If you are a foreign national who has been studying in the United States, most likely on an F-1, M-1, or other temporary (nonimmigrant) visa, you might want to finish your stay with a little vacation. After all, if you've been studying hard, you might not have had much of a chance to actually see the United States! If you're still within the grace period allowed for departure on your visa, you can take your break during that time. If your plans require more time, you can ask to stay longer without going back to your home country first, by applying for what is called a "Change of Status" to B-2 tourist, or visitor status. We'll describe the details and procedures below.
Tourist (or more technically, "visitor" or category B-2) status is appropriate if you will be staying in the United States for purposes encompassed by the word "pleasure."
Luckily, the allowable "pleasure" includes more than just traveling around the United States with a camera hanging from your neck. Many types of activities qualify, such as participating in a conference, visiting friends and family, looking into potential colleges or other schools, taking part in amateur (unpaid) arts and entertainment events or contests, attending short classes, and even receiving medical treatment.
As with your application for a student visa, you will need to prove that you can afford your stay without having to work in the U.S., and that you intend to leave at the end of your permitted stay. If you have already spent time in the United States as a student, your intent to leave at the end of your stay can be a little more challenging because you have developed ties in the United States. If you are just planning on traveling the United States, it is a good idea to go ahead and purchase your return ticket home before you apply for the visitor visa.
For more information, see A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?
The application process for a change of immigration status involves filling out Form I-539, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You must file this application before the end of your grace period.
When approved, you will receive a new Form I-94 showing the date by which you must leave the United States. Because you are changing status, not receiving an actual visa, this will be good for the length of your stay only. If you leave the United States and need to return, even before the expiration of your permitted stay, you will need to visit a U.S. consulate abroad and reapply for an entry visa.
In most cases, the U.S. immigration authorities allow stays as a visitor lasting no more than six months, despite the fact that the legal maximum is one year.
During your stay in the U.S. as a visitor, you will be free to travel wherever you like, without needing to follow any preset itinerary or check in with any government officials. If you run out of time, you can apply for extensions of up to six months at a time.
If you have difficulties with getting a U.S. visa, or would like some help applying for an extension or change of status, consult an experienced immigration attorney. See How Expensive Is an Immigration Lawyer? for more information.