International Student Services

H-4 to F-1 - Change of Nonimmigrant Status

Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses became available May 26, 2015. Consult your spouse’s employer’s immigration specialist to see if you should obtain F1 status or if you are eligible for work authorization in your current H4 status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides additional FAQs about the new benefit.

Contact International Student Services (ISS) as soon as you know you must obtain F-1 status in order to discuss your options. If you have a graduate student appointment (employment), it may be best to travel, apply for an F-1 visa abroad, and reenter the U.S. in F-1 status to ensure that you will be able to start working on campus.


  1. Review your options for obtaining F-1 status. Decide which option to use: “Travel and Reentry” or “Change Status in the U.S.”
  2. Schedule an appointment with your assigned International Student Services (ISS) adviser to discuss your plans to obtain F-1 status.
  3. Obtain an I-20 from UW.
    If you have recently been admitted to the UW, request your I-20 from the Admissions office.
    If you are currently already studying at the UW in H-4 status 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.


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

  4. Prepare the required documents and follow next steps for obtaining F-1 status (details below).

Option 1: Travel and Reentry

Review the ISS Visas page. Plan your travel and F-1 visa appointment accordingly. You can enter the U.S. with your I-20 and F-1 visa no earlier than 30 days before the I-20 start date.

Option 2: Change of Status in the U.S.

Submit your application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by mail.
(The online USCIS ELIS application option is no longer available).

Mail the following documents to the USCIS Lockbox.

  • Form I-539
  • USCIS filing fee: check or money order payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Original I-94 card or photocopy of admission stamp and paper printout of I-94 record
  • Photocopy of the visa page and identification page in your passport
  • Photocopy of the signed I-20 issued in your name by the UW
  • Financial documents verifying easily accessible funds for tuition/living expenses, such as personal bank statement, family bank statement, etc. (not salary information)
  • Photocopy of the H-1’s Approval Notice (I-797)
  • Photocopy of the H-1’s I-94 card (front and back)
  • A letter from the H-1 employer verifying that the H-1 is in status
  • Detailed letter requesting and explaining the need to change status
  • Photocopy of proof of payment of SEVIS fee
  • Completed G-1145 Form (optional; it signs you up for email/text message notification of your application’s arrival at USCIS)


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.

You must be able to maintain your H-4 status up until your F-1 status is approved. If your H-4 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.