Changing to F-1 Student Status
Q: What is F-1 student status?
A: F-1 student status is the non-immigrant classification granted to individuals whose primary purpose for residing temporarily in the U.S. is to pursue a FULL-TIME program of study. F-1 students must meet certain obligations of the Department of Homeland Security in order to “maintain” or keep the status after admission to the U.S. or approval for a change to that status. One of the most important of these obligations is to continue to carry a full course of study every semester.
Q: Do I have to change my status to F-1 student?
A: No. If you are still engaging in the activity or purpose for which you were admitted to the U.S., and your authorized stay has not expired, you do not have to change status to F-1. However, if that activity or purpose is completed, or your current status does not allow full-time study and you plan to study full-time, or your authorized stay on your form I-94 is getting ready to expire, then you must obtain F-1 status in order to continue your studies.
Q: How can I obtain F-1 student status?
A: You may either travel to your home country and apply for the F-1 visa at the American Consulate there and enter the U.S. in F-1 status OR file an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and request a change to F-1 status.
Q: Is a change to F-1 status the same as an F-1 visa?
A: NO! F-1 status only permits you to remain in the U.S. in order to study full-time. A visa is a stamp or affixed entry in your passport that allows you to apply for entry or re-entry to the U.S. for the purpose of pursuing a full program of study.
Once your status is changed to F-1, you will still need to apply for the F-1 visa in your home country in order to re-enter the U.S. Until you obtain the F-1 visa, you may only travel to, and re-enter the U.S. from, countries which border the U.S. (Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands), for trips of 30 days or less.
Q: Is it better to apply directly for the F-1 student visa at home or apply for a change to F-1 status here?
A: Every case is different. In some countries the visa issuance process is extremely difficult. In those countries, the American Consulate may view a change to F-1 status in the U.S. as an attempt to avoid that process and will want to know why you didn’t apply for the F-1 visa there instead. If you are not sure which is best for you, make an appointment with the Director of International Programs and Services for more information.
Q: Am I eligible for a change to F-1 student status?
A: Yes, IF you qualify for issuance of Form I-20 by Purchase, are still maintaining your non-immigrant status, and, can present an un-expired I-94.
Q: What if my authorized stay in the U.S. has expired?
A: You ARE NOT eligible to apply for a change of status to F-1 unless you can prove that you had special emergency circumstances which were beyond your control. The chances of a Change of Status being granted in this case are poor. Make an appointment with International Programs and Services for more information.
Q: Should I hire a lawyer to help me?
A: International Programs and Services provides change of status assistance with immigration matters free of charge! In some unusual cases, you may be advised to use a lawyer.
Q: Can I start school before I change my status?
A: Yes, in most cases but if your primary purpose is to pursue a full course of study, you should either change to F-1 student status before starting school or leave the U.S. before your authorized stay expires and apply for the F-1 visa at home. If you have a B-2 visa, you MUST change your status before starting school.
Q: If I decide to file an application with USCIS to change my B-2 visitor status, when should I apply?
A: If you currently have a B-2 visa, not too soon after your arrival and not too close to the expiration date on your Form I-94. About half way through your authorized stay is ideal. If you have another type of visa, as soon as possible.
Q: What documents are required for the change of status application?
- you will need a completed Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status), found at: http://www.uscis.gov/i-539;
- your I-20 form with your signature;
- your Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record – the white card stapled in your passport);
- all other immigration documentation including your passport. We will make copies in the office of financial support documentation issued within the last 6 months;
- a letter requesting a change of status explaining why you are requesting this change now;
- a fee in the amount of $290.00 (check or money order) payable to USCIS;
- proof of payment of the $200 SEVIS fee (can be paid and printed on the website www.fmjfee.com).
If you have a spouse or children with you in the U.S. who need to change to F-2 status, you must also submit Supplement I to the Form I-539 along with their original I-94 cards. An additional fee will be required for each dependent.
Q: How do I file my application?
A: Bring your complete application (with all the documents described above) to International Programs and Services for processing. When it is finished, you will send your application to USCIS. When they have made a decision about your case, your I-20 and a new I-94 will be mailed to you.
Q: What happens to my status while I am waiting to receive an answer from USCIS?
A: You will be maintaining your present non-immigration status, even if the I-94 expires.