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Changing to F-1 Visa Status

You can apply for a change to F-1 status without leaving the U.S. if you can prove that you have maintained your current nonimmigrant status and that you qualify for the new status. In addition, you must also show that you did not falsify your entry into the US by claiming you would be doing one activity when you knew you would be doing another after you entered. For example, an individual who enters on a tourist visa and immediately applies for a change to F status will probably be denied. Individuals who enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program may not change to another nonimmigrant status, but rather must leave the U.S. and obtain a new visa at an American consulate abroad.

NATO Visa Holders have a different process for applications in the U.S. and outside the U.S.

ISSS Processing Time: see posted processing times
Immigration Processing Time: 2-6 months

Application Process Overview

Step 1: Collect application materials listed in Application Packet List section below

Step 2: If materials are acceptable, ISSS will issue your F-1 visa document, the I-20

Step 3: ISSS will e-mail you information on how to pay your SEVIS Fee and where you will mail your application

Application Packet List

  1. Completed I-539 (see further instructions below), filled out on the ISSS web site (not Immigration's site), printed and signed with blue ink

  2. Check for $290 made out to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" with your SEVIS ID number and "I-539" in the bottom left corner; personal or cashier's checks only--no money orders

  3. Letter explaining why you'd like to change your status (see below for more information) signed in blue ink

  4. Passport copies:
    a. biographical information in passport (usually the page with the picture)
    b. your most recent visa stamp
    c. if on a different page than the one with your picture, the page showing the expiration date of your passport

  5. Original financial documentation to show you have the funding for your degree (see link in #7 below for exact amounts that must be shown)

  6. Original I-94 card

  7. Completed I-20/DS-2019 Request Form on ISSS web site

  8. I-901 Receipt ($200 SEVIS Fee), paid after ISSS e-mails you your SEVIS ID number

  9. If you are in a dependent status (e.g. F-2, J-2, H-4, etc.), you will also need to submit copies of the principal's (e.g. F-1, J-1, H-1, etc.) documents; this includes all I-20s/DS-2019s, passport (#4 above), copies of both sides of I-94 (#5 above) and a transcript if the principal is a student.

I-539

Here are some tips on filling out this form:

Page 1, Part 1

  • A#: unless you have been issued work permission with an EAD (Employment Authorization Document), you wouldn't have one

  • Date of Last Arrival/I-94#: both are on your I-94

Page 1, Part 4

  • Additional Information: this is your address in your home country

Page 3, Part 4

  • "If you answered 'No' to Question 3g": Type the following: My [father/mother/family] will support me during my studies. Please see the attached documentation.

  • "If you answered 'Yes' to Question 3g": provide the requested information and, if applicable, include copies of any EADs you have had.

Letter

Write a brief letter of explanation, keeping the following points in mind. In general, a successful letter is brief and:

  • must have the date

  • must be signed in blue ink

  • should be addressed to "To Whom It May Concern:"

  • must include your SEVIS U.S. address (your residence)

  • must include your SEVIS ID numbers

  • must explain what your current status is and why you'd like to change to the F-1 visa status

  • must describe how you will use degree earned at ODU when you return to your home country

Including Dependents on Your Application

If you are requesting a change to F-1 or J-1 and have dependents with you who will be changing to F-2 or J-2 status, please let ISSS know so we can e-mail you an additional page from the I-539. You must include proof of the relationship such as a marriage certificate or a birth certificate. However, if the dependents already have "derivative" status (e.g. H-4, F-2 or J-2), this proof is not necessary. It is necessary to submit your dependents' original I-94s, biographical information in passports and any other visa documentation.

Photocopies

Be sure all photopies are legible; Immigration may return your application if they can't read the information. The copies and forms should only be on 8.5" x 11" paper (A4 or "American-sized"), one-sided and have the image centered in the middle of the page. Please do not enlarge an image.

I-901 Servis Fee Receipt

Once your I-20 is issued, ISSS will e-mail you at your ODU student e-mail account (e.g. msmit001@...) with two numbers (ODU's school code and your SEVIS ID number) with instructions on how to pay your fee online. You will include the receipt you print in your application. Print a second copy to keep with your records as it is often required for many Immigration-related applications.


Application Submission & Follow-Up Correspondence

Applicants are responsible for sending their own application to Immigration. We strongly recommend you use a courier service so you can track your package and confirm its delivery. In addition to the regular tracking number, we recommend you request delivery confirmation, which will be of great help in the unlikely--but possible--situation that Immigration loses your application at a processing center. You will get a receipt in the mail two to six weeks after Immigration gets your application package. This document is very important and also has the number you can use to track your application online. Sometimes, Immigration will send an RFE (Request for Evidence) if there are questions about your paperwork or your application; please let ISSS if we can assist you with your reply to Immigration. It is important to keep a copy of the RFE and everything you submitted with it as part of your important documents.

Upon Approval of Your Change of Status

NEW STUDENTS @ ODU: If your application is approved, Immigration will send you an I-797 Approval Notice with your new I-94 at the bottom. You will then come to check-in with ISSS for the semester in which you will begin your program.

CONTINUING STUDENTS @ ODU: If your application is approved, Immigration will send you an I-797 Approval Notice with your new I-94 at the bottom. Please make an appointment with your ISSS advisor as we must issue you a new I-20 and go over the rights and responsibilities of your new status.

Begining Academic Classes

You may not begin degree-seeking coursework until ISSS has issued your new, post-approval I-20 or you have done the formal check-in process with ISSS. This cannot be done after the end of course registration; you must wait until the start of the next semester in May, August or January.


Travel After Your Status Has Changed

The next time you leave the U.S., you will need an F-1 visa stamp in your passport to return. This means you will need to go to a U.S. consulate overseas to make the application. To be sure you have the proper documents, we recommend you read over the Travel Reminders linked from the main page of our site.

Graduate Assistantships After a Change of Status

It may be that your funding is through a graduate assistantship, but please note that you cannot start work until you have your second I-20 from ISSS in-hand. You will need to do employment paperwork with ISSS before you begin your employment. You may not "volunteer" your services until the approval of your new status.


If Your Approval is Delayed

While the application is in process, it is necessary to wait for the approval before classes can be started. If your application is approved in the middle of a semester, it is necessary to wait for the next available semester, which means you must wait to begin an assistantship.

It is important that you not allow the program start date on your I-20 to pass while your application is being processed by Immigration. This means that, at least two weeks before the program start date, you must contact International Admissions to submit your deferral form. In addition, ISSS will give you a date by which you must e-mail the office to notify us of your application's status; if that date is passed without word from you, your change of status may be denied by Immigration.