If you want to change the purpose of your visit while in the United States, you (or in some cases your employer) must file a request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the appropriate form before your authorized stay expires.
In general, you may apply to change your nonimmigrant status if you were lawfully admitted to the United States in an eligible nonimmigrant status, your nonimmigrant status remains valid, you have not violated the conditions of your status and you have not committed any crimes that would make you ineligible. Until you receive approval from USCIS, do not assume the status has been approved and do not change your activity in the United States.
USCIS recommends that you apply as soon as you determine that you need to change to a different nonimmigrant category. If USCIS denies your application, be prepared to leave the United States when your current status expires.
- Changing to a Nonimmigrant Student Status
You may wish to change your nonimmigrant status if you are already in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant visa for a purpose other than attending school and want to study at a U.S. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school. You are not eligible for a change of status in the United States if you entered as a visitor through the visa waiver program.
If you meet the criteria above and want to change your status while you remain in the United States, you must submit an application with USCIS to change your nonimmigrant status by following these steps:
- Special Instructions for Changing to a Nonimmigrant Student Status from B-1/B-2 status
If you are changing status from B-1/B-2 to F or M student, refrain from enrolling in or beginning your studies until USCIS has approved your change of status. If USCIS has not adjudicated your change of status at least 15 days before the program start date on your Form I-20, contact the DSO at your new school. You may need to wait to attend (have deferred attendance).
Please note that you must maintain your B-1 or B-2 status while your Form I-539 is pending.
USCIS may only approve your Form I-539 change of status request if you are maintaining your B-1/B-2 status up to 30 days before your program’s initial start date.
This means you will need to file a second Form I-539, with a separate fee, to request an extension of your B-1 or B-2 status if:
- Your current status will expire more than 30 days before the initial F-1 or M-1 program start date. In this case, you must file a second Form I-539 requesting to extend your B-1 or B-2 status. If you do not file this extension request on time, USCIS will deny your Form I-539 request to change to F-1 or M-1 status. Please continue to check the USCIS processing times while your Form I-539 change of status request is pending to determine if you need to file a request to extend your B-1/B-2 status.
- Your F-1 or M-1 program start date is deferred to the following academic term or semester because USCIS did not make a decision on your Form I-539 change of status application before your originally intended F-1 or M-1 program start date, and your B-1/B-2 status expires more than 30 days before that program start date. You will need to file a second Form I-539 in order to bridge the gap in time between when your current status expires and the 30 day period before your new F-1 program start date.
Because extending your current stay in B-1 or B-2 status or changing from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 or M-1 status are two distinct benefits, you must pay a separate filing fee for each request, per the User Fee Statute, found at 31 U.S.C. 9701. For more information about this process, please visit USCIS Special Instructions for B-1/B-2 Visitors Who Want to Enroll in School.
- Changing to H-1B Status
If you are an F-1 student interested in changing to H-1B status, your prospective employer must sponsor you and file that petition. See pages on H-1B Status and cap gap for details.
Special Note for M-1 Students
If you are an M-1 student, you may not change to F or H status while you are in the United States. If you would like to attend school as an F-1 student, you will need to leave the United States, apply to an SEVP-certified school and receive a new Form I-20. You will also need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, if applicable.
- Alternative Option
If you are currently in the United States for a purpose other than attending school and would like to become a student, you may also decide to leave the United States and follow the traditional process for becoming an F-1 or M-1 student