Visas are issued for a specific purpose and allow the visitor to enter the United States for that purpose only. If your purpose changes while you’re here, you may need a different visa by applying for a Change of Status (COS) to a visa category that matches your primary activity. Each visa category has different rules, regulations and benefits.
Options for Change of Status
When deciding which option is best, it is important to consider: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status. Your target status and associated regulations will help determine which option is best.
Travel and Re-Entry
- Faster than changing status in the U.S.
- Obtain the visa stamp in your passport and the status associated with the new visa
- Possibility of visa processing delays
- Expenses of international travel
Change of Status within the U.S.
- Stay in the U.S. during processing.
- Does not require a visa interview or application. (Visas are only issued outside the U.S.)
- Lengthy processing time (8-12 months). May restrict access to enrollment, employment, tuition waivers, etc...
- May not depart the U.S. during processing.
- Visa stamp will be required upon next departure and re-entry to the U.S. (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
- Requires extensive documentation. If denied, you must depart the U.S. immediately.
- Withdrawing your COS application: If you apply for a COS in the U.S., then later decide to travel home for your new visa, you must contact ISSS to confirm your plans and request a new initial I-20.
Which Option Should I Choose?
In B-1/B-2 Status
In non-immigrant visa categories other than B-1/B-2
J-1/J-2 subject to Two Year Home Residency Requirement
- 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.
- You have been admitted to a program of study certified to host F-1 students.
Not possible if:
- Your period of authorized stay has already expired.
- You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status.
Sometimes, ISSS advisors cannot advise you on the process if your situation is complex or unusual. In such cases, ISSS may recommend that you work with an experienced immigration attorney instead.
Restrictions on Change of Status
- Individuals in J status, subject to the two-year home-country residence.
- Individuals under the Visa Waiver Program (marked “W/T” or “W/B” on the I-94) cannot change nonimmigrant status.
- Individuals under C, D, or K status cannot change nonimmigrant status.
- A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.
- Deadlines: ISSS will not process in-country Change of Status I-20s if requested less than two months before the first day of classes for the next term. ISSS will process I-20s for any students pursuing Option 1 (Travel and Reentry) above.
Applying for a Change of Status
Change of Status (COS) is an individual application. The process depends on which of the 2 methods you choose. COS within the US can be complicated and confusing, and each person’s situation is different. ISSS can provide general information and issue your Change of Status form I-20. However, we advise you to work with an immigration attorney if your case is complex, unusual or if your questions and concerns go beyond our scope of practice.
Travel and Re-entry
- Meet with ISSS advisor to discuss change of status. ISSS advisor will share a link to request a Change of Status in iStart. Upload required financial documents for the Change of Status I-20 request in iStart. After approval, ISSS will issue the Change of Status form I-20, which you can use to pay your SEVIS fee and make a Visa appointment in your home country.
- Please review Obtaining an F-1 Visa and plan your travel.
- When you reenter the U.S. your F1 status becomes active.
Change of Status within the U.S.
- Complete form I-539 (Application to Extend / Change Status) Refer to USCIS website for instructions on how to complete I-539.
- Gather the following documents:
- Passport biographical page
- Proof of financial support
- Upload required documents to iStart. Your ISSS advisor will review documents and issue the appropriate form I-20.
- Prepare your application packet and mail it to USCIS. ISSS does not prepare the application or mail it for you. ISSS strongly recommends you speak with an immigration attorney to assist with filing a change of status.
- Notify ISSS when you receive the USCIS receipt notice and eventually the USCIS approval notice. Attend mandatory immigration check-in and international orientation for the term issued on your I-20.
Change of Visa Status FAQ
If you do Change of Status inside the U.S. you will receive F-1 status but not an F-1 visa. Later, if you depart the U.S., you must obtain an F-1 visa before U.S. reentry.
There is no guarantee that your academic department will hold your assistantship position while your change of status is pending due to institutional deadlines and policies that may prevent them from holding assistantships beyond a certain date each semester. Check with them directly. If your change of status is not approved by this date, you will lose your assistantship offer for that semester.
ISSS can make no predictions about the outcome of your Change of Status application. Factors that may 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 document liquid financial support for your stay in the U.S.
- The academic level and focus of your studies in the U.S.
Current 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 expedited change of status option. If you need your status changed quickly, it is much faster to pursue the travel and re-entry option.
No. Because of the complicated nature of Change of Status applications and various factors we can't control, ISSS will only review your documents at face value and provide the required form I-20. We can offer general information and advice on working with a qualified immigration attorney.
ISSS will not process in-country Change of Status I-20s if your request arrives 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 mailing your application to USCIS, you will receive a receipt notice informing you of the receipt of your application. This notice will contain your case number, which you can use to look view 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 or needs additional information to process your case, USCIS will mail a letter called a Request for Evidence (RFE) containing the specifics of items they are requesting and a specific deadline to reply. If you receive an RFE, ISSS can offer basic guidance on how to reply or clarification of the evidence requested. It may be best to work with a qualified immigration attorney if you receive an RFE.
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. It is also advisable to work with an experienced immigration attorney in such cases.