Overview and Eligibility
F-1 student status is appropriate if you intend to pursue full-time study in the United States. If you are currently in the U.S. in a category other than F-1, you may either change your status by application from within the U.S. or leave the U.S. and apply for an F-1 visa.
Visa vs. Status
The terms visa and status are often misused, so it is helpful for you to remember that there is a difference between these two concepts. A visa is a page in your passport that permits your entry into the United States. Once you are in the U.S., your immigration status is what permits you to live in the United States.
Since the visa is only for entry, it can expire without any immigration trouble. Your student status, is held through your I-20. Once in the U.S., the I-20 program end date is what is most important for maintaining your status.
There are two different ways to change to F-1 student status: Change of Status within the US and Change of Visa by Travel.
Change of Status within the United States
To stay in the U.S. while your move to F-1 you will apply for a Change of Status by application to USCIS.
- You must be currently maintaining lawful status in the United States.
- COS application fee is $290 + $200 SEVIS fee.
- Processing time is 3-5 months.
- You must continue to abide by the regulations of your current immigration status until your F-1 status is approved by the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS).
- You may enroll in classes only if your current immigration status permits study.
- If your change of status is approved, you will still be required to get an F-1 visa the next time you leave the U.S. if you wish to return.
- Exceptions for Change of Status
- Non-immigrants subject to Section 212(e) two-year home residency requirements are ineligible to change status within the United States.
- Those in WT or WB are also ineligible.
- Those in F-2, B-1 or B-2 status are eligible to apply for a change of status, but are not permitted to enroll in classes until the F-1 status has been approved by USCIS.
Learn more about changing your status from within the United States.
Change Visa by Travel
You may change your category immediately by leaving the U.S. and applying for an F-1 visa outside the United States. Upon entry, your status will also become F-1.
- Visa application fee is $160 + $200 SEVIS fee
- Processing time is determined by the consulate appointment and visa processing times
- You may be able to change your visa from a 3rd country (not your home country, but outside the US), but some restrictions apply. Contact the potential consulate and your home country embassy for more information.
Learn more about changing your visa by travel.
Instructions for Specific Visa Types
H-1 or L-1
In your letter of explanation, you should give your dates of employment under H-1 or L-1 and request the date on which you want the F-1 status to be effective. For example, if your last day of employment is August 25, you should request your F-1 status be effective on August 26.
Be aware that the F-1 effective date MUST be within 30 days of your program start date in item 5 on your I-20. If you plan to leave your employment more than 30 days before the program start date, you must depart the U.S. and apply for an F-1 entry visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Any request for an effective date for F=1 status must be prominently stated I your letter of explanation for the change of status. You may also notate the I-539 with your effective date request by clearly printing “Effective [date]” in Part 2. Application Type 1.b. under “The new status I am requesting is:________.”
Also include a copy of the I-797, your 3 mots recent pays tubs, and other documentation establishing that you were in and maintained valid H-1 or L-1 status. USCIS must receive your change of status application no later than the day you terminated your H-1 or L-1 employment, as there is no “grace period” for those in H-1 or L-1 status. Your status as an H-1 or L-1 terminates the day you leave your H-1 or L-1 employer.
A or G
Before filing for a change of status, you must first file Form I-566 with either the Department of State or the Office of Host Country Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations within 10 days of the completion of you’re a or G employment. Only after the I-566 has been approved and returned to you are you eligible to file a change of status application with USCIS.
J-1 or J-2
You cannot change to F-1 in the U.S. if you are subject to Section 212(e) also known as the “two-year home residency requirement,” unless you have received a recommendation for a waiver of the requirement from the Department of State.
You are permitted to change your status from within the United States, however you may not begin studying until your F-1 COS is approved. Be sure you request a deferral of the program start date of your I-20 if your COS is still pending when the program start date has arrived.
B-1 or B-2
Unless your visa specifically states that you have come to the U.S. to apply for schools, we strongly encourage you to change your visa from outside the United States. Changes from B-1/B-2 to F-1 status are highly scrutinized and susceptible to denial.
Since you may not begin studying until your F-1 COS is approved, be sure you request a deferral of the program start date of your I-20 if your COS is still pending when the program start date has arrived. You are responsible for maintaining all regulations associated with your previous immigration status while your COS is pending.
WT or WB Status
You are not eligible to apply for a change of status within the United States.