Changing Your Visa Status

When you enter the United States in non-immigrant status, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work, or travel. You may enter the U.S. with one purpose and later change your purpose. When this happens, you may need to obtain a new status. Different visa/status categories allow different activities.

Be Aware: If your Change of Status requires new visa photos, be aware that As of Nov. 1, 2016 eye glasses will no longer be allowed in visa photos. For more information please see the US Dept. of State U.S. Visas page.

Options for Changing Status

If you are currently in the U.S. in a non-immigrant 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 your status, you can do so in one of two ways:

Leave the U.S., apply for a new visa at a United States Embassy, and reenter the U.S. with the new visa and other relevant documents. You will gain your new status when you are admitted into the U.S.


  • This process is usually faster than changing status in the U.S.
  • You will obtain the visa and the status


  • Possibility of visa processing delay
  • Expense of travel

Submit an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status. This option allows you to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the U.S. With this option you may gain the new status but you will not receive a new visa; visas are only issued outside the U.S.

The burden is on you to establish your eligibility to become an F-1 or J-1 student, which requires extensive documentation.


  • Ability to stay in the U.S. during processing
  • Avoid the hassle of a visa application process (for now)


  • Processing can be very slow (six to twelve months), which may jeopardize your ability to begin your new activity, such as studying or accepting a research or teaching assistantship or other campus employment.
  • You must stay in the U.S. during processing; exiting the U.S. cancels the application
  • You must still obtain a visa stamp to match your status the next time you travel outside the U.S. (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
  • While you may meet the basic requirements, USCIS officers must also determine your eligibility for a change of status. If your application is denied, you are required to quickly depart the U.S.

When deciding which option is best for you, you should consider various factors: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status. The regulations of your future status will help determine if it is best to travel and re-enter or apply to change status in the U.S.

Eligibility for Changing Status

You may be able to change status if:

  • You are maintaining your current status
  • You are eligible for the new status
  • Your current status does not prohibit change of status in the U.S. See below for restrictions
  • You have been admitted to program of study certified to host F-1 students

You generally cannot change status if:

  • Your period of authorized stay has already expired
  • You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status

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.

Restrictions for Changing Status

  • Individuals in J status who are subject to the two-year home-country residence requirement can change only to A or G status
  • Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (marked “W/T” or “W/B” on the I-94) cannot change non-immigrant status
  • Persons who hold C, D, or K status cannot change non-immigrant status
  • A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.


ISSS will not process in-country Change of Status I-20s if it less than two months before the first day of classes for the next term.  We will process I-20s for any students wishing to travel home to change their status out-of-country.

Application Procedures

Below are the steps involved in both the processes, as well as some information to guide you on choosing an option.

Current students at GSU: decide to change status by travel or applying within the U.S.

New students to GSU: 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Complete the I-539 Form. For instructions on how to fill out the form I-539, please view this short slideshow: **Please note: this presentation is best viewed in Firefox or Chrome browsers.  Please view in full-screen.**
  2. Review the Change of  Status Procedures and gather the documents as indicated, including:  
  3. Bring all required documents to your ISSS advisor, who will review and issue the I-20.
  4. The advisor will assist you in preparing the application packet. Once the application packet is complete, you will be responsible for mailing the application to USCIS.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Changing Visa Status FAQ

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.
There is no way to know for sure what the outcome of your application will be. Your ISSS advisor will give you as much information as possible when you first meet, including a discussion of whether your application may have a good chance of success or a poor chance of success. Factors that influence your case include:

  • Your current status
  • Your immigration history in the U.S.
  • Quality and appropriateness of your application materials
  • Your ability to prove non-immigrant intent
  • Your ability to prove financial support in the U.S.
  • The level and nature of your studies in the U.S.

Our advice is based on immigration regulations and current trends seen in previous change of status applications. However, even these trends provide no guarantee that an application will be approved or denied, and you should prepare for both outcomes. Have a plan ready in case your request is denied.

Unfortunately, there is no way to expedite a change of status request. If you need your status changed quickly, do not choose this method of obtaining F-1 status. It is much faster to leave the U.S. and apply for a student visa at a consulate abroad.
No. Because of the complicated nature of immigration advising, ISSS does not assist students changing to F-1 from A, G, or NATO status. There may also be other statuses or case situations that we are unable to help with. We try to serve as many students as possible, but in some cases ISSS may not have the expertise or ability to assist certain non-immigrants in changing their status. When we are unable to provide specific guidance, we will offer advice on selecting an immigration attorney.
Yes. Because of the length of time required by USCIS to process applications (anywhere from 3-6 months), ISSS will not process in-country Change of Status I-20s if it less than two months before the first day of classes for the next term.  ISSS will process I-20s for any students wishing to travel home to change their status out-of-country.
Yes. Approximately 2-4 weeks after we mail your application to USCIS, you will receive a receipt notice informing you that they have received your application. This notice will contain your case number, which you can use to look up your case status online on the USCIS Website.  On the same page, you can also register to receive e-mail updates so that you are alerted when USCIS makes a decision about your case.
When USCIS is missing information needed to process your case, they will send you a letter called a Request for Evidence (RFE). These request that you return certain documentation for your case by a certain date, usually within 30 days. Although the information requested varies for each individual case, common requests are new bank statements, evidence that the student intends to return to his or her home country after graduation from Georgia State, or documents showing the student has maintained status since arriving in the U.S. If you receive a Request for Evidence, ISSS will contact you and discuss what documents you need to gather.

Receiving an RFE does not mean that your case will be denied. Normally, this indicates that USCIS intends to approve your change of status request but needs more information to make a final decision. However, we try to avoid receiving RFEs by including all necessary information in the original application.

To protect American national security, everyone who wishes to study in the U.S. must be identified as non-threatening to American interests. This happens automatically for many students, but students from certain countries and in certain fields of study are subject to closer scrutiny. For example, doctoral students in physics, chemistry, and biology are frequently subject to security clearances. Before these students are issued a visa, their background must be checked by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a process that can delay visa issuance for one to six months. If you believe your background may cause you to be subject to a long security clearance check, be sure to apply as early as possible for your visa.