Change of Visa Status

To change F-1 visa status, the I-20 must be handled and processed in one of two ways:

1. The I-20 can be used as part of a visa appointment, requesting the F-1 visa. If successful, this process results in a page for F-1 entered into the passport. This will be an official visa, and is used for crossing the border into the U.S.
This method requires departure from the U.S., then re-entry after the F-1 visa is issued.

OR

2. The I-20 can be used in a Change of Status application. In combination with form I-539, a packet is mailed to the U.S. government for processing. If successful, this process results in the permission to live like an F-1 person, and will be subject to the individual F-1 limitations as well. This method does not result in a true visa and is not useful for any future travel across the border. This method does not require departure from the U.S; it can be done by mail and takes approximately 3-5 months. 

For more details, visit the official U.S. government website regarding change of status at www.uscis.gov and use their onsite search to access tje instructions and form for the "I-539".