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, it is critical that you speak with an adviser at Berkeley International Office about the process as early as possible to determine the appropriate process and timeline. If you choose to change status by applying to USCIS, BIO also recommends that you consult with an immigration attorney experienced with student change of status cases.

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

  1. Travel outside the U.S. to apply for a new F or J visa and re-enter in the new F or J status, or
  2. Remain in the U.S. and request a change of status by application 
    to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Consult a BIO adviser for a checklist.

COMPARE THE DIFFERENT PROCESSES

CHANGE BY TRAVEL

CHANGE BY USCIS

Cost

USCIS fees and forms may be changing. Filing for a Change by USCIS requires you to file a Form I-539. Please follow these steps to be sure you are filing the correct form and fee when you file your application.

  • Filing form I-539 Online: Please check the USCIS I-539 website  and USCIS Fee calculatorfor current fees. The I-539 will automatically calculate your required fees.
  • Filing  form I-539 by Mail: Please check the USCIS I-539 website  and USCIS Fee calculator ON THE DATE OF MAILING to be certain you are using the correct form edition and submitting the correct fee(s). Print the USCIS Fee Calculation  ON THE DATE OF MAILING and include it with your application. Make certain the printout includes the date.

Processing
Time

Changing nonimmigrant status via travel requires visiting a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. to obtain the new visa stamp, so the length of time is dependent on how long that process will take. Due to delays, long processing times and security checks, we recommend speaking with an adviser at 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. may 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.

USCIS processing time for a change of status can vary, and includes not only the application processing time but also obtaining BiometricsProcessing times are subject to change and 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 may not leave the U.S. or the application will be considered abandoned.

If you are changing to J-1 and your current US immigration status expires while the change of status is pending, this may cause serious problems with the change of status 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, changing nonimmigrant status via application to USCIS may not be the best option for certain student/scholars needing to begin full-time study or employment within within a timeframe shorter than current USCIS processing times. (USCIS processing has ranged over the years from 4-14 months.) Check USCIS Processing Times for the Service Center at which you submit your I-539 request and consult a BIO advisor to determine if change via USCIS is the right option for you.

If you are changing to J-1 and your current U.S. immigration status will expire during your Change of Status processing time, changing status via 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 change of status to F-1 or J-1 is approved by USCIS.

Study or Employment in F-2 Status:
F-2 dependents may not 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 may not enroll full-time in a UC Berkeley program until a 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. This means you must have received your I-797 Change of Status approval notice from USCIS.

If your Change of Status is approved with a future effective date, F-1s may not begin on-campus employment until 30 days before your I-20 start date. J-1 students cannot begin employment until they have been approved for on-campus employment authorization

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.