Your status in the US is the immigration category you are in while you are in the US for this “stay,” and reflects the intentions you have in the US. Your status is assigned by your I-94 entry record, and is determined by the category of visa that you have. Your status also defines what rules you need to follow while in the US – for example, students in F-1 status have to be enrolled full-time, but visitors in B-2 status aren’t allowed to pursue full-time study. If your purpose for being in the US changes during your time here, you have a few options as to how to change your immigration status.
Read on to learn more about changing your status in the US to F-1 or F-2.
You can choose to leave the US, apply for the new appropriate visa type, and return to the US with the new visa. You will then have a different kind of status in the US.
This option is the fastest method of changing your status, though it may be more expensive as it requires travel abroad.
You do not necessarily have to apply for the new visa category in your home country – many students will apply for a new visa in Canada or other nearby countries. Please note, you would need to make sure you are allowed to visit this other country, or obtain a visitor visa to enter if necessary. Wait times for appointments at different US Embassies around the world can be found here.
If you plan to travel abroad to apply for an F-1 visa after being admitted to UMBC, please work with the IES office to obtain an I-20 document, which is required for your visa appointment. Additional information about obtaining an I-20 from UMBC can be found here, and information on scheduling a visa interview and applying for an F-1 visa can be found here.
Applying for a Change of Status in the US
You can also choose to remain in the US, and apply to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) to change your current status during this stay in the US. This does not grant you a new visa – you would still need to apply for the new visa type the next time you leave the US, in order to return again.
Some statuses, such as H, allow you to begin your studies while the change is pending, and others, such as B, do not. Other benefits, such as different kinds of work authorization, are not available to you until the change is approved. The change of status application processing time varies, usually taking between 4-7 months. Please plan ahead to allow time for this lengthy application process.
As of April 2017, USCIS requires that you maintain your current immigration status until within 30 days of your application approval, for those changing to F-1 or J-1 status. This means you must be able to stay in your current immigration status until the change to F or J is approved (or more specifically, just before it is approved), regardless of how long it takes. For individuals whose existing status is not valid for at least 6-7 months, IES strongly recommends working with an immigration lawyer on your change of status application.
To request a change to your current immigration status in the US, you will need to submit an application and supporting documents to USCIS. The processing fee that USCIS charges is $290. Note that there is also an additional $200 SEVIS fee that is required if you will have an I-20 for the first time (for change of status to F-1 student only). For changes to F-1 status, the international office of the school you plan to attend can help you prepare the application package.
A few weeks after submitting your application, you should receive a paper receipt in the mail at the address you specified on your application. This receipt will include a reference number specific to your application, which must be used when contacting USCIS about your case. You can follow the progress of your application on the web at http://www.uscis.gov/, under “Check Your Case Status.” Eventually your approval notice will be mailed to you at the address you gave on your application, and will have a new paper I-94 attached, indicating your new status in the US and the duration of time you can remain in the US with that new status. Your electronic I-94 record should also be automatically updated appropriately.
Once your change of status has been approved, you will be in legal F-1 status within the U.S. However, if you leave the country and do not have a valid F-1 visa in your passport, you will need to apply for and obtain the appropriate visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or consulate before returning to the U.S. Your visa type determines your status when you enter the US.
The IES Office strongly encourages potential change of status applicants to discuss the timing and process options of your application with our office before taking any action! While we can help with basic advising, please note that our office is not a immigration law firm and this application is between you and USCIS. We can try our best to help, but our assistance is NOT legal advice. Complex cases will be strongly encouraged to work with an immigration lawyer to help ensure a smooth application process, and all cases should consider this option.
Information for changes to F-1 from specific categories that have unique concerns:
Change from B-2 Visitor to F-1 student: If you entered the U.S. on a B-2 visa (tourist status) and are applying for F-1 student status, there is very strong chance that your request to change to F-1 will be denied. The exception to this would be if your B-2 visa is marked as “prospective student.” You are NOT allowed to attend classes while in B-2 status, except if those classes are “recreational or non-vocational.” B-2 applicants also have the additional burden of maintaining their B-2 status until their change to F-1 is approved, which often means applying for a B-2 extension. IES does not have the expertise to assist in this process in any way.
Change from F-2 dependent to F-1 student: F-2 individuals are not able to attend school full-time, and must have an approved change of status to F-1 before beginning their studies at UMBC. As of Summer 2015, F-2 students can attend school part-time.
Change from J-1 or J-2 to F-1 student: Immigration regulations do NOT allow a person in J-1 or J-2 status to change to a new status while in the US, if subject to the 212(e) 2 year return requirement. However, someone subject to 212(e) in one of these statuses can leave the US to apply for an F-1 visa and return to the US in F-1 status. Please be aware that gaining an F-1 visa abroad and returning in F-1 status will NOT remove the obligation of the two-year home residency requirement, though this can be postponed until after your F-1 studies and possible OPT are complete. You will need to request a waiver from your home government or the agency that is sponsoring you to avoid the 2 year return requirement. For more information on the 2 year requirement, please read more here, about 2/3 down the page.
J-1 or J-2 individuals that are NOT subject to 212(e) home residency requirements are eligible to change their status in the US. You can determine if you are subject by checking your J-1 or J-2 visa stamp or on your DS-2019.
Change from A or G to F-1 student: An I-566 form must be completed with your primary G or A visa holder’s employer before submitting a change of status application. This form can take some time, so please plan ahead.
SEVIS FEE Requirement for a change to F-1 status
If you are changing to F-1 status, you will need to pay a one-time $200 fee known as the SEVIS Fee. This fee must be paid in advance of submitting your application to USCIS, as you will need to include your fee receipt with your application.
You can pay this fee on-line by filling out the online Form I-901 and using a credit card at www.fmjfee.com. (As of March 2014, you will need to use Internet Explorer – IE – when completing the SEVIS fee online). An online receipt can be printed from this website and submitted as proof of payment. A SEVIS number is required to pay the SEVIS fee. Your SEVIS number can be found on your I-20, in the top right corner.
Change of Status to F-1 Application Checklist
- Completed application form I-539 (please type!):
- Helpful Hints for form I-539:
- Use an address where you will receive mail for at least 5 months. If you might move, you can use the UMBC IES office address
- For Part 2, question 2a, the start date of your I-20 would go here.
- For Part 3, question 1a and 1b, please leave 1a blank and check the 1b box to request “Duration of Status” for changes to F-1 or F-2.
- Be sure to complete Part 4 question 19, the continuation (page 6), to briefly explain how you will support yourself financially, or what kind of work you have done in the US, depending on your answer to number 19.
- Helpful Hints for form I-539:
- Form G-1145 to request electronic updates to your application (please type!)
- Copy of your passport biographical page and visa pages
- Printed copy of I-94 record, or original I-94 card if you have the older card in your passport and not an electronic record
- Check or money order made out to “Department of Homeland Security” for $370 (I-539 processing fee)
- A letter written to USCIS requesting F-1 status and explaining the reason for the change of status
- Evidence of Financial Support (Letter or Affidavit from Sponsor, and account balance or bank statement for appropriate amount – detailed requirements available here)
- Please note, while not required, it is not uncommon for change of status applicants to be asked to provide a 3 month history of funds from their financial sponsor. If available, we recommend including these with the application.
- Copy of signed Form I-20 (provided by International Student Adviser after seeing proof of available finances, and proof of enrollment or admission) *Please note, the I-20 cannot be more than 30 days old when received by USCIS!
- Receipt showing payment of $200 SEVIS fee (can only be paid after receiving the I-20, using the SEVIS ID from the I-20)
Additional Information for a Change of Status to an F-2 Dependent Visa:
- All documents listed under F-1, above (please note that an F-2 applicant does NOT need to pay a SEVIS fee)
- Copies of Primary (F-1) Visa Holder’s documents:
- I-94 printed record or card
- Passport biographical page and visa pages
- I-901 SEVIS fee receipt
- Support letter from F-1 visa holder, indicating that they want you to be their dependent in the US
- Copy of Marriage Certificate, if relying on your spouse for your status
- Copies of F-1 transcripts (if applicable)
- Copy of the F-1 EAD card (if applicable)
Applications completed and reviewed with the IES office can be mailed to the following address as appropriate:
For Basic Postage:
PO Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266
For Additional Mail services (courier, tracking, delivery confirmation, etc):
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
I-539 Change of Status Application: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-539.pdf
I-539 form directions: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-539instr.pdf
SEVIS fee/I-901 form: https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/index.html
USCIS Home page: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis