Students who wish to change the purpose of their visit to the United States must file a request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before the previously approved stay expires. Students may apply to change their nonimmigrant status if they were lawfully admitted to the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa, their nonimmigrant status remains valid, they have not violated the conditions of their status, and no crimes have been committed. Until the student receives approval from USCIS, they should not assume that the status has been approved. This is a request made for individuals who are not currently in F-1 status and wish to change to F-1 status while in the U.S.
Option 1: Exit and Re-Entry
When the student has their I-20, they can temporarily leave the U.S., apply for the F-1 visa in the same way that a new entrant to the U.S. would apply, and then re-enter the country as an F-1 visa holder. This option is fast and the only method for individuals seeking a multiple-entry F-1 visa page to be added to their passport.
Option 2: Filing an I-529 Change of Status Request
Students who do not immediately need to change their status can fill out and submit the Form I-529. Along with an I-20, the I-539 is a request that allows the individual to live under the same rules and benefits as an individual who holds an F-1 visa. Processing times for this option can be as long as five months.