Changing to F-1 Student Status in the U.S.
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Before You Begin
We strongly discourage changing status in the U.S.
There are significant problems created by the very long processing time and the need to maintain your current status or acquire another status all the way up to the the date that is 30 days before your program start date. Your start date may be deferred to the following academic term if your application has not been processed by the original start date. You may need a new "bridge application" with new fee to acquire another status while it's pending.
We strongly recommend that you travel abroad, apply for an F-1 entry visa, and return to the U.S. in F-1 status.
- It takes a very long time to be processed by the USCIS, sometimes more than a year! There is no mechanism for expediting the application.
You must also be able to extend and maintain your current status or find a way to obtain another status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”) while the application is pending. This requires a new I-539 application and fee. You must remain eligible for F-1 status at the time the application would be approved. If you are not eligible to extend your current status, a change to B-2 visitor status is problematic because study is not allowed in B-2 status.
If you need to file a "bridge application" referenced above, we recommend that you work with an experienced immigration attorney to avoid jeopardizing your legal status.
If working on-campus is part of your program, a change of status application is not a viable option for you. You will not be eligible for employment until your status has been approved.
- If you leave the U.S. while the application is pending, USCIS considers the change of status request to be “abandoned” and will deny it.
- Individuals changing from A or G status have an even longer wait because their application requires an additional form, I-566 that is issued only after the A or G activity has ended. This form needs to be signed and certified by different agencies and may take a couple of months. (The I-566 is not required when an A or G applies for an F-1 visa abroad.)
- Visitors in B-1 or B-2 status cannot enroll in classes until the change of status to F-1 has been approved.
If you have determined that you prefer to remain in the U.S. and apply for a change of status, continue below for eligibility requirements and procedure. Keep in mind that F-1 status requires "nonimmigrant intent" which means that you don’t intend to stay permanently in the U.S., that you maintain a residence abroad, and have ties to your home country.
To change your status, you must be maintaining lawful status at the time of application. Some common change of status scenarios include:
- You are employed in the U.S. with a work visa and you need to obtain student status to begin an academic program
- You are an undergraduate student who began your studies as a visa dependent of a parent but will "age out" when you turn twenty-one years old. You have to obtain your own status as a student.
You are not eligible to apply if:
- You last entered the U.S. under the visa waiver program (ESTA).
- You are in J-1 status subject to the two-year home residency requirement. This prohibits you from changing status in the U.S. You can, however, leave the U.S., apply for an F-1 visa, and enter in F-1 status.
- Your current status will end more than 30 days before the start date of your F or J program.
How to Apply for a Change of Status to F-1 in the U.S.
You may request a change of status in the U.S. by application to USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services) with form I-539, USCIS fee, receipt of SEVIS fee payment, and supporting documents. Send your paper application by registered mail or courier service—do not submit an electronic application.
Assemble required documents
- Required $370 application fee, payable to the Department of Homeland Security
- You may pay by:
- Form G-1450 Authorization for Credit Card Transaction
- This is an optional form if you are paying the required fee by credit card. Type your information into the fillable form. Put this form on the top of the application
- Form G-1145
- This form allows USCIS to notify you by email and/or text message that they have accepted your application.
- Letter of Explanation
- See a sample letter. Remember that the date you request your change of status to F-1 status to be effective must to be within 30 days before your program start date on your I-20. Your current status must remain valid until that date.
- Proof of SEVIS Fee Payment
- Access here.
- Photocopy of your current I-94 arrival record
- Access here. Note: This is not the “travel history” page.
- Photocopy of page 1 and 2 of your new Form I-20 from Columbia
- Remember to sign the bottom of page 1 of your I-20. Your application will be delayed if you forget. DO NOT send the original I-20; it will not be returned to you.
- Copies of financial documents used when you applied for the I-20
- Photocopy of your valid passport identification page
- Do not send your passport to the USCIS!
- Evidence of your relationship with your dependent(s) such as a birth or marriage certificate
- Only if you have dependents who are changing status with you. If you have dependents, include a copy of their F-2 I-20.
- Photocopies of the I-94s of any dependents
- Only if you have dependents who are changing status with you.
If you are changing from H-1 or L-1, A, G, or J status, you must also submit the following additional document(s):
H and L status:
✓ Your dates of employment and request the date which you want F-1 status to be effective.
For example, if your last day of employment is August 25, you should request your F-1 status be effective on August 26. USCIS must receive your change of status application no later than the day you terminate your H-1 or L-1 employment. Your H-1 or L-1 status terminates the day you leave your employer.
✓ copy of the I-797 approval notice
✓ three of your most recent pay checks or other documentation establishing that you were in and maintained valid H-1 or L-1 status.
If these are not included with your other application materials, USCIS will send you a "Request for Evidence" (RFE) and review of your application will be delayed until USCIS receives the missing evidence.
A and G Status:
✓ Form I-566: Must be filed by your organization within 10 days after the completion of your A or G employment. This approval can take many weeks. You do not need the signed I-566 form if you change your status by travel.
✓ your DS-2019 forms
✓ DS-2019 forms for any dependents | Only if you have dependents who are changing status with you.
Staple all of the items together (keep a copy for your records) and mail by certified mail or by courier to:
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
Please contact us with your receipt number when you get the USCIS receipt in the mail so we can update your record.
Once you get a notice of approval, be sure to contact us.
We will update and activate your SEVIS record. Be aware that you must maintain full-time enrollment.
Need to Know
If you travel abroad after your status has been changed, you will need to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate with which to return.