Once you have received an I-20, you can submit an application to U.S.. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request a change in your immigration status to F-1 status.
In general, changing status while staying in the US is complicated, and if you choose this method we recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney; we have a list at the Office of International Students, Scholars & Programs (ISSP) if you need a recommendation. Traveling abroad and re-entering is typically much simpler.
Preparing your Change of Status Application
Begin by reading the instructions for a change of status using the form I-539.
To apply for an I-539 change of status, you will need to prepare the following:
- USCIS Form I-539; there also may be an option for you to file online if you prefer.
- If an item is not applicable or the answer is “none,” type or print “N/A” on the form unless otherwise directed.
- It is recommended that you sign the application in blue ink to show that it is an original signature.
- a photocopy/scan of your I-20 (don't forget to sign the document)
- a personal statement explaining your request to change status (see guidelines).
- a copy/scan of your passport identification page
- a copy/scan of your current I-94 Record
- a copy/scan of your current visa in your passport if applicable
- a photocopy/scan of your admission letter from William & Mary or VIMS
- photocopies/scans of your financial documents showing that you have sufficient financial resources to meet the tuition, living expense, and fees for your program as listed on your I-20
- evidence that you have maintained lawful status while in the U.S. prior to submitting your application for change of status, and that you submitted your application in a timely manner, prior to the expiration of your current status (e.g., H-4 approval notice, F-2 I-20, etc.).
- Receipt of I-901 SEVIS fee payment
- Filing fee and Biometrics Services Fee
- Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application Acceptance
Note: Students currently in A-1 status must first have a Form I-566 approved by the Department of State and submit the approved form with their application. Often, the personnel office of the applicant’s embassy will file the change of status on behalf of the applicant.
Prepare all of the above materials and bring them to your scheduled appointment with an ISSP advisor.
Mailing your I-539 Application
- Mail your application to the appropriate filing address for Form I-539. We recommend that you use express mail (e.g., UPS, FedEx) to mail your application so that you can track it.
- About 2 weeks after USCIS receives your application, you will receive an I-797 Receipt Notice. If you included the Form G-1145 in your application, you will also receive a text and/or email message confirming the receipt of your application.
- It is not unusual for USCIS to contact applicants with requests for future evidence (RFE) prior to making a final decision. If you received an RFE, you need to respond to the request by the deadline.
- Once USCIS completes adjudication of your application, you will receive written confirmation of their decision (I-797 Approval Notice).
Check USCIS Processing Times
- Check the processing times for the I-539 change of status application. Applications made in Virginia are usually processed by the Potomac Service Center. Past processing times have ranged from a few weeks to over a year.
Advantages of applying for an I-539 Change of Status
- You do not have to leave the U.S. for the Form I-539 option. If you are worried about not being able to re-enter the U.S., you may want to consider this method. You also do not initially incur any travel costs or visa application fees.
- If you are working pursuant to your current status (e.g., H-1B, L-1A, etc) and you wish to work up to, or close to, the start of your program, this method can be advantageous as you do not have to leave the US and risk not getting a visa appointment in time to start your program.
- If you are currently a student in the US and want to do OPT or CPT, but will not be able to wait for 2 semesters (or will be graduating before 2 semesters), doing a change of status can sometimes enable you to do this.
Disadvantages of applying for an I-539 Change of Status
- The Form I-539 option leads only to a change in your immigration status. You will not obtain a new entry visa by this method. If you receive a change of status, you must still obtain a new visa the next time you travel outside of the United States. (Keep in mind though that a visa is only required to enter the U.S..; it is not required to stay in the U.S.). When you apply for your visa, you will have to demonstrate that you maintained your previous status through the filing date of the I-539.
- Changing status with this method can take many months and, depending on your current status, you might not be able to begin study or work until your change of status is approved. This can lead to delays in the start of your program. Undergraduate students and students in most cohort and professional programs would have to defer their admission to the next year if it is not approved in time. Additionally, if you have an offer for on-campus employment (e.g., graduate assistantship), you will likely have to wait until the change of status is approved before you can begin working.
- If the change of status is adjudicated quickly by USCIS, it could take effect earlier than you wanted. For example, if you are in H-1B status and planned to work until August 1, 2021, but you file your change of status in June 2021. If USCIS approves it on July 15, 2021 with an effective date of July 15, then your H-1B status would end on July 15 and you would need to stop working for your H-1B employer.
Important Information regarding the Form I-539 Change of Status Method
Make sure that there will not be a gap of more than 30 days between the expiration of your current status (on your I-94 record) and the start date on your I-20. For example, if you are in H-4 status and that expires on July 1, 2021 but your I-20 start date is August 11, 2021, USCIS can deny that application because the gap in status exceeds 30 days.
If you will have a gap in status that is more than 30 days (including processing time), USCIS advises that you apply to extend your current status, which often means an additional I-539 application (and filing fee). If you are in this situation, we recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney. We have a list of local attorneys who other students have used, if you are interested.
Applicants changing status from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 should consult with ISSP staff.
If any of the below apply to you, you can only change your status by using the Travel and Re-entry method; you cannot use the Form I-539 option.
- You are currently in the U.S. under the "visa waiver" program.
- You are currently in the U.S. as a J-1 exchange visitor or a J-2 dependent and are subject to the Two-Year Home Residency Requirement (Section 212e).
- You are currently in the U.S., but are in violation of your current immigration status (e.g., because your I-94 record expired or you have remained beyond your authorized period of stay in the U.S.).
- If you travel abroad while a change of status application (I-539) is pending, USCIS considers the application abandoned and will reject it. You will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a new visa to re-enter. You will then have to wait 30 days before the start date of the I-20 or DS-2019 to re-enter the U.S., even with that new visa.