Q: What is F-1 student status?
A: F-1 student status is the nonimmigrant classification granted to individuals whose primary purpose for residing temporarily in the U.S. is to pursue FULL-TIME academic study. One of the most important obligations of maintaining F-1 status is enrolling in and completing a full-time course load (12 credits for undergraduates, 9 credits for graduate students) each semester. F-1 students are also eligible for certain employment opportunities.
Q: Do I have to change my status to F-1 student?
A: The answer is probably no. Most visa statuses allow you to study part-time or full-time in a degree program. However, some people choose to change to F-1 status to take advantage of the employment benefits for F-1 students. For example, someone in H-4 status can study full-time for a degree but is not eligible to work. If s/he changes to F-1 status, s/he will be eligible to work on-campus immediately!
Some individuals are required to change their status. If you are currently holding F-2 or B-1/B-2 status, you are required by immigration law to obtain F-1 status to study at a U.S. institution. For both F-2 and B-1/B-2 visa holders, the change of status must be approved prior to the first day of classes.
Q: How can I obtain F-1 student status?
A: There are two ways you can become an F-1 student. One way is to obtain an I-20 from Rollins College, exit the U.S., obtain an F-1 visa in your passport and re-enter the U.S. The second way is to apply for a change of status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This involves sending an application for a change of status to the USCIS Service Center in Vermont. The application generally takes 2-3 months to be processed. The application process is detailed in this packet.
Q: Is a change to F-1 status the same as the F-1 visa?
A: No! F-1 status only permits you to remain in the U.S. in order to study full-time and get the benefits of F-1 status. If you change to F-1 status and travel outside the U.S., you will be required to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate before you travel back to the U.S. to resume studies. Approval for a change of status within the U.S. does not guarantee that the embassy will issue an F-1 visa. The USCIS and the Department of State function autonomously and both agencies make decisions independent of one another.
Q: Is it better to apply directly for the F-1 student visa at home or apply for a change to F-1 status here?
A: Every case is different. If you are planning on traveling frequently, you may want to apply for a visa when you are outside the U.S. If you do not plan on leaving the U.S. soon or if you are subject to deadlines for requesting the change of status (F-2, B-1/B-2) and will not be traveling, you should apply for a change of status as soon as possible. In some countries, the visa issuance process is extremely difficult. In those countries, the American Embassy may view a change to F-1 status in the U.S. as an attempt to avoid that process and will want to know why you did not apply for the F-1 visa in your home country. This does not mean the visa will automatically be denied, but you should prepare to show documentation or answer questions as to why you did not originally apply for the visa at the U.S. embassy.
If you are not sure which is best for you, make an appointment to see the Director of International Student & Scholar Services.
Q: Am I eligible for a change to F-1 student status?
A: You are eligible to change to F-1 status if you have been accepted to Rollins College and are eligible to receive an I-20. You must also be currently maintaining your present nonimmigrant status and present an unexpired Form I-94.
Q: What if my authorized stay in the U.S. has expired?
A: If your authorized stay in the U.S. has expired, it is difficult to obtain a change of status. You must prove to the USCIS that circumstances beyond your control prevented you from filing the change of status before your stay expired. Make an appointment with the Director of International Student & Scholar Services for further information.
Q: Should I hire a lawyer to help me?
A: You do not need the assistance of a lawyer to file for a change to F-1 status. The Director of International Student & Scholar Services has worked with many students who have applied for changes of status and been approved. Our staff has the necessary knowledge and experience to help you in the application process.
Q: Can I start school before I change my status?
A: The answer is yes with only two exceptions. Applicants who are applying for a change of status from F-2 or B-1/B-2 to F-1 must receive the approval notice granting F-1 status before beginning to study. These individuals should apply for a change of status no later than 3 months prior to the beginning of the semester to allow enough time for the application to be approved.
Q: If I decide to file an application with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to change my status, when should I apply?
A: If you are in B-1/B-2 status, you should not apply too soon after your arrival and not too close to the expiration date on your Form I-94. About half way through your authorized stay is ideal.
For other visa statuses, please meet with the Director of International Student & Scholar Services to discuss the timing of your application.
Q: What happens to my status while I am waiting to receive an answer from the USCIS?
A: You will still be maintaining your present nonimmigrant status even if the I-94 expires while USCIS is reviewing your application for a change to F-1.
Q: What documents are required for the change of status application?
A: Please review the following documents:
Q: How do I file my application?
A: Bring your application, completed to the best of your ability to the Office of International Student & Scholar Services. We will answer any outstanding questions you have and help you to file your application to the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service. You will send the application to the Service Center and all correspondence will occur directly between you and the USCIS. When USCIS approves your application the Form I-20 and a new form I-94 will be returned to you.