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Change of Status to F-1

This blog will deal with the details involved in applying for a change of status from another status to F or F-1 Status. Applying for an F-1 change of status (COS) can be a complex process, which is why we always suggest that you consult with a student adviser at the school that you plan to attend as well as an immigration attorney. Immigration laws and policies are always subject to change, so it is crucial that you seek advice from qualified individuals who work in the field. 

Continue reading to learn who is eligible for a change of status, how the COS process works, how to prepare, as well what you should and shouldn’t do as you navigate the change of status application process. Hopefully, we will be able to answer all of your questions so you feel more comfortable embarking on this exciting journey. 

F-Visa vs F Status (Change of Status)

The F-1 Visa is a nonimmigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue education in the United States. This includes language training programs and/or academic studies. The F-1 visa is issued to applicants who meet the eligibility requirements and apply from outside the USA. The F-1 visa is placed inside the applicant’s passport and is used to seek entry into the USA. 

F status, also called F-1 status, is the legal immigration status that international students are granted once they are inside the United States and have been approved for a change of status to F-1. Some individuals enter the U.S. on a different type of visa and then apply to change their status to F-1 to attend a full time course of study.

In short, the F-1 visa is granted by an embassy or consulate abroad and is used to gain entry into the USA. F status may be granted to those applying from within the USA. 

Who can apply for a change of status to F-1?

There are many statuses that allow individuals who are already within the USA to apply for a change to F-1 student status.  In fact, it is easier to list the statuses that are not eligible for a change of status. 

Visa categories generally ineligible for change to F-1:

  • Those on the C, D, K or M statuses, cannot apply for a status change to F. 
  • Some J-1 visa holders. J-1 visa holders who are subject to what is called the “two year rule” cannot apply for change of status. To see if you are subject to this rule, check the J-1 visa in your passport. If you are subject to this rule it will be stated on the visa itself.
  • Short term visitors who entered the USA under the Visa Waiver Program or “ESTA” cannot apply for a change of status. 

Should I apply for Change Of Status or go home to apply for an F-1 Visa? 

applicant going through the best options to apply for a change of status

This is a very case specific question. For some, it may be quicker, easier and cheaper to return home to apply for an F-1 Visa, while for others it might not even be a possibility. Below are some of the factors to consider when deciding whether to apply for a change of status or apply as an initial applicant from abroad. 

  1. Current Status: Does your current status allow you to apply for a change of status to F? 
  2. Timing: The processing time for COS cases varies and can sometimes take several months. If your course of study starts soon, you may be better off returning to your home country and applying at the embassy or consulate. Please note, if you decide to apply for a change of status, you will not be able to study until you are approved. 
  3. Travel Restrictions: Check to see if there are any restrictions preventing you from leaving/entering both your home country and the USA. 
  4. Future Plans: Think about your long-term plans and how either choice may affect the outcome. 
  5. Get Advice: Most importantly, get advice from both the school you plan on attending and an immigration attorney. 

One important point to remember is that if you apply for, and are ultimately granted, a change of status you will not have a visa in your passport. This means that if you wish to travel abroad during the period of study you will not be able to re-enter the country with your student status unless you apply for and receive an F-1 visa in your passport. 

How can I apply for a change of status to F-1? 

If you have decided to remain in the USA and apply for a change of status, you must follow a very specific process. Below are the steps you will need to follow:

  1. Apply and be admitted to an SEVP certified school with an eligible program: In order to admit you, the school will need to make sure that you meet all of the academic requirements as well as the financial requirements. Upon acceptance the school will issue you a Letter of Acceptance as well as a Form I-20. At this time, you will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee
  2.  File Form I-539: For this step we strongly recommend using a qualified immigration attorney. Your lawyer will work with you to complete and file the I-539 COS application, submit any supporting documentation and pay the filing fees. 
  3. Biometrics Appointment: USCIS will schedule an appointment to collect your signature, photograph and fingerprints. USCIS may also require you to attend an interview so be prepared to attend if this is required. 
  4. Wait and stay in contact with both your school and lawyer: The length of the COS process varies among applicants. It is very important that during the waiting period that you stay in contact with your school officials and your lawyer. Make sure to notify both your school and your lawyer when you receive any communication from USCIS. Send both parties any correspondence that you receive so you can get the best and most up to date advice. If you change your address at any time during the process, advise your school and make sure your lawyer advises USCIS. 
  5. Receive a decision: Contact your lawyer and your school immediately upon receiving a decision. If you are approved, you must be registered and start within 30 days of approval. If you are denied, you may have the option to appeal or you will need to leave the country immediately. In either case, contact your lawyer and your school immediately for advice.

To summarize, it is important that you follow the instructions very carefully and keep in close contact with both your lawyer and your school. During the process, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact the DSO (Designated School Official) at your school. 

Ready to get started? 

person holding all documents necessary to apply for a change of status

If you have already consulted with your lawyer and one of our school advisors, and are ready to get started please follow the steps below and start by completing the LANGUAGE ON Application for Admission. Contact a student adviser with any questions that you may have. 

Complete the LANGUAGE ON Application for Admission

Submit the following documents:

  • Copy of passport.
  • Copy of visa.
  • Copy of I-94.
  • Bank document from the student or a sponsor to show funds (If the funds are from a sponsor, the sponsor will need to complete and return the statement of support. If the sponsor is in the USA the sponsor will need to have the statement notarized.).

Pay the required school fees and deposit

Receive the letter of acceptance & I-20 from the school

Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee

Complete and submit the I-539 application to USCIS along with the required fees. We strongly encourage all applicants to consult an attorney for assistance with this step.

Frequently asked questions

How long can I stay in the USA with an F-1 visa?

Yes, it is possible to apply for a change of status from B-1 to F-1. Before you apply you must make sure you meet the eligibility requirements. We suggest contacting both a student adviser and immigration attorney to help you with the process.

Can I change my status from J-1 to F-1?

Yes, it is possible to apply for a change of status from J-1 to F-1, unless you are subject to the two-year rule. There are specific eligibility requirements and steps you must take to apply for the change of status. We suggest contacting both a student adviser and immigration attorney to help you with the process.

Can I stay in the USA during a change of status?

Yes, you must stay in the USA during the change of status process. If you leave the country during the process, USCIS may consider your application to be abandoned. There are many important rules, regulations and considerations to keep in mind. We suggest contacting both a student adviser and immigration attorney to help you with the process.

Can a change of status be denied?

Yes, a change of status can be denied by USCIS for a number of reasons.

How long does a change of status to F-1 take?

Processing times for a change of status vary greatly depending on a number of factors. You can check average case processing times on USCIS’ website.

Can I travel abroad after applying for a change of status and receiving my F-1 status?

If you leave the USA after receiving your F-1 status, you will not be able to return with F-1 status unless you apply for an F-1 Visa at an embassy or consulate and are granted a visa.

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