Changing Nonimmigrant Status

A person's nonimmigrant status must match the purpose of his/her stay in the U.S.  A change of status may be necessary when the objectives of the visit have changed. For example, a person may come to the U.S. to study on an F-1 student visa and then later decide to change to a J-1 Research Scholar to do postdoctoral work after completing his/her Ph.D. degree.

Changing nonimmigrant status can be a complex process.

The timing of the change is critical and must be done with care to avoid falling out of status during the transition. Before you undertake a change of status, we recommend you make an appointment to speak to an Advisor in Berkeley International Office about the process as early as possible and to plan ahead.

In general, there are two ways to change nonimmigrant status: 

  1. Travel outside the U.S. and re-enter in the new status, or
  2. Remain in the U.S. and request a change of status by application 
    to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).






  • Plane ticket to home country
  • Visa application fee (varies)
  • SEVIS Fee


Since traveling requires visiting a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. to obtain the new visa stamp, the length of time is dependent on how long that process will take.  Due to delays, long processing times and security checks, we recommend talking with Berkeley International Office before choosing this option. Visa processing without security checks can be from 7-21 days.  Security checks can take an additional 3 months.

NOTE:  Your re-entry date to the U.S. can be up to 30 days prior to your DS-2019 or I-20 start date.  If your re-entry date is delayed, notify your department and Berkeley International Office.

The amount of time needed for processing a change of status at USCIS can vary. Recent Berkeley International Office experience is approximately 4-6 months or more. This processing period can change at any time and is not guaranteed. Check USCIS Processing Times for the Service Center at which you submit your I-539 request.

NOTE:  This process does NOT provide you a new visa stamp.  The next time you travel outside the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to apply for a new visa that reflects your changed status.

While the application is processing, the change of status petitioner cannot leave the U.S. or the application will be considered abandoned.

If your current US immigration status expires while the change of status is pending, this may cause serious problems with the COS request.

Other Concerns

It is very difficult to obtain a visa stamp in Canada or Mexico if you are not a national of that country.  If denied a visa, you must return to your home country to apply for a visa there. Berkeley International Office does not recommend applying for a visa stamp in either Canada or Mexico unless you are a legal resident of these countries.   

Due to time restraints, change of status in the US may not be the best option for certain student/scholars needing to begin full-time study or employment within less than 4 months.

If your current US immigration status will expire within 6 months of filing for your Change of Status, COS by USCIS may not be possible or may have a very high risk of denial.

Study or Employment in B-1/B-2 Status:
Visitors in B-1/B-2 status cannot begin full-time or degree-seeking study or begin employment until the status change to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS.

Study or Employment in F-2 Status:
F-2 dependents cannot begin employment until the status change to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS. F-2 spouses and children may enroll in UC Berkeley academic programs for less than a full course of study. F-2 spouses and children cannot enroll full-time in a UC Berkeley program until change of status to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS. 

Employment Issues:
F-1 or J-1 employment cannot be authorized until the change of status to F-1 or J-1 has been approved by USCIS. Until the F-1 or J-1 change of status has been approved, refer to the employment authorization rules which apply to your current visa status. Be aware that if your current visa status expires and your F-1 or J-1 change of status is still pending, no employment authorization is possible.

Prior J-1 Status Holders:
Individuals subject to the J-1 Two Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement are not eligible for change of status within the US unless they have proof that they have been waived of the requirement.

Change of Status tutorial cover