Change to F-1 Status

Students who entered the U.S. in another nonimmigrant status may pursue study under their current status (see Nonimmigrants: Who Can Study?), or apply to change their status to F-1 Student status  

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

  • Change by travel: leave the U.S. and apply for F-1 visas in their home countries.
     
  • Change by filing I-539 online: file I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Students must remain in the U.S. throughout the entire process.

See Department of Homeland Security: Change of Status | Study in the States (dhs.gov). Changing nonimmigrant status is a lengthy and complex process.  Students are strongly advised to speak to an F-1 international student advisor.

General Information

 
 

CHANGE BY TRAVEL

CHANGE OF STATUS

Cost

Processing Time

Current USCIS Processing Time: 11 months or longer. (See USCIS service center processing time information)

While students' I-539 petition is pending, they must:

  • Maintain their current non-immigration status
  • Register for a full-time course load except B-1/B-2 and F-2 visa holders
  • Staying in the U.S.

Keep in mind:

  • This process does NOT provide students with a new F-1 visa stamp.
  • Students who obtain F-1 status in the U.S. will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to apply for an F-1 student visa that reflects their F-1 status.

Other Concerns

  • It may be difficult to travel in the middle of the semester. 
  • Students will not be eligible for F-1 benefits (On-Campus Employment) until they have obtained an F-1 visa and entered the U.S. in F-1 status
  • If USCIS denies students' I-539 petition, they must be prepared to leave the U.S. when their current nonimmigrant status expires.

Understand the F-1 Regulations First

  • International students in F-1 status must maintain F-1 status by following the instructions posted at Maintaining Status. Students who wish to change to F-1 status are strongly advised to read Maintaining Status before making their decision to change status. 

Change of Status is a Lengthy Process

  • USCIS recommends that students apply as soon as they determine that they need to change to a different nonimmigrant category. If USCIS denies their application, be prepared to leave the United States when their current status expires.
     
  • Students must file I-539 online before their current non-immigrant status ends.
     
  • Changing nonimmigrant status is a lengthy and complex process. Current USCIS Processing Time is 11 months or longer (See USCIS service center processing time information).  

Program Start Dates on the Change of Status I-20

  • SF State issues 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.

    For example, if a student wishes to file I-539 in October 2024, the program start date on their Change of Status I-20 would be January 2025 which is Spring 2025.
     

  • If students' I-539 was not approved by the program start date on the I-20, and they are not enrolled due to their current nonimmigrant status, they will have to reapply for the next available semester and get re-admitted.  Once they are admitted for the next available semester, we will defer their I-20 program start date.  
     
  • If students' I-539 was not approved by the program start date on the I-20, but they are enrolled at SF State, we will defer the program start date of the Change of Status I-20 to the next available semester.  

Eligibility to Change Status in the U.S.

Not all nonimmigrant classifications may change status in the U.S. Read Changing to a Nonimmigrant F or M Student Status | USCIS and Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status | USCIS carefully to ensure that their nonimmigrant category is eligible.

  • Individuals are not eligible for a Change of Status in the U.S. if they entered the U.S. through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). 
     
  • Certain J-1 exchange visitors are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement which requires them to return to their home country for at least two years at the end of their 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.

F-1 "Status" and F-1 "Visa"

  • "Status" and "Visa" are two different things.  See “Status v.s. Visa” info at Visa and Immigration
     
  • Students who obtained F-1 "Status" in the U.S. still need to apply for F-1 visas in their home countries if they plan to leave and U.S. and enter the U.S. as F-1 student. 
     
  • U.S. Visas stamps are part of the U.S. entry requirements for foreign nationals.  U.S. visas can only be issued by oversea U.S. embassies. 

A Foreign Government Officials and G Representatives to International Organization

Before filing for a Change of Status, students 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 students are they eligible to file a Change of Status application with the USCIS.  For more detailed information on I-566, read the instructions.

H Temporary Workers

USCIS must receive their Change of Status applications no later than the day they terminate their H-1 employment, as there is no "grace period" for those in H-1 status: their status as an H-1 terminates the day they leave their 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.

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.

Students seeking to file for Change of Status should obtain information from an F-1 international student advisor. will provide information concerning the pros and cons of changing status via online filing or travel. It is up to the student to determine which method is in their best interest, and the student assumes all liability associated with any decision made.

F-1 international student advisors cannot provide legal advice. For complicated cases, an experienced immigration lawyer is best positioned to advise on all aspects of any Change of Status application, including exploring alternative immigration strategies such as consular processing and re-entry, responding to Requests for Evidence (RFEs), and other matters that relate to the personal immigration status of students and their dependents.

Due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, applicants must understand that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reserves the right to change their interpretation of immigration regulations or requirements to establish eligibility for benefits at any time.

Change of Status by Travel

Review the Change of Status resources above carefully

  • Understand students' responsibilities
  • Choose a desired method of changing to F-1 status
     

Complete the mandatory Change of Status Responsibilities Checklist

  • Students must sign the online "Change of Status Responsibilities Checklist" before requesting an initial attendance I-20

New Students

Request an initial I-20

Current Students

Request an initial I-20

Email the following documents to f1@sfsu.edu from the students' SF State email account. We accept digital signatures, scanned copies, and high-resolution/clear pictures of the completed form and documents.  

An F-1 international student advisor will review their request and issue an initial I-20 within 5 business days. Students must clear all the registration holds in order to receive I-20s.

  • A signed New I-20 Request Form (PDF, 209 KB)
  • A signed Financial Affidavit Form (PDF, 296 KB)
  • Proof of Finances: students and/or their sponsor(s) must prove that they have the financial ability to pay for school costs plus living expenses for one academic year. 
    • See page 1 of the Financial Affidavit Form for the minimum amount of funds they are required to have.
    • 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 they have sponsor(s), their sponsor(s) must provide a Sponsor’s Letter. See template Microsoft Word, 12 KB) signed by their sponsor(s) along with the financial proof.
    • Photocopies are acceptable.
  • Photocopies of students' passport(s) (only the bio page with their photo is sufficient).
  • Students' most current I-94 showing their current non-immigrant status.
Passports and I-94 are considered level 1 confidential data by SF State.  Please encrypted these files before emailing. 7Zip (https://www.7-zip.org/) is as a free encryption tool for students to use.

After receiving the initial I-20

Leave the U.S.

  • Students should leave the U.S. and return to their home countries to apply for F-1 visas.

Return to the U.S.

  • Students should return to the U.S. with their initial I-20. Students may enter the U.S. no more than 30 days after the program start date indicated on the initial I-20.
  • No later than 30 days after entering the U.S., students must report their arrival to the F-1 international student advisors by emailing f1@sfsu.edu.
  • Maintain F-1 status by following the instructions posted at Maintaining Status.

 

Change of Status in the U.S.

Review the Change of Status resources above carefully

  • Understand students' responsibilities
  • Choose a desired method of changing to F-1 status
     

Complete the mandatory Change of Status Responsibilities Checklist

  • Students must sign the online "Change of Status Responsibilities Checklist" before request an Change of Status I-20

Email the following documents to f1@sfsu.edu from the students' SF State email account.  Include students' full names and SF State student IDs in their email to the F-1 international student advisors.   An F-1 international student advisor will review their request and issue an initial I-20 within 5 business days. Students must clear all the registration holds to receive I-20s.

  • A signed New I-20 Request Form (PDF, 209 KB)
  • Letter of explanation: write a one-page (no longer) letter that explains why they wish to change status in the U.S.  The letter should be written in as much detail as possible as this will be their only opportunity to explain their situation to the USCIS. See the Letter of Explanation template (Microsoft Word, 22 KB). 
  • A signed Financial Affidavit Form (PDF, 296 KB)
  • Proof of Financesstudents and/or their sponsor(s) must prove that they have the financial ability to pay for school costs plus living expenses for one academic year. 
    • See page 1 of the Financial Affidavit Form for the minimum amount of funds they are required to have.
    • 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 they have sponsor(s), their sponsor(s) must provide a Sponsor’s Letter. See template Microsoft Word, 12 KB) signed by their sponsor(s) along with the financial proof.
    • Photocopies are acceptable.
  • Photocopies of students' passport(s) (only the bio page with their photo is sufficient).
  • Students' most current I-94 showing their current non-immigrant status.
Passports and I-94 are considered level 1 confidential data by SF State.  Please encrypted these files before emailing. 7Zip (https://www.7-zip.org/) is as a free encryption tool for students to use.

After receiving the initial I-20

File Online

Premium Processing

There is a fee to request this service. If you request premium processing, USCIS guarantees that they will take adjudicative action on the case within the time periods described in How Do I Request Premium Processing? | USCIS.

Filing fees

Notice of Action

Request of Evidence (RFE)

  • If the USCIS needs further clarification from students regarding their application, a Request for Evidence (RFE) notice will be sent to them.  It is important to follow the instructions on the RFE carefully and by the noted deadline.  If an RFE is not filed correctly promptly, it may result in denial of their Change of Status application.
  • Students are advised to contact the F-1 international student advisors if receive RFE.

Biometrics

  • Students will receive a biometric services appointment notice containing their receipt number.
  • The biometric services appointments will be scheduled at the Application Support Center (ASC) closest to their address. 
  • During the appointment, USCIS will collect their biometric information such as fingerprints as part of their reinstatement application.

Approval

  • USCIS will mail students an Approval Notice with an I-94 card at the bottom.  
  • The I-94 will have the "F-1" designation and "Valid for Duration of Status (D/S)" remarks on it. 
  • Email a copy of this approval notice to f1@sfsu.edu from SF State email address.    
  • Maintain F-1 status by following the instructions posted at Maintaining Status.

Denial

If USCIS denies students' Form I-539 petition, they must be prepared to leave the U.S. immediately.

Last updated: February 2024

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The information contained in this website is provided as a service to the international students, faculty, staff, employees, and administrators of San Francisco State University, and does not constitute legal advice on any immigration, tax, or other matter. We try to provide useful information, but we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website or any associated site. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Neither San Francisco State University nor the Division of International Education is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in this website, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.