A student acquires F-1 status using the Form I-20, issued by the school they plan to attend, in one of two ways:
- By entering the United States with the I-20 and an F-1 visa obtained at a U.S. consulate abroad (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement); or
- By applying to USCIS for change of nonimmigrant status (if the student is already in the United States and cannot travel). In choosing the latter, you will not receive an F-1 visa, only F-1 status. This means that the first time you travel outside the U.S. while in F-1 status, you will have to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. consulate in order to be able to return to the U.S.
- Changing your status within the US is highly discouraged. The current wait time for a decision can take 9-12 months and an approval is not guaranteed.
- Students must be prepared to work with an immigration attorney to file their change of status application.
Can you change your status in the US?
A non-immigrant can apply for a change to F-1 status if they have maintained lawful non-immigrant status up to the time of application.
There are some exceptions:
Non immigrants in C, D, K, or M are not eligible to change their status in the US. Those who entered the United States under the terms of the Visa Waiver Program are also ineligible to change their status in the US.
Those with J status who are subject to the 212(e) two-year home country physical requirement cannot change status in the U.S. unless a waiver has been granted.
Can you study while your Change of Status is pending?
If you are currently in B1/B2 status:
Source: 8 CFR § 214.2(b)(7) and §248.1(c)
- Individuals in B1/B2 status are prohibited from “enrolling in a course of study” until after USCIS approves their change of status application
If you are currently in F-2 status:
Source: 8 CFR (Code of Federal Register) § 214.2(f)(15)(ii)
- Individuals in F-2 status are eligible for part time study. However, once your change of status to F-1 is approved, you are required to be enrolled full time. If your change of status has not been approved by the deadline for adding/dropping classes, your I-20 start date will be deferred until the start of the next semester and you must stay enrolled part time until the end of the current semester in order to maintain your F-2 status.
If you are currently in any other status (e.g., H, J, L, E, etc.):
- If your current status allows full-time studies in the U.S., you may start classes before your change of status application is approved. In some instances you may be limited to part time studies until your change to F-1 status is approved.
Important Note about Employment
You are not allowed employment under F-1 status until after your change of status application is approved. For example, if you have an assistantship, you won’t be able to start it until after you receive your F-1 status.
If you are considering changing your status in the US or have additional questions about the process or your individual situation please contact Kimberly Sinclair, Director of International Programs via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 207-780-4959.