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Changing Your Immigration Status

Reasons

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You may need to/want to change immigration status for the following reasons:

  • If your primary purpose changes in the US. 
    For example, you were here to work full-time on an H-1B visa or be a dependent on an F-2 visa and you now wish to become a full-time or degree-seeking student.

  • If you are here on a dependent visa (e.g., F-2, J-2, H-4, etc.) and the principal visa holder (F-1, J-1, H-1, etc.) leaves the US for more than a brief vacation or changes his/her visa status, you also must leave the US or change status.

  • If a dependent child reaches the age of 21, he/she is no longer permitted to remain on a dependent visa.
    NOTE:  In most cases, the dependent must change immigration status before their 21st birthday.

  • If an individual wants to receive benefits specific to student status (F-1 /J-1), such as on-campus employment or practical training work authorization, she/he must change status before receiving the benefit.
    NOTE: For some employment benefits, students must be in F-1 status for more than 9 months, so it may be important to change status early.

Two ways to change immigration status

img21. The individual can leave the US, apply for an entry visa with the appropriate documentation for the new status at a US consulate abroad and reenter the US (if you have ever violated the terms of your immigration status, check with an international advisor BEFORE choosing this option).

OR

2. The individual can file an application for a change of non-immigrant status with the USCIS (as long as he/she is currently legally present in the US). This option is currently taking between 2 and 6 months, so you should meet with an international advisor to find out if this option will work for your situation.

Conditions & Limitations

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  • You must currently be in the US in legal immigration status to be eligible to change to another status.

  • If you are applying to change status from B visitor you must wait to begin your degree program until the change of status is approved (you can only be enrolled for avocational courses part-time in this status - speak with an advisor before you apply; B visitors are often denied the change to F-1 or J-1 student).

  • If you are applying to change from F-2 dependent status to F-1 or J-1 student status, you cannot enroll full time until the change of status is approved by USCIS (you should speak with an advisor before you apply).

  • If you have been in the US previously in J-1 or J-2 status, and you were subject to the two-year home residency requirement, you may be ineligible to change status with USCIS (you may have to leave the US to make the change or may not be allowed to change at all); please check with an international advisor to be sure you are eligible.

  • If you are here on a J visa and you are considering changing to the J-1 Research Scholar/Professor category, you may be subject to a rule referred to as the “12-month bar after previous J participation.” Essentially, applicants for J-1 Research Scholar/Professor category are not eligible if they have been physically present in any J Status (including J-2 status) for all or part of the 12 month period immediately preceding the date of program. There are several exceptions to this rule. The two most common exceptions are those who have been in J status for less than 6 months or those in J status as a Short Term Scholar.

Application Process

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STEP 1: Be Informed
Read this entire handout thoroughly and carefully.  Meet with an international advisor to discuss processing times and options BEFORE you apply!!!

STEP 2: Pay the SEVIS fee
If you are in the United States applying for a change of status to F-1 or J-1 you are subject to this fee and must pay it or your application will not be processed.  You should include proof of payment with your application.  If USCIS cannot verify your payment they will request proof of your payment, which will cause delays in the process of you application.
Payment is not required if the applicant is requesting a change of status to an F-2 or J-2.

STEP 3: Write a Cover Letter.  The letter should:

    • Explain what you are applying for (e.g. change from F-2 to F-1 status).

    • Explain why you are applying (if you entered the US in B visitor status, speak with an advisor first).

    • Explain how you have been supporting yourself in your current immigration status.

    • List all of the contents of your application in order.

STEP 4: Read and Complete Form I-539 and form G-1145
(These forms are at: www.uscis.gov/i-539 and www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/g-1145.pdf).

    • Make absolutely sure that you are able to receive mail at the address you indicate for at least one year into the future (you can use the GEO address if necessary).

    • Complete all questions on the form and attach all required documents (see below and speak with an advisor if you are unsure).

STEP 5: Include the Following Items in the application:

    • A $370 check payable to “Department of Homeland Security”.  If the correct fee is not included your application will be rejected.

    • Cover Letter (See step 3 above).

    • Completed Forms I-539 and G-1145 (See step 4 above).

    • Original documents necessary for the new status (e.g., the new I-20 for those changing to F-1).

    • Financial information showing proof of necessary funds to cover all expenses (for students this includes all tuition, health insurance and living expenses); proof of funding could include bank statements or salary statements or a letter from an academic department stating the amount of an assistantship/scholarship you will be receiving (if an individual will pay your expenses, you should include a letter from that person stating that he/she will pay in addition to the bank statement or other document mentioned above).

    • Copy of your I-94 (front and back if it is a paper I-94).

    • Copy of all previous immigration documents such as passport, visa and old I-20s/DS-2019s (front and back).

    • Proof of SEVIS Payment (if applicable).

    • If you are applying for a change to or from a dependent status (e.g., F-2, J-2, H-4, etc), you will also need to include copies of the primary visa holder's documents. The primary visa holder (F-1, J-1, H1-B, etc) could be your spouse or your parent. The documents you must include for them are:

      1. His/her I-94 (front and back if it is a paper copy).

      2. His/her passport, visa, I-20 or other legal immigration documents (front and back).

      3. Proof of marriage. (Only if you are changing from your spouse's status). 

STEP 6: Copy the Entire Application Packet and Mail To USCIS:
When you have completed the entire application, it is advised that you have a GEO advisor review the application.  Then, make a complete copy for your files, organize the materials as neatly as possible, and put them in a large mailing envelope.  Send all of the above items to the appropriate USCIS Regional Service Center having jurisdiction over your place of residence (the instructions to form I-539 contain all address information).  For those living in New Mexico the address is:


For U.S. Postal Service Deliveries
Attn: Change of Status (I-539)
USCIS
PO Box 660166
Dallas, TX  75266

For express mail and courier deliveries:
Attn: I-539, USCIS
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067


If sending your application via USPS, we recommend sending the application US certified mail “return-receipt requested” so that you have proof of delivery.

STEP 7: Processing
Your change of status is not finalized until you have received an approval notice from USCIS.  You should receive a “Notice of Action”, or receipt notice within 6 weeks of mailing the application.  This notice will contain a receipt number that allows you to check on the status of your application. 
When you are approved, the approval notice will contain a new I-94. The I-94 shows the number, class/type and validity period “(D/S”, means “Duration of Status.”)  If you are changing to F-1 or J-1 status with UNM, you are required to come to GEO as soon as you receive the approval notice so that we can make copies for our records and register you in the SEVIS system (necessary for maintenance of legal status).

Other Important Information

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  • Timing is extremely important and timeliness of the application is essential. So plan immediately.

  • ALWAYS CONSULT AN INTERNATIONAL ADVISOR!!

  • You cannot accept any benefits of the new status until the change is approved.

  • Once the change of status has been approved, you can no longer carry out the activities allowed by the old status if they are prohibited in the new status.