Method 2: Form I-539

Once you have received a DS-2019, you can submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request a change in your immigration status to J-1 status.

You can submit your Form I-539 (change of status application) by mail or online through USCIS ELIS.

All Change of Status Applications

To apply for an I-539 change of status (by mail or online), you will need:

  • a photocopy/scan of your DS-2019
  • a personal statement explaining your request to change status (see guidelines).
  • photocopies/scans of your passport identification page, I-94 record, and visa
  • a photocopy/scan of your admission letter from William & Mary or VIMS (for students)
  • a photocopy/scan of your employment offer/invitation letter from William & Mary or VIMS (for scholars)
  • photocopies/scans of your financial documents showing that you have sufficient financial resources to meet the tuition, living expense, and fees for your program/stay in the U.S. as listed on your DS-2019
  • evidence that you have maintained lawful status while in the United States 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, OPT card, etc.).
  • Receipt of I-901 SEVIS fee payment

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).

Submitting I-539 online through USCIS ELIS
  • When applying online, you will first create an ELIS account.
  • You will then use the system to electronically complete and submit your I-539 Change of Status application. See the USCIS ELIS site for detailed instructions.
  • As you apply online, you should have scans/electronic copies of the items listed above under "All Change of Status Applications" available, as you will upload these documents in your application.
  • You must pay your application fee through pay.gov.  Once you have e-signed and submitted your case through ELIS, you will be able to pay your fee.
Submitting I-539 by Mail

In addition to the items listed under "All Change of Status Applications," applications by mail should include:

  • a check or money order made payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" for $290.00.  If paying by check, be sure to write the date in the American style (month/day/year).
  • a completed USCIS Form I-539 (pdf)

Prepare all of the above materials and mail them to USCIS as indicated on the I-539 application form.

USCIS will adjudicate your application typically within 3-6 months after receiving it. About 2 weeks after they receive your application, you will receive an I-797 Receipt Notice. It is not unusual for USCIS to contact applicants with requests for more information prior to making a final decision. Once USCIS completes adjudication of your application, you will receive written confirmation of their decision (I-797 Approval Notice).

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 (whether submitting by mail or through ELIS). 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.
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 3-6 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, let's say you are in H1B status and planned to work until August 1, 2011, but you file your change of status in June 2011. If USCIS approves it on July 15, 2011 with an effective date of July 15, then your H1B status would end on July 15 and you would need to stop working for your H1B 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 card) and the start date on your DS-2019. For example, if you are in H-4 status and that expires on July 1, 2011 but your DS-2019 start date is August 11, 2011, USCIS can deny that application because the gap in status exceeds 30 days.

Applicants changing status from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 or J-1 should consult an advisor.

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.).