Jun 16, 2024  
International Student Handbook 
International Student Handbook

Change of Status to F-1 Visa


Visas - United States Department of State


An F-1 student is a nonimmigrant pursuing a full course of study to achieve a specific educational or professional objective at an academic institution in the US. Once the educational objectives have been completed, the student is expected to return to their residence abroad. Please view the Change of Status to F-1 Guide  for more information.

A student acquires F-1 status by requesting Form I-20, issued by the US school the student is attending/planning to attend.

Status is acquired in one of two ways:

  1. By entering the US with the I-20 and an F-1 visa obtained at a US embassy or consulate abroad (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement); or

  2. Applying to USCIS for a change of nonimmigrant status (if the student is already in the US and cannot travel).

    1. Please note that if you choose this option, you will not receive an F-1 travel visa, only F-1 status; this means that if you later travel outside the US while in F-1 status, you will have to apply for an F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate to be able to return to the US.

A person of any non-immigrant status except C, D, K, or M (and in some cases J), and except those who entered the US under the terms of the Visa Waiver Program, can apply for a change to F-1 status if they have maintained lawful nonimmigrant status up to the time of application.

  • Those with J status subject to 212(e) two-year home-country physical requirements may not change status in the US unless a waiver has been granted.
  • Non-immigrants in A, G, or NATO status must first complete Form I-566 and have it adequately endorsed by the foreign mission to the US and the Department of State (DOS).

Change of Status to the F-1 Visa

If you are in the US with valid immigration status, you may be eligible to change your status to F-1. Please read how to maintain your F-1 status to learn important information about F-1 status.

There are two ways to change your status:

  1. By application to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); or

  2. By departing the US and reentering after obtaining the F-1 visa.

In either case, you must be a continuing or newly admitted student for the upcoming semester for ISS to assist you with this process.

Please keep in mind that if you are interested in changing your visa type, Florida Poly employees cannot advise students on changing their nonimmigrant status; all students seeking to change their status are recommended to consult with an immigration law professional regarding immigration processes and regulations. This page is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice.

Change of Status Inside the US

Important points to know:

  • Processing with USCIS can take 6 to 12 months or longer, depending on current USCIS processing times; while the application is pending, you may not leave the US.

  • Applicants in B-2 status may not begin classes until they have changed to F-1 student status or another status eligible to enroll in classes.

  • On-campus employment may not begin until the change of status has been approved.

  • Your underlying status may expire more than 30 days before your requested program start date if your Change of Status to F-1 application was filed timely (i.e., it was valid and unexpired when initially received by USCIS).

  • Applicants who are changing status from F-2 can begin classes part-time but can only be enrolled full-time once the application has been approved.

  • You must apply with USCIS immediately after being issued the I-20 from ISS.

    • If you have not filed your change of status application by the start date on your I-20, you must contact ISS for a new I-20.

  • The USCIS process will change your immigration status within the US but does not issue a new visa stamp in the passport.

    • After the application is approved if a student needs to depart the US, they must apply for an F-1 visa at a US consulate or embassy to re-enter the US in F-1 status.

Changing Status Outside the US

Important points to know:

  • Your status change is not complete until you re-enter the US and check in with ISS to activate your F-1 immigration record.

  • If you are changing your status from B-2, you may begin classes only after returning to the US and obtaining F-1 status.

  • If changing from F-2 to F-1, you may only begin full-time classes after returning to the US in F-1 status.

  • You may begin on-campus employment only after you re-enter in F-1 status and check in with ISS.

  • You may enter the US no earlier than 30 days before the program start date listed in section 5 of the Initial I-20.

    • Therefore it is essential to plan your travel carefully.

How to Apply for a Change of Status

  1. Complete the Change of Status to F-1 Visa online learning module (OLM), pass the quiz with 100% (10 questions with unlimited attempts), to gain access to the Initial I-20 Request Form; complete and submit this form and return to ISS along with all additional required items.

  2. Once you are issued the Form I-20 file, complete the online application for the I-539 and include the following:

    • Signed copy of Form I-20 and your valid passport identification page

    • Copy of your current I-94 Arrival and Departure Record

    • Copy of the current nonimmigrant status (e.g., color copy of visa) and your approval notice (I-797)

    • If you are a nonimmigrant dependent; send a copy of the primary visa holder’s status (if operating under an employment visa, provide a copy of the employment letter)

    • Copies of financial documents (same documents submitted with Initial I-20 Request form)

    • Copy of admission letter from Florida Polytechnic University

    • Fee payment for the I-539 ($370 USD) and ($85 USD) biometric fee (can pay when filing I-539 online)

    • Proof of the I-901 SEVIS fee payment (pay online and save the receipt)

    • A letter explaining why you are requesting the change of status.

      • Important: Your letter should clearly explain your current status, your plans for study at Florida Poly, and your longer-term plans. Keep in mind that F-1 status is a “nonimmigrant” classification. This means that you must indicate, and in some instances may require to document, that you continue to maintain ties to your home country–whether in the form of a residence, an expected job offer, or continuing family ties. It is not unusual for the USCIS to request documentation regarding your links to your home country, and you should be prepared to provide such documentation.

Sample Letter (provided solely as an example of what can be written)

Dear US Department of Homeland Security Official:

I am currently in the U.S. holding a visa and would like permission to change my visa to F-1 student. I entered the U.S. in a non-student status in order to ______________(describe your activity/intention at the time of entry.) I decided to apply for admission to Florida Polytechnic University in _____________ (month/year) and was admitted for graduate/undergraduate study in  (month/year). I intend to enroll full-time and would like to complete my (BA/MS) degree in ___________ (list major). 

I do not wish to leave the US at the present time to change my status because I would suffer the following hardship:                                (identify hardship reason). Please find my I-539 application, I- 20, I-94, and supporting materials.

I fully intend to abide by all regulations governing the F-1 status. After completing my program of study, I expect to return to my home country and apply the knowledge I gained. Your assistance and prompt attention to this matter are appreciated.