Interpreter: If an interpreter helped you fill out this application, that person must complete this section.

Part 7. Contact Information, Certification, and Signature of the Person Completing this Application if Other Than the Applicant: This is where a lawyer or accredited representative would sign if they prepared the application. If you completed it yourself, you can leave this section blank.

Documents Required for M-1 Student Transfer Application

In addition to your completed Form I-539, your transfer application will need to include the following:

  • Filing fee ($370, as of December 2016).
  • Your new Form I-20.
  • Copies of your current and prior Form I-20.
  • Copy of your I-94 card or online I-94 Arrival Departure Document (and those of your dependent family members, if applicable).
  • If your transfer is submitted after six months of study, a written statement detailing that your reasons for your 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.

When you’ve assembled your application for a transfer, submit it to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox. Information about filing addresses can be found on the I-539 page of the USCIS website.

What Happens After You Send Your Transfer Application

After sending your application by mail, you should get a receipt notice from USCIS within two to three weeks. The receipt will include a case number, which will allow you to check the status of your application online. If you are approved, you will receive an approval notice and a new Form I-20, endorsed by USCIS.

If USCIS doesn’t send you a decision on your transfer within 60 days, you are permitted to take your chances and transfer schools while you await a decision. However, this involves some risk. If USCIS ultimately denies your transfer application, you will automatically fall out of status and either have to apply for reinstatement or face the possibility of being referred to Immigration Court for removal proceedings.

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