Changing Your Visa Status
If you are currently in the U.S. in a nonimmigrant status other than F-1 or J-1, you may be able to study at Georgia State in your current status. If you wish to change to F-1 status, you can do so in one of two ways: (1) Submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or (2) leave the U.S. and travel to your home country to obtain an F-1 visa. Below are the steps involved in both the processes, as well as some information to guide you on choosing an option.The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office encourages you to talk with an international student advisor after reading this material. The process of changing status can be complicated and confusing, and each person’s situation is different. We will be happy to give you more information and answer your questions.After your application for a change of status is received by USCIS, they will make two determinations in the course of reviewing an application for a change of status:
Eligibility for Changing Status
1. Are you eligible for the nonimmigrant status being requested?
The F-1 non-immigrant category has specific eligibility requirements and conditions, such as being accepted into a program of study certified to host F-1 students. The burden is on you to establish your eligibility to become an F-1 student, which requires extensive documentation.
2. Are you eligible to have your status changed in the United States?
USCIS officers must also determine your eligibility for a change of status, which is separate from whether or not you qualify for the status itself. You could be generally eligible to become an F-1, but if you are not eligible for a change of status, you cannot change to that classification in the United States. For example, if you are currently illegally present in the U.S. or subject to the two-year home requirement (212(e)), you are probably not eligible to have your status changed in the United States.
The ISSS office at Georgia State does NOT approve your application or determine your eligibility to submit an application to USCIS. However, if you are unsure of your eligibility or how to apply, we can help guide you and help you understand which documents are needed for the application. Some students may hold a status or may be in a situation with which we are unable to assist. In these cases, ISSS may recommend that you work with an immigration attorney to change your status.
Steps for EVERYONE changing to F-1 Status
Current students at Georgia State University: contact ISSS to obtain an International Applicant Immigration Form and skip to Step 4-7.
New students to Georgia State University: apply and be admitted to Georgia State. After you are admitted, ISSS will contact you and ask you to fill out the International Applicant Immigration Form.
- Fill out the International Applicant Immigration Form. On this form you are asked to indicate your current status and whether or not you wish to change to F-1 status. You will also be asked to submit financial documents to be fully admitted to the university.
- If you decide to change status within the U.S., please see Steps 4-7.
- If you are changing status by traveling home, please submit your International Application form, passport bio page, and financial documents. After your documents are approved, you will be issued an I-20. Please refer to the procedures for Obtaining an F-1 Visa and begin making your travel plans. When you return to the U.S. with an F-1 visa, you will be ready to start at GSU as an F-1 student.
- If you are changing status within the U.S., please go through the Change of Status checklist. You will need to turn in everything on that list except the I-20 and SEVIS fee receipt.** The I-20 will be issued only after the other documents have been received by the advisor. You should begin to gather all the appropriate documents as early as possible, since some documents may take time to prepare. For instructions on how to fill out the form I-539, please view this short slideshow:
- Bring all the required documents to your ISSS advisor. The advisor will review them and prepare the application packet. Once the application packet is complete, ISSS will mail your application to USCIS for you.
- All communication from USCIS will come to ISSS. Your advisor will email you when your receipt notice arrives and then when your application is approved or denied.
- If your application is approved, the advisor will notify you to come pick up your I-20 and approval notice. You will be ready to start at GSU as an F-1 student!
How do you know which option to choose?
Both ways of obtaining F-1 status have advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to talk with an ISSS advisor about your case before you make a decision. Following is a list of things to keep in mind as you decide whether to travel or submit an application in the U.S.
- Change of status applications filed with USCIS typically take 3-6 months to be approved, and the timing of adjudication is unpredictable and varied. If you need to change your status quickly, it’s better to travel.
- Non-immigrants in B-1, B-2, and F-2 status may not begin studying until the change to F-1 status is approved. If you are currently in one of these categories, you must wait for F-1 approval before you can be a student at GSU.
- Non-immigrants in visa categories other than B-1, B-2, and F-2 generally may begin studying before the change to F-1 status is approved. However, many of these categories (including H-4 and H-1B) do not allow you to work or hold a graduate assistantship at the university. If you have questions about what you are allowed to do in your current status, talk with your ISSS advisor.
- If you are a J-1/J-2 subject to the two-year home residency requirement, you must travel in order to change your status. If you are currently out of status in the U.S., you should travel to obtain a visa. (If you submit an application to USCIS, it will be denied.)
- Students who choose to submit an application to USCIS will obtain F-1 status but not an F-1 visa. That means that if you later travel outside the U.S. and need to re-enter as a student, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa before you can re-enter the U.S.
- If you are a graduate student applying for a graduate assistantship, check with your hiring department to see if they will hold your assistantship position while your change of status is pending. Some departments may be willing to do this, but there is an institutional deadline that prevents them from holding the assistantship beyond a certain date each semester. If your change of status is not approved by this date, you will lose your assistantship for that semester.
- Please note that if you submit a COS application and then leave the U.S. for any reason, your application will automatically be cancelled.