Change of Visa Status

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Some students begin their studies in another visa status (such as H4) that allows study, and then choose to change status to F1 during their program.

If you have been a full-time student (12 credits or more for undergraduates, 10 credits or more for graduates) in a valid status that allows study for one academic year, then you can still qualify for OPT or CPT once your F1 status begins. You can apply for these benefits once you are granted F1 status and your I-20 start date is reached. You must be approved for F1 status before your final quarter of studies.

F-1 students must pay nonresident tuition rates. Limited exceptions may be available for dependent children who have graduated from a Washington state high school. Residency is determined by the UW Residency Office

We do recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney regarding your specific situation, but the following provides a general outline of the timeline for changing status to F1. 

Timeline for change of status in the U.S. :

5 months in advance of your intended start date for F1 status

Contact your International Student Advisor to discuss your plans, and to submit documentation to qualify for your I-20. To qualify for your I-20, you need to submit a copy of your passport, current visa or approval notice, and bank statement showing proof of financial resources for the remainder of your studies or 1 year of studies, whichever is less. You can submit this in person, by fax, or scan and email this to your International Student Advisor.

4 months in advance

Once you obtain your I-20, pay your SEVIS fee at Students have 2 options for changing status:

1). Submit your change of status application (I-539) to USCIS. You can file electronically via the ELIS system. When you apply, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • copy of I-20 signed by your advisor and by you;
  • proof of payment of your SEVIS fee;
  • copy of passport;
  • proof of financial resources used to obtain the I-20. Note that USCIS prefers to see cash in the bank, rather than proof of income; and
  • proof of your current immigration status (for example, H4 students should attach copies of their visa, I-94 and copies of the primary H1B holder's approval notice and proof of employment such as wage statements and letter from the employer)
  • detailed letter explaining the need to change status (see sample letter)

Note: It takes 3-4 months for a change of status application to process but you may remain in the US during this time even if your current visa has expired. You may not travel outside the US during this time, however, as it will void the change of status request. This is a good option if you have time to apply well in advance and wish to remain in the US while the application is processing. 

2). Book a visa stamping appointment outside the US. Note: For visa stamping, you can re-enter in F-1 status within 30 days of your I-20 start date (the beginning of the quarter). You will need to bring originals of all the documents listed in option 1 (above) to your visa stamping appointment. It is recommended that you do your visa stamping at the U.S. consulate in your home country. If you plan to go to a U.S. consulate in a third country such as Canada, be sure to apply for your visitors visa very early, if needed. 

Before the start of the quarter

Your change of status application or re-entry in F-1 status should take place before the start of the quarter. If your application is not approved in time, contact your advisor to request a deferral of your I-20 start date to the next available quarter.