New INS Regulations Severely Impact Visitors to the U.S.
April 12, 2002

In response to several recent highly publicized bureaucratic blunders, the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service has taken dramatic action in announcing the implementation of several new rules that will significantly impact those entering the U.S. on nonimmigrant B-1/B-2 visitor visas. Under the new rule, visitor visa holders will now have far fewer options to extend their stay, or change the terms of their stay.

Restrictions For Those Entering on Visitor Visas

The B1/B-2 visa, commonly known as the tourist or visitor’s visa, has many purposes. Individuals seeking entry into the U.S. on such visas usually do so for vacation or business meeting purposes and have traditionally been granted a 6 month period of admission, with the option of filing for at least 1 extension period of 6 months, or changing their status to some other nonimmigrant classification such as student or professional worker. Under the new rule just announced, the INS will be stricter in granting periods of admission that are “fair and reasonable for the completion of the purpose of the visit”, with the norm being a grant of 30 days. The visa holder upon inspection, however, will have an opportunity to persuade the INS official that the nature and purpose of their visit justifies a lengthier period of admission.

Once admitted into the U.S., B-1/B-2 visitors seeking to extend their stay will now only be granted an extension if “unexpected or compelling humanitarian reasons” can be demonstrated. Examples cited by the INS include medical treatment or a delay in the conclusion of a business matter, and the applicant must provide documentary proof of their financial capacity to carry on the purpose of their continued stay. Although retirees with vacation homes in the U.S. may be given special consideration, a maximum of a single 6-month extension period is provided for under the new INS rule (as opposed to the previous rule that generally allowed for up to two 6-month extension requests).

Limitations on Changes of Status Requests

In the past, under many circumstances, those entering on B-1/B-2 visas had the option of changing to student (F-1 or M-1) status without departing the U.S., appearing at a U.S. consular post abroad and reentering on an F-1 or M-1 student visa. And individuals applying for such a change of status, often commenced their academic program prior to the INS’ approval of their change of status application. Under the new INS rule, this option will be severely restricted in several ways. First, only those visitors who advise the INS inspector upon entry that they are entering the U.S. to visit various schools and plan on filing such a change of status request will continue to have the change of status option. Visitors expressing this intention will have their admission card (Form I-94) marked with a “prospective student” notation, and only under this circumstance will the B-1/B-2 visitor have the option of filing for a change to student status.

Additionally, visitors who are admitted as “prospective students” and apply to change their status will not be allowed to commence their academic program prior to the INS’ completion of processing. In this regard, the INS has announced that procedures will be implemented to ensure that processing of change of status (to student status) applications will take no more than 30 days.

Importantly, these new rules will only impact visitors entering after April 12, 2002, the date the regulation is set to take effect.

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