- The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides certain nonimmigrants the opportunity to request a change to a different nonimmigrant classification for which they qualify
- USCIS has historically only granted applications to change to F-1 status that fall within 30 days of the program start date listed on the applicant’s Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (Form I20)
- USCIS has required nonimmigrants who are applying for a COS to F-1 classification to continuously apply for and obtain nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the program start date listed on the Form I-20
- Because adjudication of the F-1 COS is difficult to align with the varying program start dates, the current policy has often resulted in requiring the filing of extensions, or the filing of an initial COS and subsequent extensions of such status so that the student would not have a “gap” in status
Who Can Change to F or M Status from Another Non-Immigrant Status?
- If you are in the United States in valid nonimmigrant status for a purpose other than to attend school and wish to change your nonimmigrant status to a student status while remaining in the United States
- However, you must meet the criteria below and apply with USCIS to change your status
In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the United States if:
- You were lawfully admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant status
- Your nonimmigrant status remains valid
- You have not violated the conditions of your status
- You have not committed any crimes or engaged in any other actions that would make you ineligible for a change of status
Please Note: Until you receive notice of approval from USCIS, do not assume the requested status has been approved
You will also find a list of nonimmigrants who can or cannot study here
Follow These Steps for Changing your Status:
- Apply to and receive acceptance from a U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.
- Obtain an initial Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, from the SEVP-certified school. The Designated School Official (DSO) should give the change of status in the Issue Reason section of Form I-20.
- Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee.
- File a Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, with USCIS
Please Note: Not all nonimmigrant classifications are allowed to change to student status. Read the Form I-539 instructions carefully to ensure that your category is eligible
What If My Current Status Doesn’t Allow Me to Enroll in Classes?
- If you are requesting to change from another nonimmigrant status to F or M student status and your current nonimmigrant status does not permit you to enroll in classes, do not enroll in classes or begin your studies until USCIS has approved your change of status
- If USCIS has not adjudicated your change of status at least 15 days before the program start date on your Form I-20, contact the designated school official (DSO) at your new school
- If USCIS does not grant your request to change status before the start date of classes, you may need to defer attendance and wait until the following term to begin your studies at the school in F or M status
- Please note that if you are applying to change status to M status, you must maintain a valid nonimmigrant status while your Form I-539 change of status application is pending
- We encourage all students and prospective students to work closely with their DSO to coordinate the timing of applying for a change of status and enrolling in a course of study.
- NOTE: If you are an M-1 student, you may not change to F status while you are in the United States
What if My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Still Pending Within 30 Days of My F-1 Program Start Date?
- Due to processing time lags, you may have to request that your DSO defer the F-1 program start date to the following academic term or semester as USCIS did not decide on your Form I-539 change of status application before your originally intended F-1 program start date
- If your COS application is approved, your change of status to F-1 will be effective as of the date of approval
- You are not required to obtain status all the way up to the date that is 30 days before your program start date (“bridge the gap”), provided that your nonimmigrant status is unexpired at the time of filing the change of status to F-1 application, and you otherwise remain eligible for a change of status
What if My Change of Status Application to F-1 Nonimmigrant Student is Approved More than 30 Days Before My F-1 Program Start Date?
- If USCIS approves an application more than 30 days before your program start date, you must ensure that you do not violate your F-1 status
- An example of a violation would be engaging in employment, including on-campus employment and practical training, more than 30 days before the program start date as listed on your Form I-20
Do I have a Consular Processing Option for F1?
Yes, you will need to do the following:
- Apply to and receive acceptance from a SEVP-certified school
- Receive a new initial Form I-20 from your designated school official (DSO)
- Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee
- Apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy for an F-1 or M-1 visa to travel to the United States to seek admission as a student
- If you are from a country where no visa is required, such as Canada, you may proceed directly to a U.S. port of entry or a U.S. pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station and apply for admission to the United States as an F-1 or M-1 student
- Once admitted by an immigration officer in F-1 or M-1 status, you may begin your studies
For more information about consular processing, please visit the Department of State Travel page. For information about SEVP, please visit the
Why is The Present System Not Very Efficient?
Because adjudication of the F-1 COS is difficult to align with the varying program start dates, the current policy has often resulted in requiring the filing of multiple extensions, or the filing of an initial COS and subsequent extensions of such status so that the student would not have a “gap” in status
What is the New Policy for COS for F1 Students?
- To limit costs to applicants and the government, USCIS no longer requires the applicant to submit subsequent applications for extension or change of nonimmigrant status while the COS application to F-1 status is pending with USCIS
- However, the applicant’s nonimmigrant status should be unexpired at the time of filing the initial COS application and the applicant is otherwise eligible for a COS
- To prevent a “gap” in status, USCIS will grant the COS to F-1 effective on the day of the COS approval
Special Note: If an application is approved more than 30 days before the program start date, these nonimmigrants must ensure that they do not violate their F-1 status during that time
(An example of a violation would be engaging in unauthorized employment, including on-campus employment, more than 30 days before the start of classes)
What is The Timeline for This Process?
- USCIS is in the process of revising the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status (Form I539) to reflect these changes
- This update replaces the current policy as stated in the form instructions
- This guidance, contained in Volume 2, is effective immediately and supersedes any prior guidance on the topic.
If you have H-1B but don’t want to work full-time anymore, you can apply for your change of status.
However, if you are curious about the reverse scenario consider reading our Stem-Opt-Cap-Gap-Extension-101