Change of Status
The U.S. government has visa categories for many different types of visits. Each visa has its own rules and regulations. Each entry into the U.S. is intended to be for a specific purpose and for a temporary period.
When you are granted a visa to the U.S. and enter the U.S. with that visa, you are issued an I-94 (white card stapled into your passport, or electronic record), which shows your immigration status and length of authorized stay.
If you arrived in the U.S. in another immigration status that does not permit full-time studying, but you would like to begin studying full time, you must either:
- Apply to change your status to F-1 within the U.S. ("change of status"), or
- Exit the U.S. to obtain an F-1 visa from a consulate/embassy abroad ("consular processing").
You must intend to start or continue studying full time in order to obtain F-1 status. Common scenarios include:
- You are currently a dependent (A-2, H-4, L-2, TD, etc.) of your parent's immigration status but you are getting married or turning 21 soon
- You are an F-2 spouse or child who wants to be able to study full time instead of part time
- You are currently on a work visa (A, H-1B, L, TN, etc.) but you will be leaving your job soon
Students should speak with an OIP advisor before starting either process.
Change of Status
To apply for a change of status, you must file Form I-539 and supporting evidence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS typically takes several months, and sometimes more than a year, to process these applications. You do not receive F-1 status until your application is approved by USCIS. While your application is pending, you may only study if your current status permits studying.
You will not receive an F-1 visa during the change of status process. Instead, you will receive an I-797 approval notice with a detachable I-94 at the bottom that is evidence of your new status. If you have upcoming international travel plans, a change of status is not recommended since your application is considered withdrawn if you exit the U.S. before it has been approved. Further, the next time you exit the U.S., you must obtain an F-1 visa at a consulate/embassy before you can re-enter the U.S.
Due to processing delays, and the requirement to maintain your previous immigration status until receiving approval for F-1 status, change of status applications are generally not recommended. However, some students, including those who are not reasonably able to travel to their home country to obtain a visa, and/or students from countries with high rates of visa denials, may prefer to apply for a change of status.
Finally, individuals who entered the U.S. as a B-1/B-2 visitor are discouraged from applying for a change of status due to the high rate of denial.
We recommend that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney for most questions related to Form I-539 or the change of status process.
To complete the process as quickly as possible, individuals can apply for an F-1 visa from a consulate/embassy abroad by filing Form DS-160 online. Individuals who are inside the U.S. can pursue this option by submitting the DS-160 and then exiting the U.S. to attend their visa interview at the consulate/embassy.
Mexican students may schedule their interview at the U.S. consulate in Juarez. Non-Mexican students are advised to attend a visa interview in their home country. Some consulates (including several in Canada) may accept visa applications for individuals who are not citizens of that country, known as third-country nationals. You should contact the consulate directly to ask if they will accept third-country national visa applications. Some consulates that usually accept third-country national visa applications may not accept them during the busier seasons, such as summer.
IMPORTANT: Individuals who are attending a visa interview somewhere other than their home country should be aware that if there are processing delays at the consulate, they will be stuck in that country and ineligible to travel while their passport is held. If the visa application is denied, the individual will only be able to enter the U.S. if they have another valid visa, and the visa was not revoked or canceled during the application process.