Reminder about STATUS vs. VISA
There is often confusion between the terms STATUS and VISA. A VISA is only a stamp in a passport that says you are allowed to enter the U.S. Visas can only be obtained by visiting a U.S. consulate abroad, it is not possible to get a visa from within the U.S. Visas are only for “getting in” and have no bearing on an individual’s right to be here legally.
STATUS refers to the legal classification allowing you to currently be in the U.S., and STATUS can be changed within the U.S. Thus you can send in your application material by mail and have your STATUS changed, but you will not receive a new VISA and will not need one unless you leave the U.S. Only then will you need to make arrangements to go to the nearest U.S. consulate to apply for a VISA to allow you to get back into the U.S.
It is possible to take care of changing both STATUS and VISA by traveling outside the U.S. and applying for a visa. Then once you enter the U.S. using the new visa, you are automatically considered to be in that new STATUS.
Keep in mind that there may be circumstances that would make one of these option undesirable for certain individuals. Please be sure to consult an ISSS advisor if you have concerns, particularly if you are changing your status by leaving the U.S.
How can I change status?
There are two ways to change nonimmigrant status:
- Travel outside the U.S. and re-enter in the new status, or
- Stay in the U.S. and request a change of status by application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
|CHANGE BY TRAVEL||CHANGE BY MAIL|
|Traveling requires visiting a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. to obtain the new visa stamp. The amount of time needed to change status by travel varies, but generally is quicker than changing status in the U.S. However, visa applications may be subject to security checks which can significantly delay the approval process.
The earliest you can enter the US is 30 days before your DS-2019 or I-20 begin date.
Please consult with ISSS if taking this step.
|The amount of time needed for processing a change of status can vary between three to five months.
This process does not give you a new visa stamp. The next time you travel outside the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to request a new visa stamp that reflects your changed status.
|Other Concerns||Note: It is not recommended that you apply for your new visa in a “third country” e.g. Canada or Mexico unless you are a legal resident of these countries. If denied a visa, you must return to your home country to apply for a visa there. You may not return to the U.S. in your previous status.||Individuals subject to the J-1 Two Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement 212(e) are not eligible for change of status within the US unless they have obtained a waiver of the requirement.
Individuals in B-1/B-2 status may find it extremely difficult to change status within the U.S. Individuals who entered using the Visa Waver Program [WB/WT] are not eligible to change status within the U.S.
If you are changing from H-1B or another employment-based status to F-1, your H-1B employment must be active as of the date USCIS receives your F-1 application. After this, you may terminate your employment within 30 days of the requested F-1 start date and begin classes, even while still waiting for your F-1 to be approved. However, if the F-1 is denied, you then must leave the U.S. immediately; you have no grace period.
You should not travel outside of the U.S. while a change of status application is pending; it is construed as abandoning the petition.
Can I begin a new degree program while changing status? Can I work?
|If my status is changing from….||Can I begin a degree program?||Can I work?|
|J-1 scholar||Possibly, please consult with ISSS.||Only for your J-1 sponsor as stated on the DS-2019|
|J-1 student||Yes||Only with authorization from J1-sponsor|
|J-2||Yes||Only with work authorization|
|H-1B||Yes if still fulfilling requirements of H-1B employment at the time the F-1 application is submitted, and ending employment within 30 days of the requested F-1 start date||No, only after the F-1 is approved.|
|WB/WT (Visa Waiver Program)||No||No|
|Out of Status/Status Pending/Other||Please consult with ISSS||Please consult with ISSS|
Change of status petitioners cannot work if work authorization connected to the original status expires prior to USCIS approval of the change of status OR if their new status has not been approved by USCIS yet.
When do I need to apply to the USCIS to change to status?
- You are eligible to change status as long as your current status is valid at the time of application. If possible, ISSS recommends submitting your application at least 60 days before the expiration of your current status.
- ISSS has seen cases where the petition to change status was denied because the previous status was terminated before the approval of the new status, even when the application was filed in a timely manner.
- If you believe you are already out of status, please see an ISSS advisor before submitting your application to USCIS.
How do I get my I-20 or DS-2019 if I am a current student who wants to change to F-1 or J-1 status?
- Make an appoitment with an ISSS advisor
- Bring in Evidence of financail support (i.e., bank statement, assistantship offer letter, ect.)
What documentation do I need to show to ISSS and submit to the USCIS in order to change status?
|Everyone must submit:||
|If applying to change status to F-1 student or J-1 student/scholar, please ALSO submit:||
|If applying to become an F-2 or J-2 dependent of a spouse or parent, please ALSO submit:||
Where do I send my application?
US Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266
What happens when USCIS receives my application?
If your application is complete, the ISSS will receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action/Receipt Notice within two to four weeks, and we will then notify you by email that the Notice of Action arrived. Your Notice of Action is very important, both because it proves that you filed your application and because it provides the “TSC number” which you must use if you need to track your application’s progress. If you do not receive a Notice of Action within five weeks, please notify ISSS immediately.
If your application is incomplete, USCIS will send it back to ISSS with a “Request for Evidence.” You will need to furnish whatever information or documentation is missing.
What happens when USCIS approves my application?
USCIS will return your immigration documentation to the U.S. with a notation indicating approval of your change of status application. You will also receive a second Notice of Action/Approval Notice, with your new I-94 printed in the lower right-hand corner. You will want to cut out and staple your new I-94 into your passport, after making a copy of your entire Notice of Action/Approval Notice and immigration documentation to keep separately in a safe place.
What if I apply to change status in the U.S. but change my mind and decide to depart the country?
Please work with ISSS to see if it is possible to withdraw your application. Please keep your Notice of Action as documentation and be prepared to show it to the consular officer if, in the future, you apply for another U.S. visa. The reason for this: The consular officer may want to be sure that you applied for the change of status before your previous F-1 status had expired, and had therefore been in the United States legally.
Sample letter for those on an H-1B or other employment-based non-immigrant visa:
The employer should put this on letterhead and include the full address, telephone number, and email as well as name and title of the person writing the letter.
To Whom It May Concern:
This letter is to certify (employee’s name) is currently employed by (name of business) as (job title). (Employee’s name) has informed us that she/he will be terminating her/his employment with us in (month/year) to pursue classes at (name of institution) as a full-time student.
(Employee’s name) is currently holding the H-1B visa. Once (employee’s name) receives her/his F-1 approval, we will terminate the employment as of the date F-1 status becomes effective or within 30 days before the start date on the I-20, whichever comes first.