Change of Nonimmigrant Status

Overview

When you enter the United States in nonimmigrant status, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work, or travel. You may enter the U.S. with one purpose and later change your purpose. When this happens, you may need to obtain a new status. Different visa/status categories allow different activities.

Contact your primary adviser in International Student Services (ISS) as soon as you know you must obtain a new status. The process can be challenging, and we want to discuss your options with you.

Gaining a New Nonimmigrant Status

There are two ways of gaining a new nonimmigrant status:

Option 1: Travel and Reentry

Leave the U.S., apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate, and reenter the U.S. with the new visa and other relevant documents. You will gain your new status when you are admitted into the U.S.

Advantages

  • This process is usually faster than changing status in the U.S.
  • You will obtain the visa and the status

Disadvantages

  • Possibility of visa processing delay
  • Expense of travel

For information about visas, including how to apply, see our Visas page.

Option 2: Change Status in the U.S.

Submit an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status. This option allows you to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the U.S. With this option you may gain the new status but you will not receive a new visa; visas are only issued outside the U.S.

Advantages

  • Ability to stay in the U.S. during processing
  • Avoid the hassle of a visa application process (for now)

Disadvantages

  • Processing can be very slow (three to six months), which may jeopardize your ability to begin your new activity, such as studying or accepting a research or teaching assistantship or other campus employment.
  • You must stay in the U.S. during processing; exiting the U.S. cancels the application
  • You must still obtain a visa stamp to match your status the next time you travel outside the U.S. (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
  • The application may be denied, which could require you to quickly depart the U.S.

When deciding which option is best for you, you should consider various factors: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status. The regulations of your future status will help determine if it is best to travel and re-enter or apply to change status in the U.S. The following general information explains the process for applying to change nonimmigrant status in the U.S.

Eligibility

You may be able to change status if:

  • You are maintaining your current status.
  • You are eligible for the new status.
  • Your current status does not prohibit change of status in the U.S. See below for restrictions.

You generally cannot change status if:

  • Your period of authorized stay has already expired.
  • You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status.

Restrictions

  • Individuals in J status who are subject to the two-year home-country residence requirement can change only to A or G status.
  • Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (marked "W/T" or "W/B" on the I-94) cannot change nonimmigrant status.
  • Persons who hold C, D, or K status cannot change nonimmigrant status.
  • A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.

Application Procedures

  1. Contact International Student Services (ISS) regarding your change of status.  You may submit your own change of status application or an immigration attorney can handle your application.
  2. Compile the application documents specific to your change of status.
  3. Submit your application to USCIS one of two ways:
    a. Apply online through the USCIS ELIS (USCIS Electronic Immigration System)
    b. Mail a paper application to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox facility:

USCIS Dallas Lockbox Facility Mailing Address

For U.S. Postal Service

USCIS
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

For Express Mail and Courier Deliveries

USCIS
ATTN: I-539
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Verify the mailing address listed on the USCIS website prior to mailing your application.

Processing Timeline

Processing times vary, so be prepared to wait three to six months to learn the outcome of your application. To review current processing times and your pending case status, visit the USCIS Case Status Service Online.

Approval or denial: USCIS will notify you of their decision with Form I-797 Notice of Action. The I-797 is an important document and should be kept with your passport and I-94 card. The denial letter or approval notice will be mailed to the address listed on Form I-539 in your application. Note that if you change your address, the postal service will not forward mail sent to you by USCIS.  Please provide your ISS adviser with a copy of your I-797/Notice of Action and approval notice.

Remaining in the U.S. during processing:  You may remain in the U.S. while your application is pending, even if your original status expires during the application processing.

Travel outside the U.S. while application is pending: Do not travel outside of the U.S. while your change of status case is pending. If you leave the country, USCIS will consider your application abandoned.

Travel outside the U.S. after application is approved: In order to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad (except for brief trips to Canada or Mexico under 30 days), you must visit a U.S. consulate to request a new visa to match your new status. Contact ISS for information about documents and procedures for re-entering the U.S.

Employment eligibility: Do not begin employment, if permitted under the new status, until the change of status is approved.