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 F-1 international student advisor 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
  • Filing fee for I-539: $370
  • Biometrics fee: $85 (For USCIS to collect your fingerprints)
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee
Processing Time

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

USCIS Processing Time: 90 days or longer.  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 I-901 SEVIS 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.  Complete the Mandatory F-1 International Student Online Orientation on iLearn.   
  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.

Request a initial I-20

To request a new I-20,email the follwing documents to f1@sfsu.edu from your SF State email account.  We accept digital signatures, scanned copies, and high resolution/clear pictures of the completed form and documents.  We will review your request and issue a new I-20 within 5 business days.  

  • 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.

After receiving the I-20

  1. Pay a I-901 SEVIS fee online and print the receipt.
  2. Return to your home country and apply for an F-1 Student visa (if your current one has expired)
  3. Come back to the U.S. with your I-20 and F-1 Student visa.
  4. Report your return to the U.S. to OIP by emailing f1@sfsu.edu
  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 8/21/2018, and your current status will expire 30 days before 8/21/2018, 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 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 is a two-step process.  You 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: Prepare your documents

To apply for change of status, you will need the following documents:

  • I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status:  Complete and sign I-539.  I-539 is a fillable PDF form. We advise that you 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 Your Previous Immigration Status: Photocopies of current visa stamp and biographical page of your passport, or photocopies of USCIS approval of you current status.
     
  • Letter of Explanation: write a one-page (no longer) letter that explains why you wish to change status in the U.S.  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.  See template (Microsoft Word, 12.1KB)
     
  • 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.
  • Photocopies of all PRIOR I-20s from previous schools you were authorized to attend.
     
  • Official transcripts from SF State and any other U.S. schools you may have attended. The transcripts must be in sealed envelope(s).
     
  • 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.

Step 2: Requset a change of status I-20

To request a change of status I-20, email the follwing documents to f1@sfsu.edu from your SF State email account.  We accept digital signatures, scanned copies, and high resolution/clear pictures of the completed form and documents.  We will review your request and issue a new I-20 within 5 business days.  

  1. A signed I-20 Request Form (PDF, 202KB)
  2. A signed Financial Affidavit(PDF, 185 KB)
  3. A bank letter verifying you or your sponsor(s) have sufficient funds to support your study in the U.S. for at least one academic year.  You can find the minimum amount of funds that you are required to show on the Financial Affidavit.  Your sponsor(s) can either sign the "4. Sponsor Agreement" section of the Financial Affidavit or provide a signed Sponsor's letter .  See template (Microsoft Word, 12.1KB)
  4. Your letter of explaination

Step 3: Mail your Form I-539 change of status application to USCIS

We will issue you a change of status I-20 and a support letter.  A completed change of status application should have all the materials listed above plus the $370 nonrefundable filing fee and $85 nonrefundable Biometrics fee.  The personal check or money order must be made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Do not use the initials “USDHS” or “DHS.”  We recommend that you scan or make photocopies of the application package for yourself before mailing it to USCIS.

 

FOR U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: PRIVATE COURIER (FEDEX, DHL OR UPS)
USCIS, P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266
(If you choose this option, send your application by U.S. Postal Services' Priority Mail - additional fee will apply for tracking)

USCIS, ATTN: I-539
2501 S. State Highway 121, Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

 

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 F-1 with the date and reason for the RFE. 

Biometrics

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

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 F-1 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.

Disclaimer: Since 2016, the change of status process has become increasingly difficult and lengthy. It is recommended that individuals seeking to conduct a change of status obtain information from the Office of International Programs (OIP) and consult a qualified immigration attorney. OIP will provide interested parties with information concerning the pros and cons of doing a change of status vs consular processing – it is up to the interested party to determine if filing a change of status is in their best interest, and that individual assumes all liability associated with any decision made. OIP staff will provide regulatory and practice information as it stands at the time of the consult. 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 regulation or requirements to establish eligibility for benefits at any time.

Last updated: May 2020