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Changing your Visa Status to F-1

If you are currently on a non-immigrant status (except C, D, J subject to two year home residency, or K visa status), you have the ability to change your status to F-1. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants changes of status to thousands of applicants each year. However, the USCIS also says no to thousands of applicants each year. This guide will help you understand what is necessary to change status and what the chances of success might be for your particular application.

Any person classified as a dependent spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or member of a principal’s immediate (except F-2 or M-2) family may remain in the United States as long as the principal is in status and is specifically authorized by immigration regulations to attend college full-time. Those individuals should consider that F-1 students must study full-time. Are you ready to accept that responsibility? In addition, non-immigrants in A, E, G, H, I and L, NATO, O-1, O-3, R, and S status may be eligible for in-state tuition at public institutions, while F-1 students are not. This is a financial factor you should take it into account. F-2 or M-2 spouses or children wishing to attend college must change status to F-1 prior to enrolling.

There are important advantages to a change, also. When you have your own status, you can be sure your studies will not be disrupted if your spouse or parent retires, changes status, or is transferred to another country. F-1 students can work on-campus and have a year of practical training or curricular (cooperative education) employment, or nearly a year of each. Only persons in J-2 or L-2 status have access to all of these privileges, though there is no certainty for them that work permissions will be given. Work permission for dependents in A and G status depends on age and country and can be very time-consuming to get. Dependents in most other status cannot work at all.

A dependent child in E, F-2, H-4, I, J-2, L-2, M-2, O-3, P-4, R-2, or TD status, must change status in order to remain lawfully in the U.S. after the 21st birthday, after marriage, or after moving out of the parents' household. Dependent children in A and G status may remain in status after age 21, but not after marriage or becoming independent of the principal.

In order to process a change of status to F-1, you will need the following documents:

  • Completed I-539 Form
  • Proof of Financial Support
  • Copy of I-94 Card (front and back) if your most recent entry to the U.S. was prior to April 30, 2013. If your most recent entry occurred after April 30, 2013, print out an electronic copy of the I-94 at http://www.cbp.gov/i94.
  • Copy of I-94 Card (front and back) for spouse/parent (if currently on dependent status). See above for details on the I-94 card.
  • Copies of Visa and Passport
  • Copies of Visa and Passport for spouse/parent (if currently on dependent status)
  • Copies of Certificates of Eligibility (I-20, DS-2019, I-797) for spouse/parent
  • Check for $290.00 made out to “The Department of Homeland Security”
  • Proof that you have paid the $200 SEVIS Fee

UC International Services will help you submit your change of status request. You will need to make an appointment with a UC International Services staff member and bring all the documents listed above. Please make sure you complete the I-539 form and the interview sheet prior to your appointment and bring all required documents. We will create your I-20 form during this appointment.

Important

A change of status is not a change of visa. F-1 visas are not issued in the U.S. If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services grants your change of status application, you may stay in the U.S. and study for as long as you follow the rules, such as studying full-time. Your visa does not matter. However, if you travel to your home country or most other countries, you must apply for an F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S.

If your Current Status is A (A-1, A-2, or A-3)

Before you submit an application for change of status to the Immigration Service, you must complete Form I-566 and send it to the Department of state for a recommendation. The recommendation must be enclosed with your change of status application when it is sent to Immigration. If the department does not recommend approval, USCIS is not going to say "yes." Form I-566 must be signed by an official of the diplomatic mission employing you or your parent or spouse and submitted to: Office of Protocol U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520. As long as you are accredited or listed by the Department of State as entitled to diplomatic status, you may not change to F-1 status.

If your Current Status is B (B-1, B-2, and B-1/B-2)

Applicants changing from the B status must take special care to show that they did not intentionally apply for the wrong visa or intentionally enter the U.S. in the wrong status. If you knew you were going to enter school when you applied for entry into the U.S., you cannot change your status unless you stated to the USCIS port of entry official that you wanted to go to school or investigate different schools. If you entered after April 12, 2002, and if you made this declaration, the notation “prospective student” will be written on your I-94 card. If you entered the U.S. after April 12, 2002 and your I-94 card does not have this notation, you will not be allowed to change your status to F-1 from within the U.S. You will have to take a Form I-20 to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S./Consulate Embassy overseas.

If you entered in B-2 status prior to April 12, 2002, use your application to describe the tourism, family visits, or medical treatment in which you engaged. If there is any evidence available, take care to include it. If you are a Canadian who was not issued Form I-94 by the Immigration inspector when you crossed the border, you are in B-1/B-2 status and may not apply for a change of status. If you are a Canadian and have an I-94 showing a B status, you may apply for a change of status. Usually, the easiest procedure is to go to Canada and come back with a Form I-20 and proof of financial support.

The questions below should be answered on a separate sheet of paper to help facilitate the change of status application if you are on B status:

  1. Give the date and location of issuance of your visitors’ visa. Please make a photocopy of the visa page in your passport and submit the copy with your application.
  2. Please explain specifically what information was given to the American Consulate when you obtained your tourist visa as to the purpose of your trip to the United States.
  3. When you arrived at the port of the entry in the United States and applied for entry as a visitor, what did you inform the Inspector of as to the purpose of your visit in the United States.
  4. Did you indicate to the American Consulate Official or to the admitting Immigration Inspector that you might want to study in the United States?
  5. Explain how and on what date you arrived at your decision to study in the United States.
  6. How and on what date did you first contact the school or university as to your desire to enroll as a foreign student?
  7. On what date were you informed by the school or university that you had been accepted for admission?
  8. Did you bring the documents necessary for admission to the school, i.e. transcripts from previous schools, with you or were they mailed to the school from abroad by you?
  9. If your intent to attend school in the United States was prior to your entry in this country, why didn’t you apply for the appropriate student visa from the American Consulate in your home country rather than getting a tourist visa?
  10. Have you been in the United States before? If yes, please state when, for what purpose and how long did you stay?
  11. Do you have any relatives in the United States and if so, what type of visa are they here on?

If your Current Status is C (C-1, C-2, or C-3)

Persons in C or D status are not permitted to change to any other status.

If your Current Status is D (D-1 or D-2)

Persons in C or D status are not permitted to change to any other status.

If your Current Status is E (E-1 or E-2)

Changes from E status to F-1 are usually granted to dependents as long as the principal is still employed as a treaty trader or investor at the time the application is submitted. Proof of this employment should be included with the application.

If your Current Status is F-2

If an F-2 spouse or child wishes to begin an academic program, he/she must change to F-1 status prior to enrollment. The F-2 should show that he/she is going to attend school full-time and that he/she has very definite career plans for which a degree is necessary. The original F-1 spouse should submit proof that he/she continues to be in status at the time of the application. All applications for F-1 (from F-2) status must submit proof of the relationship to the F-1 (birth or marriage certificate). F-2 dependents must also include a copy of his/her SEVIS I-20 form.

If your Current Status is G (G-1, G-2, G-3, G-3, G-4 or G-5)

Before applying for a change of status, you must complete Form I-566 and submit it to the Department of State for a recommendation. When the Department returns the form to you, it must be enclosed with your change of status application. If the Department recommends against approval, the USCIS will not approve your change of status. You may not change from any G status as long as you or your principal spouse or parent is accredited as a diplomat. The I-566 must be signed by an official of the diplomatic mission employing you or your parent or spouse. If the employer is the United Nations or a mission to the UN, the I-566 is submitted to the United States Mission to the UN, 799 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017. Otherwise, the application should go to the Office of Protocol, U.S. Department of State Washington, D.C. 20520. All applicants in G status must take care to show the Immigration Service that they intend to return to the home country after completion of studies.

If your Current Status is H (H-1, H-2, H-3, and H-4)

Changes from H-4 status to F-1 are easily made when the application includes proof that the principal is still employed by a sponsoring employer. Principle H-1, H-2 and H-3 visa holders may apply for changes while in status, but extra care must be taken in answering Questions #2, #3, and #5 on the I-539 attachment. The USCIS must be convinced that the applicant is not simply trying to postpone return to the home country, that the original H activity was genuine, and that there is a valid professional or academic objective connected to the plan for study. It is important to state clearly that you will return to the home country after studies.

If your current status is I

Changes from I status to F-1 status are not difficult when it is shown that the principal is still employed by the media sponsor. It is very important to convince the USCIS that the applicant intends to return to the home country when studies are completed.

If your current status is J (J-1 or J-2)

A foreign medical graduate who entered the U.S. in a status other than J, and then changed to J status to obtain graduate medical education or training may not change to F-1 status. Other J-1 or J-2 applicants must obtain waivers of the two-year home residency requirement, if subject, before applying for a change, and must maintain J status at all times until the waiver is granted and the change of status application is submitted. When there is no need for a waiver, applicants do not need permission or approval of the Department of State or program sponsors to change to F-1. Persons in J-1 or J-2 status are considered to be in-status for 30 days after completion of program or after completion of academic training, and may apply for a change of status during the 30 day grace period.

If your current status is K (K-1 or K-2)

Persons in K-status may not change to any other nonimmigrant status.

If your current status is L (L-1 or L-2)

Changes from L-2 to F-1 are easily made as long as there is evidence that the L-1 principal continues to work for the sponsoring company. An L-1 may change to F status when the application is submitted while he/she is still working for the sponsoring company and when it is shown that there is a valid academic or professional objective. All L applicants should be careful to show that they intend to return to the home country when studies are completed.

If your Current Status is M (M-1 or M-2)

A student in M-1 status may not apply to change to F-1 status unless it can be shown that the USCIS mistakenly admitted the student in M-1 status when it should have admitted him/her in F-1 status. Changes from M-1 to J-1 are permitted. There are no rules against changes from M-2 to F-1 or M-1 to F-2. M status is valid until the expiration date on he Form I-94, plus 30 days. M-1's and M-2's are also in status while awaiting a USCIS decision on an application for practical training which was submitted before the end of 30 days after completion of studies, during any authorized practical training, and for 30 days after the completion date on the Form I-20 submitted with the application for practical training approval.

If you are Currently in a NATO Status

Though both principals and dependents in the seven NATO statuses are often eligible for changes of status to F-1, there are many exceptions and special rules.

If your Current Status is N (N-8 and N-9)

Persons in N-8 and N-9 status are special immigrants to the United States and are not eligible to change to F-1, J-1, or any other temporary nonimmigrant status. After certain time requirements have been met, persons in N statuses are expected to adjust to permanent resident status.

If your Current Status is O (O-1, O-2, or O-3)

Though there is no rule preventing a change to F-1 status by an O-1, it may be difficult to convince the USCIS of the need for additional education. Persons in O-2 status should show that they engaged in the activities for which the status was granted. Students in O-3 status should have no difficulty in making the change to F-1 as long as the O-1 or O-2 principal is still in lawful status at the time the change application is filed. A person in O status is considered to be in valid status for 10 days after the authorized stay is expired.

If your Current Status is P (P-1, P-2, P-3, or P-4)

Same as O, above. Principals in P-1 status may also find it difficult to convince the USCIS of the need for an academic program. Changes from P-4 to F-1 should be easily made, as long that the principal is still in status. Persons in P status are also in valid status for 10 days after the expiration of authorized stay.

If your Current Status is Q

When there is evidence that a person in Q status has engaged in the activities for which he/she was admitted to the U.S., a change of status to F-1 should not be difficult. Q status is valid for 30 days past the authorized stay.

If your Current Status is R (R-1 or R-2)

There should be no obstacle to a change to F-1 status for a person in one of the R statuses, especially if the planned education will enhance a religious vocation for the principal or provide a career in the home country for the dependent, though both should meet a high standard of convincing the USCIS of the intent to return to the home country.

If your Current Status is S (S-1 or S-2)

Persons in the S statuses may not change to other nonimmigrant statuses.

If your Current Status is TN or TD

Persons in these statuses, when the principal is employed or doing business required under the terms of the North American free Trade Agreement should encounter little difficulty in changing to F-1 status, though returning to Canada and reentering with a Form I-20
may be faster, easier, and simpler than applying for a change through the USCIS.

If your Current Status is WB or WT

Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program may not extend or change status under any circumstances.