Change of Status to F-1

To be eligible for a change of status to F-1, you must have maintained and currently be in a valid immigration status, be admitted to a degree program at UB and have received an I-20. F-1 is a non-immigrant visa category.

Change of Status Overview

A change of status is a change in one’s primary purpose for being in the U.S. There are two ways to change one’s immigration status to F-1. 

  • One way is to travel home or outside the U.S., apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate and re-enter the U.S. in the new status.  
    • An "Initial" I-20 is issued when changing status via travel.
    • ISS recommends that you travel back to your home country to apply for the F-1 visa.
    • If you are granted an F-1 visa then you will use the F-1 visa stamp and I-20 to re-enter the U.S.
    • After entry to the U.S. using an F-1 visa, your electronic I-94 will be updated to reflect F-1 status.
  • The other way is to submit a change-of-status application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) while remaining in the U.S.
    •  A "Change of Status" I-20 is issued when changing status inside the U.S.

We will outline both options below; however, due to extremely long processing times with the USCIS and increased scrutiny of change of status applications, ISS generally recommends changing status via travel.

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Changing Status Inside the U.S. - Eligibility Requirements

Changing ones status inside the U.S. is extremely complicated. The entire process can take more than one year. For this and other reasons, ISS will generally recommend changing status via travel rather than inside the U.S.

When considering change of status inside the U.S., it is important to understand the following:

  • You must maintain a valid immigration status until your change of status to F-1 is approved. Since it can take 12 months or more to receive a decision, it is necessary to maintain a valid immigration status for a long time after submitting your change of status application.  
    • If your current status will expire soon, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney before deciding to pursue a change of status inside the U.S. 
  • ISS will determine your eligibility for a change of status I-20 after we review the details of your case.  If you are interested in exploring this option, please contact ISS to request an appointment with an International Student Advisor.
  • If ISS determines that you are eligible for a Change of Status I-20, we strongly recommend that you retain an experienced immigration attorney to review your application before submitting it to the USCIS. Due to the complexity of the change of status process, ISS cannot review your complete application. 
  • If you were previously a J-1 Exchange Visitor or J-2 dependent and were subject to the Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement (INA 212e), then you are not eligible to change your status inside the U.S. unless you have fulfilled your 2 year obligation or have an approved waiver of this requirement.

USCIS Process

Issuance of a "Change of Status" I-20 does not mean that your immigration status was changed to F-1. F-1 status is granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To apply, you must submit a complete application to USCIS, including a copy of your I-20, Form I-538 and other supporting documents. Your immigration attorney will provide you with guidance on which documents are necessary to submit.

Estimated processing time with the USCIS is approximately 12 months.  However, longer processing times are possible. After the USCIS receives your application, it will mail you a Form I-797 Notice of Receipt with your assigned case number.  You can check the status of your application online by following the directions on the form.

When you receive a response from the USCIS, you must report the outcome to the Office of International Student Services.  If your application is approved, send or bring a photocopy of your I-797 Approval Notice to ISS by visiting our office or emailing isss@buffalo.edu.

What happens if my Change of Status application is not approved by the Program Start Date on my I-20?

ISS will defer the Program Start Date in SEVIS to a later date if your change of status is not approved by the Program Start Date printed on your I-20.  ISS will continue to defer the Program Start Date until your change of status is approved.  

If USCIS requests a new I-20 indicating your new Program Start Date, ISS will provide it to you.

Travel with a Pending Change of Status

You may not travel outside the U.S. while your change of status application is pending. If you depart the U.S. while your application is pending, it will be denied by the USCIS.

Change of Status inside the U.S. - Resources

We recommend that you review the following resources:

Study and Change of Status

If your current immigration status allows study, then you may attend classes while your change of status application with the USCIS is pending.  However, you may not begin an assistantship or engage in employment under F-1 status until after your application is approved by the USCIS or you re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status, if changing status via travel.

If your current status does not allow study (i.e. B-1/B-2 visa holders), then you may not study until your change of status is approved or you re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

If you are an F-2 visa holder, you may study part-time (fewer than 12 credits) if your academic program permits part-time study. You may begin full-time study only after your change of status to F-1 is approved by the USCIS or after you re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status, if changing status via travel.