University of Iowa

Reminder About STATUS vs. VISA

There is often confusion between the terms STATUS and VISA.  A VISA is only a stamp in a passport that says you are allowed to enter the U.S.  Visas can only be obtained by visiting a U.S. consulate abroad, it is not possible to get a visa from within the U.S.  Visas are only for “getting in” and have no bearing on an individual’s right to be here legally. 

STATUS refers to the legal classification allowing you to currently be in the U.S., and STATUS can be changed within the U.S.  Thus you can send in your application material by mail and have your STATUS changed, but you will not receive a new VISA and will not need one unless you leave the U.S.  Only then will you need to make arrangements to go to the nearest U.S. consulate to apply for a VISA to allow you to get back into the U.S. 

It is possible to take care of changing both STATUS and VISA by traveling outside the U.S. and applying for a visa.  Then once you enter the U.S. using the new visa, you are automatically considered to be in that new STATUS. 

Keep in mind that there may be circumstances that would make one of these option undesirable for certain individuals.  Please be sure to consult an ISSS advisor if you have concerns, particularly if you are changing your status by leaving the U.S.


How Can I Change Status?

There are two ways to change nonimmigrant status:

  1. Travel outside the U.S. and re-enter in the new status, or
  2. Stay in the U.S. and request a change of status by application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).






Traveling requires visiting a U.S. consulate outside the U.S. to obtain the new visa stamp. The amount of time needed to change status by travel varies, but generally is quicker than changing status in the U.S.  However, visa applications may be subject to security checks which can significantly delay the approval process.

The earliest you can enter the US is 30 days before your DS-2019 or I-20 begin date. 

Please consult with ISSS if taking this step.

The amount of time needed for processing a change of status can take over 5 months.  Unless you can apply for a change of status at least 5 months before the semester begins, ISSS recommends you plan to obtain a new visa via travel as described in the first column.

  • If you are F-2 changing to F-1 or J-1 - if your F-1/J-1 is not approved by the first day of the semester, you must have ISSS change your start date to the next available session, which may also require action by the Office of Admissions.  You may also choose to enroll in courses as long as you remain part-time.
  • If you are B-1/B-2 changing to F-1 or J-1 - if your F-1/J-1 is not approved by the first day of the semester, you must withdraw your entire registration as you are not permitted to study in B status.  You may also need to make plans to depart the U.S. if you B visitor status is no longer valid.
  • If you are any other status changing to F-1 or J-1 - you may be able to remain registered.  You will need to have ISSS change your program start date, and you must also find an immigration attorney to help you file a "bridge application" to continue your current status while you wait for the F-1/J-1 approval.
  • Students in any of the above situations must consult with ISSS in a timely way or risk losing your legal status!

This process does not give you a new visa stamp. The next time you travel outside the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to request a new visa stamp that reflects your changed status.

Other Concerns

Note: It is not recommended that you apply for your new visa in a “third country” e.g. Canada or Mexico unless you are a legal resident of these countries. If denied a visa, you must return to your home country to apply for a visa there.  You may not return to the U.S. in your previous status. 

Individuals subject to the J-1 Two Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement 212(e) are not eligible for change of status within the US unless they have obtained a waiver of the requirement. 

Individuals in B-1/B-2 status may find it extremely difficult to change status within the U.S.  Individuals who entered using the Visa Waiver Program (WB/WT) are not eligible to change status within the U.S.

You should not travel outside of the U.S. while a change of status application is pending; it is construed as abandoning the petition.

Gap Between End of Prior Status and Start of F-1/J-1 - USCIS requires you to maintain your existing status (including B-1, B-2, H-1B, etc.) while you are waiting for the F-1 to be approved, so that your current status does not end more than 30 days before the Program Start Date.  If your prior status does end, this will cause status problems for you if your F-1/J-1 is not approved by the first day of classes in many cases.

  • You should be prepared to file a "bridge application" to extend your current status should there be any delays in approving your F-1/J-1 status - if you fail to maintain your current status you risk a denial of the F-1/J-1 application.  If the F-1/J-1 application is denied, and your existing status ended, you have no grace period and may have to leave the U.S. immediately.
  • ISSS is unable to advise and assist with bridge applications, and you should consult a reputable immigration attorney who has experience with this issue.
  • You may find more details about bridge applications here.


Can I Begin a New Degree Program While Changing Status?  Can I Work On Campus?

If my status is changing from….

Can I begin a degree program?

Can I work on campus?







J-1 scholar

Possibly, please consult with ISSS.

Only for your J-1 sponsor as stated on the DS-2019

J-1 student


Only with authorization from J1-sponsor



Only with work authorization


Yes if still fulfilling requirements of H-1B employment at the time the F-1 application is submitted, and ending employment within 30 days of the requested F-1 start date once approved

No, only after the F-1 is approved; you can continue to work for your H-1B employer while waiting for the F-1 approval as long as you maintain the terms of H-1B status







WB/WT (Visa Waiver Program)



Out of Status/Status Pending/Other


Please consult with ISSS

Please consult with ISSS


When do I need to apply to the USCIS to change to status?

  • You are eligible to change status as long as your current status is valid at the time of application.  If possible, ISSS recommends submitting your application at least five months before the start of the semester of study.
  • ISSS has seen cases where the petition to change status was denied because the previous status was terminated before the approval of the new status, even when the application was filed in a timely manner. If your current status will end before your F-1 or J-1 is approved, you should make plans to apply for a "bridge extension" of your current status, see the information and link above.
  • If you believe you are already out of status, please see an ISSS advisor before submitting your application to USCIS.

How do I get my I-20 or DS-2019 if I am a current student who wants to change to F-1 or J-1 status?

  • Log in to the iHawk system, go to "Other Student Services," and you will find the e-form "Change of Status to F-1 or J-1 Request."  Follow the procedures there.


How Do I Apply for a Change of Status?

What documentation do I need to show to ISSS and submit to the USCIS in order to change status?  

Everyone must submit:

  • Filing fee: The  fee is $370.  (make personal check payable to “Department of Homeland Security”)
  • Form I-539 (see PDF iconI-539 Sample form for instructions on how to fill it out)
  • Photocopies of all documents (ex. I-20s,  DS-2019s, H-1B Approval Notice, etc.) you hold in your current status
  • A photocopy of your current visa
  • A photocopy of your Form I-94
  • A photocopy of your passport personal data page(s) (i.e., the page(s) with your photograph and the expiration date of your passport)
  • Evidence of financial support (i.e., bank statement, assistantship offer letter, etc.)
  • Waiver letter – if you were ever J-1/J-2 and subject to 212(e) and applied for and received a waiver

If applying to change status to F-1 student or J-1 student/scholar, please ALSO submit:



  • A photocopy of your new I-20 or DS-2019, signed by you on page 1
  • SEVIS Fee I-797 Receipt showing payment of SEVIS fee
  • If changing from H-1B status, letter of support from H-1B employer
  • If currently a dependent of a spouse/parent, photocopies of your spouse/parent’s documents:  I-94, passport pages (photograph and the expiration date of passport), visa, proof of status (such as the I-20, DS-2019, H-1B Approval Notice) and proof of status maintenance (such as F-1 principal's transcript if F-1 is active in their degree program, or OPT I-20 and employment offer letter if F-1 is active on OPT)

If applying to become an F-2 or J-2 dependent of a spouse or parent, please ALSO submit:

  • A photocopy of your new dependent I-20 or DS-2019, signed by your spouse or parent on page 1
  • Photocopies of your spouse/parent’s documents:  I-94, passport pages (photograph and the expiration date of passport), visa, proof of status (such as the I-20, DS-2019, H-1B Approval Notice)
  • A copy of your marriage certificate, along with a certified English translation if it is in another language (This is NOT necessary if your spouse’s name is on your visa.)
  • Certificate of Enrollment from the UI Registrar, basement of Calvin Hall (or the registrar at the university your spouse is attending) if your F-1/J1 spouse or parent is a student to verify that your spouse/parent has been enrolled full-time, and a copy of the most recent transcript.  If you were previously a student, please also obtain a certificate of enrollment and transcript verifying your student status as well.
  • Letter from DepartmentIf your J-1 spouse/parent is a visiting scholar, have the department write a letter saying he/she is employed there in good standing


Where do I send my application?

US Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

What happens when USCIS receives my application?

If your application is complete, the ISSS will receive a Form I-797 Notice of Action/Receipt Notice within two to four weeks, and we will then notify you by email that the Notice of Action arrived.  Your Notice of Action is very important, both because it proves that you filed your application and because it provides the “TSC number” which you must use if you need to track your application’s progress.  If you do not receive a Notice of Action within five weeks, please notify ISSS immediately.

If your application is incomplete, USCIS will send it back to ISSS with a “Request for Evidence.”  You will need to furnish whatever information or documentation is missing within the deadline provided.

What happens when USCIS approves my application?

USCIS will return your immigration documentation to the U.S. with a notation indicating approval of your change of status application.  You will also receive a second Notice of Action/Approval Notice, with your new I-94 printed in the lower right-hand corner.  You will want to cut out and staple your new I-94 into your passport, after making a copy of your entire Notice of Action/Approval Notice and immigration documentation to keep separately in a safe place. 

What if I apply to change status in the U.S. but change my mind and decide to depart the country?

Please work with ISSS to see if it is possible to withdraw your application.  Please keep your Notice of Action as documentation and be prepared to show it to the consular officer if, in the future, you apply for another U.S. visa.  The reason for this:  The consular officer may want to be sure that you applied for the change of status before your previous status had expired, and had therefore been in the United States legally.

Sample letter for those on an H-1B or other employment-based non-immigrant visa:

The employer should put this on letterhead and include the full address, telephone number, and email as well as name and title of the person writing the letter.

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is to certify (employee’s name) is currently employed by (name of business) as (job title) in H-1B status.  (Employee’s name) has informed us that she/he will be terminating her/his employment with us on (month/date/year) to pursue classes at (name of institution) as a full-time student.