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.
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.