Change of Status

Under certain conditions, a person in the U.S. in a non-resident visa status (such as B2, E2, F1, F2, J1, J2, H1, H4) may change their visa status to F-1 or J-1. There are two main ways to effect a Change of Status successfully:

  • Apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for a change of immigration status inside the U.S. (approval timeframe: ~8-18 months)
  • Travel abroad and complete visa adjudication in one's home country before re-entering the U.S. on F-1/J-1 status (approval timeframe: ~1-5 months)

When UNC Charlotte students are interested in changing their status, it is typically from another status to F-1. This page will help those considering a Change of Status navigate this complex process.

The change of status application must be submitted prior to the expiration of the current valid status, as shown on the I-94 arrival/departure record or print out.  In the case of someone on H-1B applying for F-1, USCIS MUST receive the change of status application BEFORE the current H-1B status expires. Depending on the method for changing the status (travel vs. I-539), other timeframes may be relevant. For example, it may take 8-18 months for USCIS to approve an I-539 petition! In general: changing one's status via travel might take 1-5 months, depending on how quickly travel can be arranged and other factors, whereas a petition to change status from within the U.S. will take at least 8 months. 

Students consdering applying for a Change of Status must do two things prior to requesting a Change of Status I-20: 

  1. Review the Change of Status HandoutThis important information sheet covers detailed information about the two options for changing one's status.

  2. Book an appointment to speak with an ISSO Advisor. Some of the complexities of the Change of Status process should be discussed directly with an advisor (not via email). 

After you have completed the two required preparation steps, (reviewing the Change of Status Handout and speaking with an ISSO advisor), a student seeking to change their status may submit an ISSOconnect application requesting the Change of Status I-20. The application can be found by clicking the button below:

Changing immigration status to F-1 or J-1 [Click Here To Request Your I-20/DS-2019]

The following are a few tips about the CoS Application in ISSOconnect (see "How To Apply" in the section above to access the application):

  • You will not be able to login to ISSO Connect with your NinerNet Credentials.  Instead, you will need to create an external account using your email address.  Your NinerNet Credentials will work AFTER you obtain F-1 status.
  • You must upload financial documents (no older than 3 months) showing that you can afford out of state cost of attendance.
  • As part of the ISSOconnect application, you will request an electronic recommendation from your academic advisor. Your academic advisor will confirm your estimated graduation term.
  • Once submitted, please allow 10 business days for I-20 issuance.

Some students who are changing their status from a different visa type to F-1 are concerned about how and when they become eligible for F-1 on-campus employment or CPT/OPT, which are F-1 employment benefits.

To qualify for F-1 on-campus employment, a student must simply be on F-1 status as indicated by a CoS Approval Notice or via I-94 record showing F-1 status. 

To qualify for CPT/OPT, a student must: 

  • Spend the last 2 consecutive academic year (non-summer) semesters prior to CPT/OPT in FULL-TIME enrollment (or with an approved RCL)
    • Full time enrollment is considered 9 credits per semester for graduate students, and 12 credits per semester for undergraduates
  • Attain F-1 status by the time you apply for CPT/OPT
    • If changing to F-1 inside the U.S. via I-539 petition, then your F-1 CoS needs to be approved before you apply for CPT or, preferably before you graduate for OPT (but in theory you can still apply for OPT if it is approved up to ~45 days after graduation). 
    • If changing to F-1 via travel outside the U.S., the best option is to have 2 full-time semesters in F-1 status, in the U.S..  However, as long as you are in F-1 status at the time of graduation (and your past 2 semesters have been full-time or with an approved RCL), we will create a OPT I-20 for you.  You may then apply for OPT and let USCIS decide if you qualify for OPT.
      • Since CPT authorization is determined by ISSO, USCIS will not adjudicate this benefit. 

The ISSO cannot tell you whether USCIS will approve a given OPT I-765 application--there is no way to know this. If you wish to be safe, if changing status via travel, two semesters in F-1 status is recommended; if you accept some risk of denial, two semesters in any status at full time may still receive approval by USCIS. USCIS has denied a small minority of OPT applications where the student did not have two semesters in F-1 status at UNC Charlotte and at other universities. However, the vast majority of these types of requests are approved, since the regulation technically allows it. Your specific outcome may depend on USCIS-internal factors, including adjudicator discretion.

F-1 international students do not qualify for in-state tuition. If you were previously on a visa status that permitted you to pay an in-state tuition rate, and then you successfully switch to F-1, your tuition rate will change. 

When will your tuition rate change after successfully changing your status to F-1? The ISSO cannot determine this for you; the Residency Determination Office has some information about this on their website. Please see this FAQ question about changes to one's RDS determination. 

ISSO staff are legally permitted to provide F-1 and J-1 documents and advising; ISSO staff can give general advice regarding the two main methods for changing one's visa status. ISSO staff legally cannot:

  • Assist a student with preparation of the Form I-539 to change one's status to F-1 within the U.S.
  • Confirm whether a student's current visa status (H-1B, H-4 etc.) allows for work, non-CoS (leisure) travel, or study prior to USCIS approval of the CoS or travel which results in F-1 status
  • Confirm whether a student will be definitely eligible for the F-1 OPT benefit post-Change of Status -- USCIS determines this at the time of adjudication
  • Confirm the tuition rate that will be charged post-Change of Status (visit the Residency Determination Office website for more information)
  • Interfere in the Department of State's visa issuance process (if a student is changing status via travel) or coach students on what to say in a visa interview

For assistance with any of the issues listed above, a student will need to engage the services of a competent immigration attorney.