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.
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.
- 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.**
- Review the Change of Status Procedures and gather the documents as indicated, including:
- Bring all required documents to your ISSS advisor, who will review and issue the I-20.
- 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.
- 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!
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
- 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.
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.