Applying to Change Your Status in the U.S.

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Before You Begin

If you are currently in the U.S. in another status and need to change to F-1 student status, you have two options:

  1. Apply for your I-20 and travel outside the U.S. to apply for an F-1 visa.
  2. Apply for a Change of Status with USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services)

We strongly recommend that you travel abroad to apply for your F-1 visa.

  • The processing time can take up to 10 months or longer, and can only be expedited via a Request for Premium Processing (I-907), which has an additional filing fee of $1750.
  • You must be in a lawful non-immigrant visa status at the time of filing the change of status application.

  • You are not in F-1 status until USCIS approves your application. Therefore, you are not eligible for any F-1 benefits, such as employment. 

  • If you leave the U.S. while your application is pending, USCIS will consider it “abandoned” and will deny it.

  • USCIS may request additional information which will delay your application. 
  • If you are in B-1 or B-2 status you cannot enroll in classes until your application has been approved. 
  • If you are approved, your status in the US will change to F-1, but if you plan to travel outside of the U.S., you will need to obtain an F-1 visa in your passport in order to return.


If you are unable to travel and need to apply for a change of status with USCIS:

  • Contact an experienced immigration attorney
  • Apply for an I-20
  • Meet eligibility requirements
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How to Apply for a Change of Status with USCIS

Step 1

Apply for your I-20

Follow our instructions for Applying for your I-20.

Step 2

Receive Your Change of Status I-20

We will send a message to your Columbia email address when your digital Change of Status I-20 has been processed, which you will need for your USCIS application. Review page 1 and 2 to ensure the information is accurate.


Submit your Change of Status I-539 application online through your USCIS account

Watch this short video on the many advantages of filing online as compared to mailing a paper application.

The ISSO provides the following tips regarding the Change of Status application, however, please keep in mind that you are responsible for the accuracy of your application to USCIS and following their step-by-step instructions.

  1. Follow instructions for creating a USCIS Online Account or log in to your USCIS account if you already have one.
  2. Select “File a Form Online” and choose “I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status”.
  3. Follow the instructions and complete each step in the order they are presented to you.
You will find that the online application is user-friendly, but come back to check if you're not sure about any of these questions.

“Letter of Explanation”

  • See a sample letter here.

“Proof of SEVIS Payment”

  • You can retrieve your SEVIS Payment receipt here.
Step 4

Email the ISSO

Email your receipt number and a copy of your I-797 receipt to the ISSO for your campus:

Keep the ISSO updated:

  • On your application status
  • Any notices you receive from USCIS 
  • If you plan to travel
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Traveling Abroad

  • While application is pending: If you leave the U.S. while your application is pending with USCIS, it will be considered abandoned and you'll need to obtain a new I-20 from us. You will need to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate to return.
  • After change of status is approved: If you travel after approval, you'll need to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate to return.
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