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.

Schedule an appointment with your International Student Services (ISS) adviser as soon as you know you must obtain a new status. Complete the Have a Question form on the navigation bar to the right. The process can be challenging, and we want to discuss your options with you.

ISS advisers are not immigration attorneys. We strongly advise you to consult an immigration attorney about your plans to apply to obtain F-1 status.

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. Fees and instructions are on the USCIS I-539, Application To Change Nonimmigrant Status webpage.

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 (six to nine months, and as long as one year), 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 might 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 reenter 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.

Instructions to Obtain F-1 Status

1. Review your options for obtaining F-1 status (described above).

2. Schedule an appointment with an International Student Services (ISS) adviser to discuss your plans to obtain F-1 status. Complete the Have a Question form on the navigation bar to the right.

3. We strongly encourage you to also consult an immigration attorney to discuss the best option for you to obtain F-1 status.

4. Obtain an I-20 from UW.

If you are newly admitted to UW, request your I-20 from the Admissions office.

If you are currently already studying at the UW and wish to obtain F-1 status, submit the online I-20 request to ISS. You will be asked to upload a copy of your passport biographical page and financial documentation.

REQUEST  I-20 FOR F-1 STATUS

5. Allow 10 business days for ISS processing. You will receive an email from ISS when your I-20 is ready for pick

6. Follow the instructions from ISS and/or your immigration attorney to use the I-20 to obtain F-1 status (either through “Travel & Reentry” or a “Change of Status Application to USCIS.”

7. Notify ISS of Updates to your Status:

Students Who Travel, Apply for the F-1 Visa, and Reenter:

After you reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, upload scans of your F-1 documents to the ISS website so we can activate your F-1 SEVIS record.

Students Who Submit a Change of Status Application to USCIS:

a. Provide a copy of your USCIS Receipt Notice to ISS through our document upload webform.
b. Provide a copy of any USCIS correspondence, such as an RFE (Request for Evidence).
c. If your application is still pending after the I-20 program start date,  ISS must issue you a new I-20 with a deferred program start date. The I-20 information corresponds to your electronic F-1 SEVIS record. When an F-1 SEVIS record is first created, the electronic record is in “initial” status. The SEVIS database is designed so that an electronic F-1 record will automatically terminate if the record is not “activated” or “deferred” by a certain deadline within the quarter. ISS cannot “activate” the F-1 SEVIS record until USCIS approves your F-1 status application.

Consequently, ISS must “defer” the F-1 SEVIS record program start date to the next available quarter in order to preserve the “initial” electronic F-1 SEVIS record and not jeopardize the pending change of status application. ISS will issue a new I-20 with the deferred program start date; you must submit the new I-20 to USCIS with a copy of your USCIS receipt notice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there special considerations changing from E-2 to F-1?

You cannot work on campus until you are officially in F-1 status.

You must be able to maintain your current E-1/E-2 status until your F-1 status is approved. If your E-1/E-2 status will expire prior to your F-1 approval (and the timing is difficult to predict), your application will most likely be denied. Even though you are allowed to stay in the U.S. while the application is pending, if your application is likely to be denied, it may be better for you to travel, obtain an F-1 visa abroad, and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status.

Are there special considerations changing from F-2 to F-1?

F-2 status allows part-time study only. You cannot begin full-time classes until you are in F-1 status.

You cannot work on campus until you are in F-1 status.

Are there special considerations changing from H-1 to F-1?

The regulations prohibit working on campus until the change to F-1 status is approved.

You must be able to maintain your H-1 status up until your F-1 status is approved. If your H-1 status will expire prior to your F-1 approval (and the timing is difficult to predict), your application will most likely be denied. Even though you are allowed to stay in the U.S. while the application is pending, if your application is likely to be denied, it will be better for you to travel, obtain an F-1 visa abroad, and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status.

In addition, you cannot continue working in your H-1 approved job after your F-1 status is granted.

Are there special considerations changing from H-4 to F-1?

While H-4 status allows full-time study, employment may be restricted. Certain H4 dependents may be eligible for employment authorization. If you are not eligible for work authorization, then you are not permitted to begin working on campus until the change to F-1 status is approved and you are within 30 days of your I-20 start date.

Are there special considerations changing from L-2 to F-1?

While L-2 status allows full-time study, employment may be restricted. L-2 spouses may be eligible for employment authorization, but L-2 dependent children cannot work. If as an L-2 you are not eligible for work authorization, then you are not permitted to begin working on campus until the change to F-1 status is approved and you are within 30 days of your I-20 start date.

If I apply to USCIS, how will I know the decision?

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.

If I apply to USCIS, what are the travel rules?

You must remain in the U.S. while your application is pending. If you leave the U.S., USCIS will consider your application abandoned and deny the application. Consult your immigration attorney or ISS if you must leave the U.S. during USCIS processing.

After your F-1 status is approved by USCIS, 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 an F-1 visa to match your F-1 status. Contact ISS for information about documents and procedures for re-entering the U.S.

When can I start working on campus, apply for CPT, OPT, etc.?

Do not begin working on campus until you are officially in F-1 status. To confirm eligibility for CPT or OPT, please complete the Have a Question form on the navigation bar to the right.