The Catholic University of America

Applying for Change of Nonimmigrant Status in the U.S.

The immigration status an individual holds should reflect his/her primary purpose for being in the U.S. Occasionally, someone's purpose for remaining in the U.S. changes and he or she must apply for a change of nonimmigrant status. Individuals seeking to change to an employment-based status must work with their employer to file an employment-based petition and would not follow the procedures described here.


Eligibility

In order to change status in the U.S. the following must apply:

  1. the individual must be in lawful status (i.e. his/her I-94 card cannot be expired and he/she cannot have worked without permission or otherwise violated the terms and conditions of his/her nonimmigrant status.) and
  2. He/she must be eligible for the new status for which he/she is are applying.

Timing after a recent entry into the U.S.

If an individual has recently entered the U.S., the timing of the change of status application can become an issue. Immigration admits an individual into a particular status based upon what that person said his or her reason for coming to the U.s. was. To apply for a change of status fairly soon afterwards would seem to imply that the person did not tell the truth - or at least not all of it. If Immigration thinks someone lied about their reason for coming to the U.s., they will most likely deny the application for change of status. Individuals who recently entered the U.S. may wish to consider the following strategies when thinking about changing their nonimmigrant status:

  1. leave the U.S. and applying for the corresponding entry visa at a U.S. consulate.
  2. wait until enough time has passed that is is reasonable to believe that plans have change since entering the U.S.; or
  3. document that the individual fully disclosed his or her intentions at the border (or at during the visa application of the visa was also recently issued). Example: if entering as a visitor/tourist and telling the consular officer or the border officer that the reason for coming to the U.S. is to look at prospective schools, if either the visa in the passport or the I-94 card issued at the border contains the annotation "prospective student" then there is no need to wait.

The Change of Status Application

The documentation required will vary depending upon the type of status requested. Generally speaking, the following documentation will be needed:

  1. A cover letter requesting the change of status and explaining why the change is needed. In this letter, any ties to the home country and future plans should be described, particularly if the status requires non-immigrant intent.
  2. Appropriate DHS filing fee.
  3. Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status Form I-539, available on the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service website.
  4. If the individual currently holds A or G status, Form I-566, signed by the US Department of State
  5. Evidence of eligibility for the classification sought (for example if seeking F or J status, a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 must be attached; dependents should attach evidence of relationship to principle alien and evidence that the principle has the status sought; etc.).
  6. Evidence of having maintaining legal status:
  • Copy of I-94 card
  • Copy of visa in passport
  • Copy of passport

The petition is filed with the USCIS Service Center having jurisdiction over the place of residence. Refer to the Form I-539 instructions.

We recommend making photocopies of the application prior to submitting it to CIS and sending it in a manner where it can be tracked (certified mail with return receipt or express or priority mail via the US Post Office; Federal Express; UPS; DHL, etc.).

Upon receipt of the application, CIS will issue a receipt notice formally acknowledging that they have received the application. This receipt notice will contain a case number (also known as the receipt number) and will be sent to the address listed on the Form I-539.

Once CIS approves the Change of Status application, the Approval notice will be mailed to the address on the Form I-539. If the applicant moves while the application is pending, he/she must immediately notify CIS of the new address. This can be done on-line (www.uscis.gov), or by filing form AR-11, referencing your case number.

 

Changing to F-1 or J-1 Student Status

To gain F-1 or J-1 status as a student at CUA, the individual must be admitted into one of the University's the academic programs. The Office of Enrollment Services handles the official admissions to CUA by students. Once the student is officially admitted, the University will need to issue the appropriate immigration form that will be used in to apply for the change of status. In order for a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to be issued, the student must meet the legal pre-requisites for issuance of a form I-20 or DS-2019.

The Office of International Student and Scholar Services will issue the actual Form I-20 (for those seeking F-1 student status or the DS-2019 for those seeking J-1 student status). After the I-20 has been issued, your may obtain F-1 or J-1 status either by:

1. Traveling outside the U.S. to obtain an F-1 or J-1 visa and re-entering the U.S. or by

2. Applying inside the U.S. for the change of status with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

Once the I-20 or DS-2019 is issued, the student will be responsible for submitting the change of status application. ISSS will provide the student with general information regarding the process, but it is the student's repsonsibility to submit the application in a timely manner.

 

Important Note for individuals in B-1, B-2, or F-2 status: You cannot legally begin studies until Immigration ans APPROVED your change of status application.

 

Changing from A or G status

If you currently hold A or G status, you have an extra step in your process. You need to be released by the U.S. Department of State. You must obtain and complete a Form I-566 which will be signed off on by a representative of the Department of State. Each embassy and/or international organization has different procedures for completing the Form I-566. Check with your embassy or with the International Organization through which your status is sponsored to see what assistance the offer, if any. Form I-566 is available here.

 

Changing to H-1B, O-1 or other Work-related status inside the U.S.

Individuals seeking to change their status to H-1B, O-1 or other work-related status do not use the process described on this page. For them, the employer submits a petition requesting the change of status. However, if they have dependents who need derivative status (H-4, O-3, etc.) the dependents would file a Form I-539.

 

Applications by Dependents for Derivative Status (F-2, J-2, H-4, etc.)

Individuals seeking to change to a status as a dependent of someone whose immigration status is sponsored by CUA can achieve this change of status either by traveling outside the U.S. to apply for a visa for the desired status or, if they do not wish to leave the U.S., may be able to apply for the change of status using the process described on this site. There are a few things dependents should keep in mind:

  • ISSS cannot legally assist the dependents in filing this application.
  • If the dependent is outside the U.S., he/she files nothing with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Instead, he/she applies for the dependent visa directly with the U.S. consulate and must submit evidence of their relationship to the primary status holder.
  • If the dependent is inside the U.S. and is filing for the change of status at the same time that the primary status holder, then the applications should accompany each other. Special notes
    • Individuals applying for F-2 or J-2 status at the same time that the primary status holder applies for change of status to F-1 or J-1: all are listed on the same Form I-539
    • INdividuals applying as dependents of people seeking change to a work-based status (H, O, etc.) the primary status holder's change of status is done on a Form I-129 filed by the employer, the dependents change of status is done on a Form I-539 that should accompany the I-129.
    • Individuals seeking derivative status for a status already held by the primary status holder must file Form I-539 along with evidence of their relationship to the primary status holder and his/her status. Applicants for F-2 or J-2 status should also have a Form I-20 or DS-2019 issued to them by the institution that sponsored the primary's status.

This information is intended to provide basic, general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional advice from qualified immigration attorneys or practitioners.