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Changing your US Immigration Status

If you are currently in the United States in a valid nonimmigrant status and intend to begin a new program or activity that requires a different status, you may need to change your category.

Your immigration status carries specific requirements and permissions, which may be limited or less desirable than other options to pursue your new plans. Once you determine whether you are eligible for a new category, you will need to decide how to change your immigration status.

There are two ways to obtain a new nonimmigrant status:

  • By traveling outside the United States, obtaining the necessary visa stamp, and establishing that status upon re-entry
  • By application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) while remaining in the country

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, including immigration, timing, transition issues, and financial considerations. Depending on the details for your situation, ISO may advise that one of these options is preferable.

Contact ISO to discuss your individual circumstances.

Change Status by Travel

The process to change status by travel is the same as if you were traveling to the US for the first time in that status.

You will need to obtain the necessary forms and documents for your requested category, including eligibility certification from the University of Rochester and any necessary supporting evidence. It is often more convenient to collect these documents prior to leaving the US, so that they are available in time for the visa appointment.

It is generally preferred that foreign nationals return to their home country when applying for a new visa.

Once the appropriate visa is issued, you will be able to return to the US in your new category. Depending on the permissions of your new status, there may be limits on how far in advance you can return before the new program or activity is scheduled to begin.

Visit ISO’s travel information pages for more information about this process and rules specific to your requested category.

Change Status by Application to USCIS

The application process for a Change of Status (COS) will allow you to remain in the US while the decision is pending, provided the application is filed in a timely manner with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This means that your current nonimmigrant status MUST be valid when the government receives your COS application. Once it is received, you can stay for as long as it takes to receive an answer, even if your previous status expires in the meantime. However, certain timing considerations may impact your ability to start your new program or activity due to delays or busy application periods, which can cause serious problems in meeting certain academic and employment schedule requirements.

Note: The COS option is not always available to certain individuals, especially B-1/B-2 visitors and exchange visitors (either J-1 or J-2) who are subject to the 212(e) two-year home residency requirement.

Contact an ISO advisor for further guidance.

Change of Status Application Timeline

The COS application typically takes between three and five months for processing from USCIS.

Apply for a Change of Status

Download the COS application (Form I-539).

For more information, see our outline of the COS application process (PDF) or USCIS’s instructions for completing the application (PDF).

Note About Traveling Outside the US

Any travel outside the United States while a Change of Status application is pending will automatically be considered an abandonment of the application. If you must travel after submitting the application to the US government, allow enough time abroad (preferably in your home country) to apply for the appropriate visa stamp.

Additionally, Change of Status approval will NOT eliminate the need for an appropriate visa stamp if you travel outside the US in the future. At that time, you must obtain the visa before you may re-enter the US and resume your current program or activity.

Visit ISO’s travel information pages for more information.