Chapter 8 - Change of Status
A. General Eligibility for Change of Status to F-1
1. Eligible Nonimmigrants
In general, nonimmigrants who have been lawfully admitted to the United States and maintain the status in which they were admitted (or previously changed to) may seek to change from one visa classification under INA 101(a)(15) to another, with certain restrictions. The applicant must meet all eligibility criteria for the new visa classification.
Generally, a nonimmigrant may apply to change to F-1 status while remaining in the United States if:
The applicant was lawfully admitted to the United States in a nonimmigrant status;
The applicant’s nonimmigrant status remains valid; and
The applicant has not violated the conditions of their nonimmigrant status.
2. Timing and Effective Date
Academic Program Start Date
In general, upon approval of a change of status (COS) to F-1, F-1 students may not engage in any student activities (with certain exceptions) until 30 days before their academic program start date.
Officers grant the COS with an effective date of the applicant’s F-1 status as the day of final adjudication (approval), regardless of whether it falls within 30 days of the academic program start date.
If a COS to F-1 application is approved more than 30 days before the program start date, the nonimmigrant must ensure that they do not violate their F-1 status during that period of time. The student must ensure they maintain status by not engaging in impermissible activities.
For example, engaging in any employment, including on-campus employment and practical training more than 30 days before the program start date, is a violation of F-1 status. In general, F-1 students admitted for duration of status who violate the terms of their status, begin to accrue unlawful presence on the day after USCIS or an immigration judge determines that they have violated their nonimmigrant status.
In all cases, the student must fully comply with all applicable requirements of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
Duration of Status
Regulations define the nonimmigrant student’s “duration of status” as the time during which an F-1 nonimmigrant is “pursuing a full course of study” at the approved educational institution. USCIS considers the period of time between the approval of the COS to F-1 classification and the F-1 program start date as falling within the provision of “pursuing a full course of study.” This applies if the F-1 student continues to intend to pursue that course of study and does not otherwise violate their F-1 nonimmigrant status.
USCIS considers this period of time between the date of approval and the program start date as similar to the period of time and purpose a student is in the United States during summer vacation in F-1 status (such a break in classes does not interrupt status).
Deferring Program Start Date
If a COS to F-1 application is not approved before the program start date reflected on the initial “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” (Form I-20), the applicant must request that their Designated School Official (DSO) defer the program start date in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) before the current program start date has been reached.
The applicant can monitor the status of their pending COS application and, in accordance with instructions provided on the SEVP website, may contact the DSO if it appears that the program start date may need to be deferred. The applicant and the DSO are responsible for ensuring that the SEVIS record is not terminated while the COS is pending.
USCIS historically only granted applications to change to F-1 status within 30 days of the program start date listed on the applicant’s Form I-20. USCIS required nonimmigrants applying for COS to F-1 classification to continuously obtain nonimmigrant status up to 30 days before the start date of the program of study listed on the Form I-20, even if that required filing an initial extension and later a subsequent extension or extensions, or filing a COS and subsequent extension or extensions. This policy prevented students from incurring a “gap” in status prior to 30 days before the program’s start date, but resulted in the potential filing and adjudication of multiple, duplicative COS or extension of stay (sometimes referred to as “bridging”) applications.
In order to limit costs to applicants and the government, especially during periods of high volume and extended adjudication times, USCIS no longer requires the applicant to submit subsequent applications for extension or change of nonimmigrant status while the COS to F-1 application is pending with USCIS, provided that the applicant’s nonimmigrant status is unexpired at the time of filing the initial COS to F-1 application, and the applicant otherwise remains eligible for a COS.
To avoid a “gap” in status in cases that are adjudicated more than 30 days prior to the academic program start date but are otherwise approvable, USCIS grants the COS to F-1 effective the day USCIS makes a final decision on the COS application, which may in some cases result in a student being granted F-1 status more than 30 days prior to the program start date.
3. Nonimmigrants Unable to Enroll in a Full Course of Study Seeking Change of Status to F-1 Classification
Certain nonimmigrants, including visitors for business or pleasure (B-1 or B-2), are prohibited from enrolling in a full course of study. Nonimmigrants who wish to enroll in a full course of study but are unable to do so in their current nonimmigrant status must first submit a COS application and request nonimmigrant student (F-1) status. These nonimmigrants must do so while they are still in lawful status.
4. Other Nonimmigrants Seeking Change of Status to F-1 Classification
Some nonimmigrant classifications (PDF) permit applicants to enroll in a full course of study incidental to their primary purpose for being in the United States, while other classifications do not. COS applicants in nonimmigrant classifications that permit such enrollment and who enroll in a full course of study may continue their studies, even if their COS to F-1 is approved more than 30 days before their program start date as listed on their Form I-20.
Nonimmigrants whose classifications do not permit enrolling in a course of study must first acquire F-1 status and may only enroll in a full course of study upon the program start date listed on Form I-20.
When an applicant applies for a COS to F-1 status, the applicant must wait until the COS is approved as well as 30 days before the new program start date before engaging in F status-specific activities (such as on-campus employment and practical training).
5. Travel Abroad and Consular Processing
A nonimmigrant who obtains an F-1 nonimmigrant visa through consular processing may not be admitted more than 30 days before the report date or program start date listed on the Form I-20. If a nonimmigrant travels abroad while their COS application is pending, USCIS considers that COS application abandoned.
If a nonimmigrant student travels abroad after USCIS has approved their F-1 COS application, regulations prohibit re-admission to the United States in F-1 status more than 30 days before the report date or program start date listed on the Form I-20.
6. Dependents (F-2 Nonimmigrants)
Any spouse and minor child(ren) of the student who wishes to change their status to F-2 dependent status must file their COS application while their current nonimmigrant status is valid and unexpired. Officers must review the expiration date of the applicant’s nonimmigrant status as indicated on the applicant’s Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94) or other relevant document(s) to make this determination.
If USCIS denies the principal nonimmigrant’s COS application, officers must deny any dependent’s COS application as well.
B. Vocational Student (M-1) [Reserved]
[^ 2] According to INA 101(a)(15)(f), a noncitizen is eligible for F nonimmigrant classification if the noncitizen: has a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study, and seeks to enter the United States temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing such a course of study consistent with INA 214(m) at an established college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in an accredited language training program in the United States.
[^ 3] Violations of status include, among others, engaging in unauthorized employment and certain criminal activity. See 8 CFR 214.1.
[^ 4] See Subsection 4, Other Nonimmigrants Seeking Change of Status to F-1 Classification [2 USCIS-PM F.8(A)(4)].
[^ 5] See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9(i).
[^ 6] See Adjudicator's Field Manual Chapter 40.9.2 (PDF, 1017.74 KB). Students may be subject to 3-year or 10-year bars on their readmission to the country, respectively, if they accrue more than 180 days or 1 year of unlawful presence. See INA 212(a)(9)(B).
[^ 7] See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5).
[^ 8] See 8 CFR 214.2(b)(7).
[^ 9] Under 8 CFR 214.2(f)(15)(ii), an F-2 is permitted to enroll in post-secondary or vocational study at an SEVP-certified school so long as any study remains less than a full course of study.
[^ 10] See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(9(i).
[^ 11] See 8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(i).