The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now offer premium processing for individuals seeking to change their status to an F-1 or M-1 vocational student, or J-1 Exchange visitor, as well as their dependents.

It is not unusual for a foreign national to come to the United States as a visitor or in another temporary visa status and subsequently to decide to enroll in a university or college or to participate in a J-1 Exchange Visitor program. A J-1 Exchange Visitor program can benefit employers, too, because individuals seeking to participate in J-1 programs include not only students but also professors or scholars, research assistants, trainees, or camp counselors, among others.

But a foreign national deciding to enroll in a university or college, or to participate in a J-1 Exchange Visitor program, immediately needs to deal with the U.S. immigration system. The foreign national must file Form I-539 to change status to that of an F-1 or M-1 vocational student or J-1 Exchange visitor. Unfortunately, there have been exceedingly long delays in approving Form I-539 applications in these circumstances. Individuals have had to wait anywhere from five months to 13 and a half months, depending on which Service Center was assigned an application, to have their applications approved. These long waiting times have delayed or, in some cases, prevented individuals from entering into the educational or work opportunity sought.

Thus, the recent USCIS announcement is good news. Premium processing, a service to expedite processing that has been offered in various formats since 2001, is now being made available for these I-539 applications. Premium processing is already in place with pending I-539 applications and will soon be in place for new applications.

The premium processing time for I-539 applications won’t be as short as that for other immigration filings that offer premium processing. With some applications, premium processing guarantees adjudication in as few as 15 calendar days. For Form I-539 applications, the premium processing time will be 30 calendar days “once all prerequisites, including receipt of biometrics, have been met.” It generally takes a few weeks for an applicant to be notified of the biometrics appointment and to complete biometrics processing, and the 30-day clock won’t start running until that is complete.

In addition to the I-539 application fee (currently $370) and the biometrics fee of $85, the premium processing filing fee is $1,750, less than the $2,500 generally required for other filings.

Specifics of I-539 premium processing

The new premium processing applies to individuals who have filed or will be filing a Form I-539 to seek a change of status to F-1, F-2, M-1, M-2, J-1, or J-2.

Here is the timetable for pending and new applications:

  • June 13: The USCIS began accepting premium processing requests from applicants with pending I-539 applications.
  • June 26: The USCIS will begin accepting premium processing requests that are filed at the same time as the applicant’s Form I-539.

Premium processing will not be available for I-539 applications filed by individuals who are already in these statuses and are seeking extensions of stay.

Requests for premium processing (Form I-907) and I-539 applications may be filed in paper format, or online. A USCIS account must be created to file online.


This continued expansion of premium processing is a great benefit to applicants and their employers, intended universities, colleges, or J-1 programs.

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