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How to Change Visa Status within the U.S.

Applying for a visa in the U.S. is commonly referred to as “changing visa status,” since an applicant must be in a legal U.S. visa status in order to be eligible to apply for another visa status while remaining in the United States.

To apply for a visa while remaining in the United States, an applicant must:

  • Currently be present in the U.S. in a legal U.S. visa status,
  • Remain in the U.S. while the change of status application is pending.
  • In many cases, the current visa status must remain valid until the student visa status is approved. That is, a gap between statuses may result in visa denial.

There are several differences in this process as compared to applying from abroad:

  • When changing visa status in the U.S., the application is submitted through mail to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • There is no in-person interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate and no direct contact with the visa officer,
  • The decision on the change of status application typically takes 3-4 months,
  • If approved, the student visa status is granted on paper, but a visa stamp/sticker is not physically placed into the passport,
  • An applicant may—and must!—remain in the U.S. while the application is pending, so the cost of traveling abroad and re-entering the U.S. is avoided.

Below is a detailed list of the application materials and steps necessary to apply for a change of visa status within the U.S. This information is available in a printer-friendly format here: Changing Visa Status in the US (PDF, 155KB).

Required Documentation and Procedure:

The first step with applying for a change of visa status is to be admitted to Madison College. The visa application process cannot be started until after admission has been finalized, so it is important to apply for admission several months before the desired semester of study to allow sufficient time to apply for the visa. Please also consider the admission application deadlines. All new international students are required to attend International Orientation, so plan to be on campus at that time. After you have been admitted, you will receive an I-20 form, which must be mailed to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the following items:

  • A cashier’s check or money order for $290.00 payable to the Department of Homeland Security
  • I-539 form (available on the USCIS website under “forms”)
  • A letter (signed and dated) explaining your reasons for changing status
  • A photocopy of the I-20 issued by Madison Area Technical College. This document has 3 pages, and must be signed and dated on page 1 at item # 11. Photocopy all 3 pages of the I-20 to send with the application, but keep the original I-20 for your own records. The I-20 is referred to as the “Certificate of Eligibility” in the application instructions.
  • Original I-94 arrival/departure card. Keep a copy of the I-94 card for your records.
  • Photocopies of your identity, expiry, and U.S. visa stamp pages from your passport
  • Photocopies of your current visa status documents, such as the visa stamp and/or adjudication approval notices and/or previously issued student visa documents, including I-20s or DS-2019s
  • Evidence of financial support for your continued stay
  • Proof of SEVIS I-901 Fee payment is required when changing to a student visa status:
  • The US Federal Government requires payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee for the operation of SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) for individuals requesting F-1 or M-1 status. Information and instructions for payment of the fee can be found at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm
  • You must include the receipt proving payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee with your change of status application. A receipt can be printed after paying the fee online.
    • If changing to or from a dependent visa status, such as H-4 or F-2, you must also include:
    • Photocopies of the primary visa holder’s (spouse or parent) current visa documentation, including I-94 card, visa stamp, and/or adjudication approval notice, etc.
    • A photocopy of the primary visa holder’s (spouse or parent) passport identity/expiry pages(s)
    • Proof of your familial relationship, such as:
      • A certified copy of your marriage license (for a spouse)
      • Birth certificate (for a child)
  • If you have studied in the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 visa status previously, you must include transcripts from the U.S. educational institutions attended.

Special Considerations:

  • An F-2 visa holder changing to F-1 status should not begin a program of study prior to obtaining the approval for the change of status from USCIS.
  • A J-1 or J-2 visa holder with the "Two Year Home Residency" requirement [212(e)] is not eligible to change status within the U.S. However, you may apply to obtain the new visa status by applying at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country with a letter of no objection. Please note: If you have been approved for a waiver of the "Two Year Home Residency" requirement, you may apply for a Change of Status in the U.S., but you must include proof of the waiver approval with your application.

After making copies for your records, mail all items with "return receipt" requested to one of the following address:

If using the U.S. Postal Services:
USCIS
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

If using an express mail or courier service:
USCIS
ATTN: I-539
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

While Your Application Is Pending

Save your “return receipt” as proof of when you mailed your application to USCIS. The USCIS will later send you an official Receipt Notice acknowledging your application and fee. Keep all these documents for your records.

If your current visa status does not permit study, you should not begin studying until your status to F-1 has been approved. You are not eligible to receive any benefits of the F-1 status (such as on-campus work permission) until the F-1 status has been granted. If your change of status has not been approved by the term in which you had hoped to begin studying, please discuss deferring your admission with International Student Services.

If you leave the U.S. while your application is pending, the USCIS will consider your application abandoned and will no longer review your application. If you depart the U.S. after the “date certain” expiration date given to certain visa types (such as B-2, B-1, H-1B, H-4, etc.), this abandonment could seriously affect your eligibility in future visa applications, as you can be seen as overstaying your previously granted period of stay.

After Receiving Your Approval Notice*

USCIS will mail you notification of the change. The approval (and its effective date) will be stamped on the I-20 in the upper right corner and on the I-797 Notice of Approval; your revised I-94 card will also note the approved status.

After receiving the I-797 Notice of Approval, please bring your approval notice (which includes the new I-94 card in the bottom right corner) and stamped I-20 to the Center for International Education, as we must update your record in the college database. Failure to do this may jeopardize your new visa status.

If you were previously in a dependent visa status, the principal visa holder will need to update his/her records. For example, if your spouse is an F-1 or J-1 student at Madison College or another institution, your spouse must request your F-2 or J-2 record be canceled and removed from his/her I-20.

Questions?

If you have questions on this process or if the change of status is denied, please contact International Student Services to discuss available options.

For information on how to apply for a non-immigrant student visa abroad, rather than changing visa status in the U.S., please refer to Applying for Student Visa Abroad.