Changing Status in the U.S.

Overview

Individuals already in a lawful immigration status in the U.S. may apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to change that status while remaining in the U.S., for example from H-1B to F-1. J-1 students who are subject to and have not fulfilled the two-year home residency requirement will need to travel to change status.

The Change of Status application (I-539) is processed by USCIS and is only accepted by mail

Filing an application with USCIS

Eligibility & Considerations

  • You must be in your previous status when you apply; i.e. your previous status must not have expired. 

  • J-1 students who are subject to and have not fulfilled the two-year home residency requirement, will need to travel to change status. You are not eligible to file by mail in the U.S.

  • Individuals in F-2 status are permitted part-time study. Once a change of status if approved from F-2 to F-1, full-time enrollment is required for the remainder of the academic program.

  • Individuals in B-1/B-2 status are prohibited from enrolling in a program of study until the change of status is approved.

  • If you are in a visa status that permits study (e.g. H, J, L, E, etc.), you may start classes before your change of status is approved. 

Timing

  • It may take 4-6 months for a request for change of status to be adjudicated.
  • You cannot travel internationally while the COS application is pending.  If you do, your application will be considered 'abandoned' and will be cancelled. If you have travel plans, you may be able to change your status by traveling outside of the U.S., applying for the appropriate entry visa (e.g. F-1/J-1) and re-entering with the new status. 
  • Your current status should last up to the new status start date.  If changing to F-1, your previous status should last until at least 30 days before the new status start date. 

Steps

  1. Obtain form I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status) from OIA. To do so you must follow all instructions provided on the admitted student section of our website.
  2. Obtain, complete and sign a Form I-539.  Follow the instructions that come with the form carefully and attach all required documents.
  3. Mail documents to USCIS:

USCIS
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

Documents to prepare

  • A completed Form I-539You must complete this form yourself or with an attorney and mail it to USCIS; OIA cannot assist you with this part of the process.
  • Your original University of Chicago I-20 or DS-2019; remember to complete and sign #11 on the I-20.
  • Copy of passport biographical page(s) (those showing your name and photo).
  • Documentation of your I-94: Visit the USCBP website to retrieve and print out a copy of your electronic Form I-94.
  • A check or money order for the filing fee (see the USCIS website for the current fee) payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security".
  • Evidence of your funding.
  • Evidence of SEVIS fee payment.
  • Evidence that you have maintained your prior status since entry into the U.S. If you are changing from an employment-based status (H or L) such evidence may include W-2 forms, a copy of paystub/paycheck, or a letter from your employer confirming that you are still employed.
  • Optional document: Form G-1145, "E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance,"  if you want to be notified by email and/or text message when your application is received.

While Application is Pending

  • Do not plan to travel internationally before adjudication. If you do, your application will be considered abandoned.
  • You are not eligible for employment (on-campus or off-campus) or other F-1 or J-1 benefits until your change of status has been approved.
  • For additional information on changing your non-immigrant status, please see https://www.uscis.gov/i-539