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Gaining a New Nonimmigrant Status
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.
This webpage contains general information about gaining a new nonimmigrant status. It is not legal advice and ISS advisors are not attorneys. We recommend you consult an immigration attorney about gaining a new status.
There are two ways to gain a new nonimmigrant status:
Option 1: Travel and Reentry
- Gather documents related to new status.
- Leave the U.S.
- Apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. (Canadians are not required to apply for a new entry visa.)
- Re-enter 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.
- This process is usually faster than changing status in the U.S.
- You will obtain the entry visa and the status
- Possibility of visa processing delay
- Expense and logistics of travel
For information about visas, including how to apply, review the Visas page.
Option 2: Change Status in the U.S.
- Gather documents related to new status.
- Submit an I-539 application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status. Wait for USCIS processing. If approved, USCIS will give you official documentation of your new status.
- Ability to stay in the U.S. during processing
- Avoid the time and expense of new visa application (for now — new entry visa will be required to re-enter the U.S. if you travel in the future)
- USCIS 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 some exceptions).
- Possibility of denial, which could require you to depart the U.S.
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. Review the restrictions.
You generally cannot change status if:
- Your period of authorized stay has already expired.
- Your current nonimmigrant status does not allow a change of status in the U.S.
- You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status.
- 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.
Steps to Gain F-1 Status
This information is for students currently in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant status who need to gain F-1 status. F-1 status is for full-time study. You might need to change to F-1 status if:
- Your current status expires soon
- You current status does not allow full-time study
- Your current status does not allow work authorization
ISS advisors can only advise you on the rules of your F-1 status. Please meet with an immigration attorney to better understand the process with USCIS and how your change of status may affect your full immigration record.
Step 1: Review the information about the two ways to gain a new status. Consider these questions:
- When does your current status expire?
- Does your current status allow work or full-time study?
- How soon must your F-1 status start?
- Do you need to work on campus soon (such as in a TA or RA position)?
- Is it possible to travel, apply for an F-1 visa, and re-enter the U.S. before the upcoming quarter (or whichever quarter you hope to start F-1 status)?
- Do you plan to travel internationally in the upcoming year?
- What are the current USCIS processing times?
- Do you want off-campus work authorization, such as CPT or OPT, in the future?
- When will you graduate?
- Do you have a pending permanent resident application?
Step 2: Consult an ISS advisor. ISS will help you:
- Get an I-20 (document required to gain F-1 status)
- Learn basic information about gaining a new status
- Brainstorm questions to consider (and possibly ask an immigration attorney) when deciding how to gain F-1 status
- Learn the F-1 rules after you gain F-1 status.
Step 3: Request Form I-20
After you decide how you will plan to gain F-1 status, you must request an I-20 from UW.
- The I-20 is a document issued by UW. The I-20 is required to gain F-1 status.
- Your I-20 will have a “program start date.” The I-20 start date for newly admitted students will be your admission quarter. The I-20 start date for current students will usually be the upcoming quarter, unless you discuss a later quarter start date with an ISS advisor.
- If you choose the “Travel/Re-entry” option, you cannot re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status earlier than 30 days before the I-20 program start date.
- you must provide financial documentation to cover three quarters of tuition and living expenses when requesting the I-20 through MyISSS.
Step 4: After You Get Your I-20
For Students Traveling to Gain Status:
- Plan your travel timeline. You cannot enter the U.S. in F-1 status earlier than 30 days before your I-20 start date.
- Apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. Review the ISS Visas page for more information. Canadians: you are not required to apply for an F-1 visa t a U.S. consulate. Proceed to Step 3.
- Reenter the U.S. Present your F-1 documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer.
Students Applying for Change of Status in the U.S.
- Submit your Change of Status application to USCIS.
- Provide a copy of your USCIS Receipt Notice to ISS through the “Document Upload” form in MyISSS.
- If your application is still pending with USCIS after the I-20 program start date, ISS will automatically issue you a new I-20 with a deferred program start date.
- If plans change and you must travel outside the U.S. before F-1 status is approved, notify ISS. You should withdraw your Change of Status application with USCIS and follow the steps for Option 1: Travel and Reentry.
Step 5: After You Gain F-1 Status
- Complete the F-1 Immigration Check-In in MyISSS.
- Learn the F-1 rules: review the ISS website and attend an F-1 Immigration Orientation Session