Changing to F-1 Status

Overview and Eligibility

Opting for F-1 student status is suitable if your intention is to engage in full-time study in the United States. If you are presently residing in the U.S. under a different immigration category, you have the option to either apply for a change in your status while staying in the United States or depart from the country and apply for an F-1 visa through a US embassy or consulate.

Visa vs. Status

The terms visa and status are often misused, so it is helpful for you to know the 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 transition your immigration status to F-1 while residing in the United States, it is necessary to submit an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

  • Change of Status within the United States
    • File an I-539 Application to Extend/Change Non-Immigrant Status with USCIS.
    • G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
    • A brief statement requesting the change of status from your current status to F-1 status.
    • Admission letter from UA Little Rock.
    • Proof of Financial Support
    • Copy of applicant’s signed change of status I-20.
    • I-539 Filing Fee
    • Receipt indicating payment of the SEVIS fee.
    • Copies of the applicant’s (I-94, passport bio page, arrival stamp, and visa)
    • You must be currently maintaining lawful status in the United States.
    • You must continue to abide by the regulations of your current immigration status until your F-1 status is approved by 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.
    • In the event that your change of status application is still under review by USCIS at the time of your program start date, it is imperative that you formally request a deferral of the program start date of your I-20.
  • 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.

Learn more about changing your status from within the United States.

Change Status by Travel

You can promptly change your immigration status by leaving the United States and applying for an F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate. Once you enter the US under F-1 status, your status will automatically transition to F-1.

  • Apply for admission.
  • Submit the online immigration verification form to request an initial I-20.
  • Pay the visa application fee and the SEVIS fee.
  • Schedule a visa appointment.
  • It is possible to apply for a student visa while staying in a third country, although there might be certain limitations, such as the requirement to obtain a visa for that particular country. It is recommended to contact your home country’s consulate or embassy for more information prior to considering the third-country route.
  • You are allowed to arrive in the United States no sooner than 30 days before the program start date mentioned on your I-20 form.
  • Upon arrival in the US under F-1 status, it is imperative that you participate in the mandatory new international student orientation. Please ensure that you bring all your immigration documents for our review and activation of your SEVIS record.

Learn more about changing your visa by travel.

Instructions for Specific Visa Types

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, and you may study part-time while your change of status case is pending.