Change Status to F-1

If you are currently in the United States in a non-immigrant status (such as H-4 or L-2 status), you may be able to study in your current status.  See Nonimmigrants: Who Can Study? posted by Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Change of status to F-1 could be a lengthy process.  You should speak to an International Student Advisor at OIP as early as possible so you can plan ahead.

There are two ways to change to F-1 status:

  • Change by Travel: travel outside the U.S. and re-enter the U.S. with a new "initial attendance I-20", or
     
  • Change by Mail: stay in the U.S. and request a change of status by filing I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
     
Travel/Re-Entry v.s. Change of Status
  Travel/re-entry Change of status
Cost
  • Plane ticket to home country
  • Visa application fee (if you need to apply for a new F-1 visa)
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee: $200
  • Filing fee for I-539: $370
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee: $200
Processing Time

Various from counties to countries.  See Visa Appointment and Wait Times.

USCIS Processing Time: 90 days or more.  See USCIS service center processing time information.  This processing length can change at any time and is not guaranteed.  While your I-539 change of status application is pending, you must:

  • Maintain your current immigration status
  • Register for a full-time course load (exception B-1/B-2 and F-2)
  • Physically remaining in the U.S.
This process does NOT provide you a new F-1 visa stamp in your passport.  The next time you travel outside the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to apply for an F-1 visa.
 
USCIS processing time maybe longer than you expected.  Please read "What you need to know before changing status by mail" section below.
 
Other Concerns It may be difficult to travel in the middle of the semester.  You will not be eligible for F-1 benefits (On-Campus Employment) until you have obtained F-1 visa and entered the U.S. in F-1 status

If USCIS denies your change of status application, you must leave the U.S. immediately when your current status expires.

New Students

Submit the proof of finances and signed Financial Affidavit (PDF, 185 KB) to International Admissions Office or Graduate Studies so you can receive an Initial Attendance I-20.  After receiving the I-20 you must:

  1. Pay a $200 SEVIS I-901 fee online and print the receipt.
  2. Return to your home country and apply for an F-1 Student visa.
  3. Come back to the U.S. with your I-20 and F-1 Student visa.
  4. Provide proof of your new F-1 status:  Attend the F-1 student document check-in during the Mandatory International Student Orientation.
  5. Follow the F-1 regulation and maintain full-time status while you are in the U.S.

Current Students

You must request an initial attendance I-20 from OIP and leave the U.S.  You will need to apply for an F-1 visa at your local U.S. Embassy or consulate.  Once you obtain an F-1 visa, return to the U.S. with your I-20 and F-1 visa.

  1. Request a new I-20: To request a new I-20, provide the following documents to OIP.
    • A signed I-20 Request Form (PDF, 202KB).
    • A signed Financial Affidavit (PDF, 203 KB).
    • Proof of Finances: you and/or your sponsor(s) must prove that you have the financial ability to pay for school costs plus living expenses for one academic year.  See Financial Affidavit for the minimum amount of funds you are required to have.  Photocopies are acceptable.
      1. Acceptable types of proof: balance verification issued by the bank or Financial Guarantee/award letters issued by the scholarship organization.
      2. The proof must be issued within the past 6 months.
      3. If you have sponsor(s), your sponsor(s) must provide a Sponsor’s Letter (See template. Microsoft Word, 12.1KB) signed by your sponsor(s) along with the financial proof.

Include your full name and SF State student ID in your email to OIP.   An F-1 International Student Advisor will review your request and issue a new I-20 within 5 business days.  After receiving the I-20 you must:

  1. Pay a $200 SEVIS I-901 fee online and print the receipt.
  2. Return to your home country and apply for an F-1 Student visa.
  3. Come back to the U.S. with your I-20 and F-1 Student visa.
  4. Provide proof of your new F-1 status:  bring your passport and I-20 to an International Student Advisor at OIP during drop in advising hours.
  5. Follow the F-1 regulation and maintain full-time status while you are in the U.S.

 

  • Not all nonimmigrant classifications may change status in the U.S.  Read filing instruction for I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status carefully to ensure that your nonimmigrant category is eligible.
    • You are not eligible for a change of status in the U.S. if you entered as a visitor through the visa waiver program. 
    • Certain J-1 exchange visitors are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement which requires you to return to your home country for at least two years at the end of your exchange visitor program. This is also known as the foreign residence requirement under U.S. law, Immigration and Nationality Act, section 212(e).  J-1 exchange visitors are advised to consult their current sponsoring institution regarding their eligibility to change status to F-1.
       
  • USCIS recommends that you apply as soon as you determine that you need to change to a different nonimmigrant category. If USCIS denies your application, be prepared to leave the United States when your current status expires.
     
  • You must maintain your current nonimmigrant status while your change of status application is pending.  Until you receive approval from USCIS, do not assume the status has been approved.
     
  • You must register full-time at SF State (except B-1, B-2 and F-2) while your change of status application is pending.
  • OIP issues a change of status I-20 for Spring and Fall only.  The I-20 program start date for Spring is usually during the 4th week of January, and for Fall is usually during the 4th week of August. If you are currently in B-1 or B-2 status, and your B-1 or B-2 status will expire more than 30 days before the change of status I-20 program start date, you will need to file a separate “bridge” I-539 application, with a separate fee, to request an extension of your current status.  NOTE: Extending your current stay in B-1 or B-2 status and changing from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 status are two seperate applications.  Therefore, you must pay a separate filing fee for each request. For example, if your change of status I-20 has program start date of 8/22/2018, and your current status will expire 30 days before 8/22/2018, you will have to file a separate I-539 and pay a separate fee to apply for an extension of your current status.
     
  • If your change of status application was not approved by the I-20 program start date, you will have to reapply for the next available semester and get re-admitted. SF State will not defer admissions.  Once you are admitted for the next available semester, OIP will defer your I-20 program start date.  You will have to file a separate I-539 and pay a separate fee to apply for an extension of your current status.
     
  • Although the guidance for the “bridge” I-539 application focus on applicants in B-1 and B-2 status, USCIS has apparently begun applying the same logic to applicants who may not be eligible for an extension of stay in that category (e.g., an H-4 dependent who will be "aging out" of eligibility for H-4 status, a J-1 exchange visitor whose program has ended, etc.).
OIP recommends that you to hire an experienced immigration lawyer to assist you with the bridge I-539 application.  An experienced immigration lawyer is best positioned to advise on all aspects of any change of status application, including the timing and type of bridge applications that may have to be filed, exploring alternative immigration strategies such as consular processing and reentry instead of applying for change of status, responding to Requests for Evidence (RFEs), and other matters that relate to the personal immigration status of you and your dependents.

Applying for change of status by mail is a two-step process.  Students should submit application materials to OIP to receive a change of status I-20.  After receiving the I-20, you should mail the filing fee, I-539 application, photocopy of the change of status I-20, and all the supporting documentation to USCIS.

Step 1

To request a change of status I-20, you must prepare all the application materials and schedule a 30-minute appointment for documents review.  To schedule an appointment, e-mail oip@sfsu.edu with “Request a change of status Appointment” in the subject line.  The e-mail should also include your full-name and SF State student ID number. 

Only schedule an appointment AFTER you have everything listed below:

  • I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status:  Complete and sign I-539.  I-539 is a fillable PDF form. We advise you to type the application instead of filling it out by hand.
     
  • Photocopy of the identification page(s) in your passport.
     
  • I-94 Admissions Verification: Print the most recent I-94 at http://www.cbp.gov/i94.  If you entered the U.S. prior to April 30, 2013, provide a front and back copy of the I-94 card stapled to the passport.
     
  • Proof of Current Immigration Status: Photocopies of current visa stamp and biographical page of your passport, or photocopies of USCIS approval of you current status.
     
  • Dependent(s): If the change of status application involves dependents (spouse/children), include copies of dependent(s)’ passport biographical and visa pages, I-94 admissions verification or I-94 card, and proof of their relationship to the applicant (marriage certificate, birth certificates of children).
     
  • Letter of Explanation: the letter should be written by the applicant and should be addressed to the USCIS requesting the change of status and explaining applicant’s circumstances. The letter should include why (and the date) you entered the U.S. in your current status, why and how your intentions changed after your arrival in the U.S., the reasons why you have now decided to apply for a change to F-1 student status, and any other important information. Your letter should be written in as much detail as possible as this will be your only opportunity to explain your situation to the USCIS.  Download a Sample change of status Explanation Letter. (Microsoft Word, 12KB)
     
  • Proof of Finances: you and/or your sponsor(s) must prove that you have the financial ability to pay for school costs plus living expenses for one academic year.  See Financial Affidavit (PDF, 203 KB) for the minimum amount of funds you are required to have.  Photocopies are acceptable.
    • Acceptable types of proof: balance verification issued by the bank or Financial Guarantee/award letters issued by the scholarship organization.
    • The proof must be issued within the past 6 months.
    • If your sponsor(s) are overseas, your sponsor(s) must provide a Sponsor’s Letter (See template. Microsoft Word, 12.1KB) signed by your sponsor(s) along with the financial proof.
    • If your sponsor(s) are in the U.S., you must submit an I-134, "Affidavit of Support" completed and signed by your sponsor(s) along with the financial proof.
    • If the proof of financial support appears weak, USCIS may send applicants a Request of Evidence (RFE) letter to request additional documents.
  • Financial Affidavit (Required by SF State, not by USCIS):  This form is required by SF State only.  Download the form here.  New student should to submit this form to International Admissions Office or Graduate Studies. Current students should submit this form to OIP with all the change of status application materials.
     
  • Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance (PDF, 240 KB).  This form is optional.  If you would like to receive a receipt notification of your application electronically either via email or text, complete this form.

An F-1 International Student Advisor will review all the documents you are going to submit to USCIS during the 30-minutes appointment. Leave all the documents (except your passport) with the advisor after the appointment.

Step 2

An F-1 International Student Advisor will issue you a change of status I-20 and an explanation letter.  Pick up the I-20, letter, and application materials within 5 business days (or follow advisor’s instruction).

Submit the application materials to:
USCIS, P.O. Box 660166, Dallas, TX 75266.
(OIP recommends that you send your application by Priority Mail - additional fee will apply)

For Express mail and courier deliveries:
USCIS, ATTN: I-539, 2501 S. State Highway 121, Business Suite 400, Lewisville, TX 75067

A completed change of status application should have all the materials you picked up at OIP, plus the following items: 

  1. Filing Fee: $370.  Money order or check payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”.
  2. $200 SEVIS I-901 Fee Payment Receipt: You must pay $200 SEVIS I-901 fee online after receiving the I-20.  Print the receipt and mail it with your application.

We recommend that you scan or make photocopies of the application package for yourself before mailing it to USCIS.

After You Submit the Application to USCIS

You should receive an I-797C, Notice of Action 3-4 weeks after you mailed the application. I-797C is the receipt letter and it indicates your receipt number.  You can check your application status by entering this number at USCIS’s website: http://www.uscis.gov/.  Call USCIS National Customer Service Center if you did not receive an I-797C.

Request of Evidence (RFE)

If the USCIS needs further clarification from you regarding your application, a Request for Evidence (RFE) notice will be sent to you.  It is important to follow the instructions on the RFE carefully and by the noted deadline.  If an RFE is not filed correctly in a timely manner, it may result in denial of your change of status application.

If you receive an RFE, notify the International Student Advisor with the date and reason for the RFE. 

Approval

After approval, USCIS will mail you an Approval Notice with an I-94 card at the bottom.  The new I-94 will have the F-1 designation and "Valid for Duration of Status" remarks on it.  Provide the proof of your F-1 status to OIP after you receive it by mail.  You may bring the approval notice to an International student advisor during drop in hours or scan the approval notice to OIP.

You are responsible to follow the F-1 regulation and maintain full-time status while you are in the United States.

If you are planning to travel outside the U.S. after the approval, be sure to apply for an F-1 visa which reflects your changed status before you return to the U.S.  

Denial

Prepare to leave the United States when your current status expires.

A Foreign Government Officials and G Representatives to International Organization

Before filing for a change of status, you must first file Form I-566, Inter-agency Record of Request -- A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/from A, G or NATO Status.  Only after the I-566 has been approved and returned to you are you eligible to file a change of status application with the USCIS.  For more detailed information on I-566, read the instructions.

B Visitors

The regulations, at 8 CFR 214.2(b)(7), specifically prohibit study in the United States while in B-1 or B-2 status.  See Special Instructions for B-1 or B-2 Visitors Who Want to Enroll in School on USCIS’s website.

H Temporary Workers

USCIS must receive your change of status application no later than the day you terminate your H-1 employment, as there is no "grace period" for those in H-1 status: your status as an H-1 terminates the day you leave your H-1 employer. 

J-1 Exchange Visitors

J-1 exchange visitors are advised to consult their current sponsoring institution regarding their eligibility to change status to F-1.