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Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of International Services

Visa Basics > Changing to F-1 or J-1 Student Status

Changing to F-1 or J-1 Student Status

If you are currently in the United States in a non-immigrant status (such as F-2, H-4, A-1, or L-2 status) and have been admitted to a full-time program of study at Teachers College, you may want or need to change to F-1 or J-1 student status. Certain immigration classifications (such as B-1/B-2 and F-2 status) are prohibited from pursuing academic work and must seek F-1 or J-1 status as appropriate. Other immigration classifications (such as H-4 status) permit full- or part-time study, but do not have any employment benefits. Since individual situations may vary, we encourage you to contact the Office of International Services at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu with specific information regarding your situation.

Obtaining F-1 or J-1 Status


There are two ways of obtaining F-1 or J-1 student status: (1) by traveling outside of the U.S., applying for an F-1 or J-1 student visa at a U.S. consulate overseas, and re-entering the U.S. on that visa; or (2) by submitting an application from within the U.S. to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well as restrictions and limitations. Depending on your situation, you may or not be able to pursue one or the either option. Please contact an OIS advisor at tcintl@tc.columbia.edu with detailed information regarding your specific situation.

(1) Travel Option


Once you have received a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from Teachers College, you can obtain F-1 or J-1 status by traveling outside of the U.S., applying for an entry visa at a U.S. consulate, and re-entering the U.S. using your new entry visa. To apply for an entry visa, you will need the following documents:

  1.     a Form I-20 for F-1 status or Form DS-2019 for J-1 status
  2.     an unexpired passport valid at least six months into the future
  3.     a copy of your admission letter from Teachers College
  4.     proof of payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee, if required (see the information on "Getting a Visa" in this section of our web site)
  5.     financial documents demonstrating that you have sufficient financial resources to meet the tuition, living expenses, and fees for your program
  6.     visa application forms, photos, and fees as required by the local procedures of the consulate

To check visa appointment and application procedures at your nearest U.S. consulate, go to http://www.unitedstatesvisas.gov.  Also, the U.S. Department of State maintains web sites of individual consulates at http://usembassy.state.gov.  It is generally recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of citizenship or legal permanent residence.

All of the above documents should be presented when applying for a visa. Under current Department of State guidelines, you may be issued a visa up to 120 days prior to the program start date indicated on Section 5 of your I-20 or Section 3 of your DS-2019.  However, you may not enter the United States more than 30 days prior to the start date indicated on your form.

When entering the U.S., you will need to present your F-1 / J-1 visa along with the documents listed in #1 - 5, above. A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector will review your documents and issue an I-94 card marked F-1 or J-1 for D/S (duration of status).

(2) Application Option


If you prefer not to travel outside of the United States, you can request F-1 or J-1 status by applying to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to change your current immgiration status to F-1 or J-1 status. Your application should include the following documents:

  1.     a check or money order made payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
  2.     a completed USCIS Form I-539 (available at http://www.uscis.gov, click on "Immigration Forms, Fees, and Fingerprints")
  3.     an original and signed Form I-20 for F-1 students or a Form DS-2019 for J-1 students
  4.     copies of your passport identification page (your passport should be valid at least six months into the future)
  5.     copies of both sides of your I-94 card, and most recent visa
  6.     a copy of your admission letter from Teachers College (or if you are already enrolled) proof of enrollment at TC, such as a copy of your transcript
  7.     copies of your financial documents showing that you have sufficient financial resources to meet the tuition, living expenses, and fees for your program
  8.     a signed written statement explaining your reasons for requesting student status, clariying how your educational goals relate to your long-term family and professional goals
  9.     a copy of your I-901 SEVIS fee receipt (see "Getting a Visa" for more information about the I-901 SEVIS fee)
  10.     evidence that you have maintained lawful student status while in the United States prior to submitting your application for change of status, and that you submitted your application in a timely manner
  •         If you are in a dependent classification such as F-2 or H-4 status, provide evidence indicating the principal F-1 or H-4 visa holder is currently in valid status and holds valid, unexpired documents such as a valid I-20 or valid I-797 H-1 approval notice, an unexpired I-94 card, and other relevant evidence
  •         If you are in a primary classification such as a H-1 status, provide evidence that you are currently in valid status, such as a copy of your I-797 H-1 approval notice, copies of paychecks or a letter from your employer verifying employment, an unexpired I-94 card, etc.

Prepare all of the above materials. Make copies of all documents for your records. Mail your application and all supporting materials to the appropriate USCIS Service Center indicated on the I-539 application form.  The USCIS will adjudicate (approve or deny) your application typically within 3 months after receiving it. It is not unusual for the USCIS to contact applicants with requests for more information prior ot making a final decision. Notify the OIS in the event you receive a request for further evidence.

If your application is approved, you will receive an I-797 Approval Notice with a new I-94 card as well as your I-20.

IMPORTANT NOTE ON TRAVEL AND VISAS: Please note that the Application Option leads only to a change in your immigration status and does not provide you with a new entry visa. Even if your application is approved, you will still need to obtain a new visa if you travel outside of the U.S. (except for short-term trips to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands of the Caribeean). A visa may be obtain only at a U.S. consulate outside of the U.S.

RESTRICTIONS ON APPLICATION OPTION: You cannot change your status by application if any of the following apply to you. You must use the Travel Option instead to obtain F-1 or J-1 status.

  •     You are currently in the U.S. under the 'visa waiver' program (you have a green I-94 card)
  •     You are currently in the U.S. as a J-1 exchange visitor (or J-2 dependent) subject to Section 212e of the INA, i.e., the 'two-year home residency requirement'
  •     You are currently in the U.S. but in violation of your current immigration status.

WHEN TO MAIL YOUR APPLICATION: Consult with the OIS regarding when to mail your application to the USCIS. USCIS procedures indicate that F-1 or J-1 student status may not be granted to a new student more than 30 days before the start date indicated on the I-20 or DS-2019.  As a result, if your application is received too early your application may be rejected on the grounds that you are not yet eligible for the requested status. However, if your application is received too late it may cause delays in your ability to enroll (see 'Special Notes' below). Based on this, the OIS generally recommends that applications be submitted no more than 60-90 days prior to the start date indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019, but not later than 30 days prior to the start date indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019.

SPECIAL NOTES


Individuals in certain classifications, such as B-1 / B-2, F-2, and H-1 status, should plan their immigration options carefully for the following reasons.

  •     Persons in B-2 / B-2 or F-2 status are prohibited from enrolling in a program leading to a degree objective until they have been granted F-1 or J-1 status as appropriate.
  •     Persons in H-1 status must file a change of status application with the USCIS, such that the application is received no later than the last day of H-1 employment. H-1 status terminates on the date of resignation or within 10 days of the end of the authorized period of H-1 employment. If there is more than a 30-day gap between your H-1 termination date and the start date indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019, you cannot change your status by application and must travel instead.
  •     Persons currently in A or G status must first submit Form I-566 (http://www.uscis.gov) to the U.S. Department of State for approval before submitting an application to the USCIS for a change of status. However, Form I-566 is not required if you plan to change your status by travel.


Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
Box 7, 525 W 120th Street
New York, New York 10027-6696
Phone: (212) 678-3939 ♦ ~ Fax: (212) 678-3990 ♦ Email: