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.

When to Apply & Premium Processing Considerations

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. However…

…Some students changing their status in the U.S. via Form I-539 who wish to do so may pay an additional fee for expedited service to USCIS. This is called “Premium Processing” and is completely optional. An applicant who pays for Premium Processing will receive a decision on their I-539 within 30 days of when the fee is paid. The I-539 Premum Processing fee is a significant amount, and students who opt to pay for Premium Processing by filing USCIS Form I-907 with their I-539 must also be enrolled full-time according to F-1 visa requirements during an academic year term when they file for premium. Premium Processing does not guarantee an approval–just a decision within 30 days. This can be helpful for students graduating soon who need to apply for OPT, or who, for academic reasons, need to enroll full-time if their previous status does not allow full-time enrollment. Premium Processing can be added at any point while an I-539 is pending, so some students may choose to start their petition without Premium Processing, but then add it later.

How to Apply

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 Handout. This 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]

Application Tips, Login, and Financial Documents

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. If statements are not in US dollars, please provide a currency conversion with the statements.
    • A family member can sponsor your education by providing copies of their bank statements for you to upload in your application; however, please also have this family member write a short letter indicating their relationship to you and that they agree to provide the funding to you freely for your educational expenses.
    • What kind of funding can I submit in order to prove sufficient finances? It depends on your source of financial support. If your family is supporting your education, then the ISSO recommends submitting proof of ‘liquid assets’ that are readily available such as the following:
      • Checking or savings account
      • Certificates of deposit with a maturity date prior to the start of the student’s term of admission
      • Money market accounts
      • A scholarship through the University, the student’s home government, or a non-governmental agency
      • Offer letter for a graduate assistantship/fellowship
      • Education loans
    • Unacceptable forms of financial support include:
      • Any document that is not written in English
      • Stocks
      • Bonds
      • Mutual funds
      • Statements of earned salary or yearly income
      • Tax returns
      • Credit card statements/lines of credit
      • Statements of property ownership
  • 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.
Change of Status and F-1 Campus Employment/CPT/OPT Eligibility

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.

Change of Status and Study, Tuition Implications

Some students who apply for a Change of Status inside the U.S. may be able to study while their petition is pending; others may not. Whether study with a pending petition is allowed or not will be determined by what an applicant’s previous visa status allowed. The ISSO cannot, in most cases, verify whether a previous non-F-1 or J-1 status allows study. B1/B2 holders, however, may not study while their I-539 is pending. Other visa holders must consult with an immigration attorney or their previous visa status sponsor to confirm whether they may study while waiting for I-539 approval.

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 vs. Attorney Assistance with CoS

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.