When you enter the United States in nonimmigrant status/visa, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work, or travel. You may enter the U.S. with one purpose and later change your purpose. When this happens, you may need to obtain a new status/visa. Different status/visa categories allow different activities.
If you or your principal visa/status holder is working with an immigration attorney, please be sure to consult with them regarding your interest in obtaining F-1 student visa/status
Contact your International Student Advisor as soon as you know you want a new status/visa. The process can be challenging, and we want to discuss your options with you.
Gaining a F-1 Visa/Status
There are two ways of becoming a F-1 student:
Option 1: Travel and Reentry
Leave the U.S., apply for a F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, and reenter the U.S.. using the F-1 visa.
This process is usually faster than changing status in the U.S.
You will obtain the F-1 visa (stamping on your passport) and the status
Possibility of visa processing delay
Time and expense of travel
Possibly a narrow and strict travel period; as students may need schedule F-1 visa appointment during university breaks and cannot seek entry into the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date.
For information about visas, including how to apply, see our Visas page.
Option 2: Change Status in the U.S.
Submit a Change of Status (COS) application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) . This option allows you to change to F-1 while remaining in the U.S. With this option you may gain the new status but you will not receive a F-1 visa (stamping on your passport); visas are only issued outside the U.S.
Ability to stay in the U.S. during processing
Avoid the hassle of a visa application process (for now)
Processing can be extremely slow (up to 14 months), which may jeopardize your ability to begin your new activity, such as studying or accepting a research or teaching assistantship or other campus employment.
Due to the extremely slow processing time and no availability of an expedited processing, COS option will simply not work for students in an accelerated graduate program such as MSBA, MCL and MSAcc.
You must stay in the U.S. during processing; exiting the U.S. cancels the application.
You must still obtain a visa stamp to match your status the next time you travel outside the U.S. (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
The application may be denied, which could require you to quickly depart the U.S.
When deciding which option is best for you, you should consider various factors: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, your program of study length, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status.
Eligibility for COS
You may be able to change to F-1 if:
You are maintaining your current status.
You are eligible for the new status.
Your current status does not prohibit COS in the U.S. See below for restrictions.
You generally cannot change to F-1 if:
Your period of authorized stay has already expired.
You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status.
Restrictions for COS
Individuals in J status who are subject to the two-year home-country residence requirement can change only to A or G status.
Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (marked "W/T" or "W/B" on the I-94) cannot change nonimmigrant status.
Persons who hold C, D, or K status cannot change nonimmigrant status.
A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.
Other Items to Keep In Mind
Filing of Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker on behalf of H-1B Principal: ”Intent to immigrate to U.S.” can be a denial reason for F-1 student visa or change of status application. On I-539 (Application to Extend/ Change Nonimmigrant Status), there is a Yes/No question, “Has an immigrant petition EVER been filed for you or for any other person included in this application?”. On DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application), there is also a Yes/No question, “Has anyone ever filed an immigration petition on your behalf with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services?”. H-4 visa holders may be eligible for EAD (Employment Authorization Document) after Form I-140 is filed. Seek advise from an immigration attorney.
Mandatory Insurance for F-1 students: All F-1 students will be billed for the ISHIP. To learn more about waiver deadline and eligibility, visit this page.
International Student Programming Fee: Once you obtain F-1 student visa/status, you will be billed for this fee. Visit this page to learn more.
Your Previous Visa: If you have other valid non-F-1 visas (such as H-4) and F-1 student visa on your passport, please be sure to put a sticky note over non-F-1 visas stating, “DO NOT use this visa” to alert CBP officials to no admit you to U.S. on a wrong visa category.
WA Resident Status: Obtaining F-1 student visa/status will have effect on Washington state residency status for tuition purposes. All questions regarding residency should be directed to the Registrar's Office.
Application Procedures for COS
Contact your International Student Advisor regarding your change of status. If you or your principal visa/status holder is working with an immigration attorney, please also be sure to consult with s/he regarding your interest in obtaining new status.
Compile the application documents specific to your change of status. If you are applying for COS from H-4 to F-1, below are list of materials we generally recommend students to collect:
At least one of the following:
A copy of Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, filed on behalf of the H temporary worker.
A copy of the I-797 Receipt Notice related to the H temporary worker’s already pending Form I-129 petition
A copy of the front and back of the H temporary worker’s most recent Form I-94
A copy of the I-797 Approval Notice showing the H temporary worker has already been granted status for the period requested on your application.
Detailed letter explaining the need to change status (see sample letter)
Proof of employment of H-1B principal such as wage statements and letter from the employer
Evidence of relationship to the H-1B principal such as a birth certificate or marriage certificate and proof of termination of any prior marriages
A copy of H-4 visa or approval notice of H-4 status.
A copy of financial document showing that you have access to sufficient funds to cover one academic year of your tuition and living expenses. This can be same document(s) used to obtain the I-20. Note that USCIS prefers to see cash in the bank, rather than proof of income.
A copy of SEVIS Form I-901 fee payment receipt
A copy of Form I-20, signed by your International Student Advisor and you.
A copy of your passport ID page including passport validity information. You must maintain the validity of your passport during your nonimmigrant stay. If a required passport is not valid when you file Form I-539, submit an explanation with your form.
Form I-539 fee of $370.
Form I-539 (the form and the instruction is available on USCIS website)
If you prepared your application yourself, ask your immigration attorney to review your application materials.
Verify the mailing address listed on the USCIS website prior to mailing your application.
Processing Timeline for COS
Processing times vary, so be prepared to wait for up to 14 months to learn the outcome of your application. To review current processing times and your pending case status, visit the USCIS Case Status Service Online.
Approval or Denial: USCIS will notify you of their decision with Form I-797 Notice of Action. The I-797 is an important document and should be kept with your passport and I-94 card. The denial letter or approval notice will be mailed to the address listed on Form I-539 in your application. Note that if you change your address, the postal service will not forward mail sent to you by USCIS. Please provide your International Student Adviser with a copy of your I-797/Notice of Action and approval notice.
Remaining in the U.S. during processing: You may remain in the U.S. while your application is pending, even if your original status expires during the application processing.
Travel outside the U.S. while application is pending: Do not travel outside of the U.S. while your COS case is pending. If you leave the country, USCIS will consider your application abandoned.
Travel outside the U.S. after application is approved: In order to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad (except for brief trips to Canada or Mexico under 30 days), you must visit a U.S. consulate to request a new visa to match your new status. Contact International Student Advisor for information about documents and procedures for re-entering the U.S.
Employment eligibility: Do not begin employment, if permitted under the new status, until the COS is approved.
After COS Approval
Notifying Your International Student Advisor: Once your COS is approved, submit the New Student SEVIS Activation form. Your advisor will need to change your visa status in University of Washington Tacoma database to “F-1”. ISS will also contact the UWT Registrar's office and request your Resident code to be updated to “Non-Resident Student Visa” if necessary.
Traveling Internationally: Once your COS is approved and you travel outside of U.S., you will need an actual F-1 student visa on your passport in order to seek re-admission into the U.S. You need to schedule an appointment at the U.S. Embassy/ Consulate abroad and submit all necessary document while you are outside of U.S. For information about visas, including how to apply, see our Visas page.
After F-1 Student Visa Approval
Notifying Your International Student Advisor: Once your F-1 Student Visa is approved and as soon as you returned to U.S., submit the New Student SEVIS Activation form.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I am on H-4 visa/status, can I begin studying without obtaining F-1 visa/status?
A: Yes, H-4 visa/status holders are allowed to engage in degree seeking studies.
Q: Can I apply for F-1 student visa in a country other than my home country such as Canada?
A: We normally do not recommend students to apply for visa in a country other than their home country. This is because visa issuance officers are only trained to review documents and make a decisions for an applicant from the specific country that they are assigned.
If you do decide to apply for visa abroad, please remember that you are not allowed to enter U.S. more than 30 days in advance from program start date printed on your I-20.
If you decide to go to Canada to obtain F-1 student visa, pay attention to both Canadian and U.S. holidays for the embassy closures. Look for appointment earlier in during the week for minimal stay in Canada.
Q: When will I be eligible for CPT/OPT?
A: In order to be eligible to apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT, off-campus internship), students must be enrolled on a full time basis for three consecutive quarters. Those quarters students were enrolled on a full time basis using visa/status other than F-1 will count toward meeting this three consecutive quarter rule.
Q: What if my COS application does not get approved by the program start date printed on my I-20?
A: If your COS application does not get approved within 60 days from your program start date, ISS needs to defer your program start date to next available date otherwise, your SEVIS record will be terminated. Please contact your International Student Advisor to receive an updated I-20 with a new program start date and send a copy of it to USCIS along with your case number.
Q: What if I change my mind from applying for COS to leave U.S. and get F-1 visa at U.S. Embassy? Or vise versa?
A: You need to notify your International Student Advisor as soon as possible because there are different types of I-20. If you plan to apply for Change of Status, you will to receive an I-20 with COS pending remark and if you plan to apply for F-1 visa abroad, you will receive an I-20 with initial status remark.