If you are in the United States and want to change your non-immigrant status to F-1 student, there are two options: 1) traveling, obtaining an F-1 visa, and re-entering the United States, or 2) submitting a Change of Status application to USCIS. More information about these two options is included below.
Obtaining status by travel is often the faster and simpler option for students who need to change their immigration status to F-1.
When you submit the New International Student Form through iHopkins, you should request an Initial I-20. OIS will create a SEVIS record for you and issue you a Form I-20 for Initial entry to the United States. You will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
To change status, you will need to depart the United States. If you don't already have a valid F-1 visa in your passport, you will need to schedule a visa appointment at a consulate abroad (except for citizens of Canada and Bermuda, who do not need a visa for entry to the US in F-1 status).
Once you have an F-1 visa, you will need to re-enter the United States with your visa and I-20 within the appropriate timeframe and complete OIS check-in.
Applying for a Change of Status through USCIS
Changing status by applying through USCIS can be a viable option for students who are unable to travel or expect they will have difficulty obtaining an F-1 visa. Unfortunately, the timeline for this option can be difficult to navigate, and not every nonimmigrant is eligible to change status within the U.S. We highly recommend you reach out to OIS in advance if you hope to pursue this option.
In addition, because the process and timeline can become so complicated, OIS recommends that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to guide you in the Change of Status application process. OIS's role is to issue the Change of Status I-20 and adjust the start date as needed, but we cannot provide detailed guidance on the application itself.
If you plan to change status by applying to USCIS, you should request a Change of Immigration Status I-20 when you submit the New International Student Form through iHopkins. OIS will create a SEVIS record for you and issue you a Form I-20 for a Change of Status. You will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee.
Once you have your Change of Status I-20, you will need to submit a copy of that I-20 with Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. In addition to the I-20 copy, there are other supporting materials you must submit, and an application fee you must pay. Instructions for filing Form I-539 are available on USCIS’s website. Unfortunately, OIS cannot advise in detail on this application process.
Change of Status applications often take 9-12 months (or longer) to process. Current processing times are available on USCIS’s website. You must take action to request an update to your I-20 start date every few months while your application is pending. You do not have any benefits of F-1 status (such as US work authorization) while the application is pending, and generally you must maintain your original status until the Change of Status is approved.
If your application is approved, you will be issued an approval notice with an I-94 confirming your change in status. Once you are in F-1 status, you must begin maintaining full-time enrollment right away. You’ll also need to complete the OIS check-in. If your change of status is approved mid-semester and you are not enrolled full-time, you may not be able to remain in the United States.