H1B to F1 US Visa: Change of status and processing time

 
Visa – the overpriced, overrated gate pass, is just about the first spear-laden guard you will encounter at the entrance of the kingdom of the USA. And there are many varieties of the same. The H4 and other dependent visas, F1 or J1 student visas, L1 exchange work visa, and the ever sought after H1B temporary work visa for specialized workers.

Among all of these, H1B offers the opportunity of realizing your American dream – a coveted job with a salary in the high dollars. It comes with a stamp of three years of permitted work status, with the possibility of renewing it for another three years. The process of getting an H1B starts with an employment within America where the employer sponsors your petition with the US Immigration Department. In the petition approval process, normally, 65K petitions are approved from a regular quota “lot” in a powerball style lottery while another 20K are shortlisted from the more advanced Master’s degree cap. And when that approved I-797, what is a petition and not an aircraft, shows up, you are eligible to start working and getting your regular salary (More about H1B process here).

While H1B may sound like a happily ever after, every good story has a tragedy or at least a villain. In this case, the H1B is now seeing the underside of a microscope, a lot. And thanks to impending changes in its eligibility, viz an IQ of 199 and a salary of major proportions, H1B holders, prospective and current, are looking to find ways to make their situation less precarious. At least that’s the practical move anyone can seek in light of the new Update on the USCIS page stating that all expedited H1B Petitions will be suspended. And to make it torture lite, the suspension has been termed temporary.

So what can be the most reasonable move to make your situation seem less drastic than a fall from an edge into an abyss? How about a visa status change, say from an H1B to a student F1? For instance here is how you can change status from F1 to H1B. It is legal, at least now, and gives you the opportunity to enhance your skills while letting you figure out that thing you hold dear, your life!

Note: Do keep in mind the risk involved. If your change of status is denied, you will have to leave your job and head home effective immediately. There is no mercy and no grace period.
 

FAQ for Changing from H1B to F1 US Visa

 

What is the process of applying for an F1, while on an H1B?

Let’s begin by getting acquainted with the process. Say you are already employed and working, in the US, with an ongoing H1B visa tenure, you can make a decision to go back to school. That would require a change of status if you are within the US, or an F1 Visa Stamp if you are outside the US.
 

  • If you are applying from within the US- Change of Status from H1B to F1

There is no reason why you cannot seek a change while you are punching in your office hours. All it needs is for you to be in a legal status to begin with. So if you are thinking of resuming your frat days, you will have to go through some paperwork hoops and be prepared to shed some of your wallet weight.

Here are the things you will need.

  • First of all an acceptance from an accredited school, a copy of the acceptance letter and a copy of a signed I-20 stating your department and your duration of status as a student. You will need to inform the school of your intention to change status from H1B to F1. Sign the Student Attestation section.
  • And since you will be changing status, you will need to fill out an I-539 form (instructions here) and take out your check book for a hefty $370 filing fee, made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There may also be an additional $85 for biometrics. USCIS will reach out to you as to when and where you should show up for giving up your fingerprints, retina scan, hair sample, blood and perhaps one of your kidneys. And do you really need two lungs??
  • And in the spirit of keeping up with expenses, write out another check for your I-901 SEVIS Fee. See here for payment. Send the copy of the receipt.
  • And as if it was not already clear from your ability to drop a couple of hundreds, at the drop of USCIS hat, you will also need to produce finance support documents making them believe that you will be sufficiently loaded throughout the duration of your study.
  • You need to submit a copy of your I-94 (you can print out an electronic copy).
  • Photocopies of all your I-797 (Approval Notices), current and previous. Your I-797 will reflect the period since when you have been legal to work.
  • Photocopies of your Passport, including your H1B visa page. Keep a copy of your expired passport, if any. Comes in handy if the dates in any of your forms are relevant to the validity period of your previous passport.
  • While you are at it, send in copies of all immigration documents you’ve had – EAD, etc.
  • Write a letter explaining your change of heart. Why school? Why now?
  • Pay stubs from your current job and a letter verifying your employment from your current employer.
  • A letter of support from your would-be adviser at your would-be school, helps.
  • And finally, get all your documents (I-94 et al) prepared for your dependents, if any.

Once all your paperwork is ready and copies are shelved in your folder for your bookkeeping, you should send in your documents (Read for address):

[For US Postal Services – Express or Slow Coach]
USCIS
P.O. Box 660166
Dallas, TX 75266

And

[For Courier]
USCIS
ATTN: I-539
2501 S. State Highway 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
 

  • If you are applying from outside the US – New F1 Status Visa

It is possible that you are required to make the change from outside the US. Trying this stunt on your vacation in Cancun is certainly not advised. The best way to do it is to go back to your home country. At worst, your visa rejection will not leave your fate hanging in a foreign country. This will require pretty much the same bells and whistles, minus the I-539 change of status form, and consequently its fees.

Also you should fill in the G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance for electronic notification when USCIS accepts your immigration application.

Read these articles:
F1 Visa Requirements in US for Indian Students.
F1 Interview Questions
 

Time for Processing

It can take several months to process the status change. In that case, the only solid piece of advice would be to provide a return address which is not due to change in the near future. If you are planning a residence move, try the option of stating your friend/relative address. Be sure to let them know that you have just revealed their home address to US Immigrations, you know, just in case they were planning to keep it a secret!

 

The Don’ts

Don’t complicate your life by traveling in the period while your status is pending. As long as your H1B is valid, you can continue to work to at least 30 days before the start, or report, date listed on your I-20. If you have lost your job, chances are that your change of status will be denied on account of your lack of respect for US Immigration laws by continuing to reside in the US beyond the valid H1B. For the same reason, don’t overstay your Visa period and then expect USCIS to take you back with open arms.
 

Life after 6 years of H1B

If your situation is further complicated by the expiration of the 6 years of H1B tenure, then one of two things could be true for you.

  • Your Permanent Residence (Green Card) is not filed.

In this case you will have to go back to your country and apply for an F1 from outside the US, as if a fresh candidate. It is only if you are re-entering the US on an H1B is when you will have to abide by the 1 year gap between fresh H1B applications.

  • Your Permanent Residence (Green Card) has been filed.

Even though this may seem like a good thing, as long as your I-140 is filed/approved, you will be in what is commonly known as a soup. That’s because F1 is a non immigrant Visa and one of its most significant features is the intent of the F1 applicant to not stay in the US. If you have already filed for a permanent residence, you will have to think of a way to avoid that awkward discussion which is most likely going to go as Well we already know that you are full of BS…so…

The best recourse, in this case, is to hire a good Immigration Attorney to sort out your situation. And don’t panic, we are sure that these lawyers will have tons of preceding experience in taking you out of the proverbial soup.

 

Changing status has its risks but provides the option of a less dramatic transition from H1B to no visa at all. So, try this option after much consideration. Keep an Immigration Lawyer on speed dial for all the impossible to imagine nuances that US Immigration is famous for.

Research your options, and procedures, well and always, always check the USCIS website or other immigration resources for updates.

You know, ‘coz you can never be too sure about visas…to be or not to be.
 
Disclaimer: We aren’t visa experts. The data and policies may have changed. Do not rely on this article to make your important decisions. Check out the official sources for the latest status.

Sources:1,2,3,4,5,6,7


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3 Comments

  1. Sugandha says:

    Sir
    I have got admission in M.S, Pharmacy in Kansas University in USA. My Father and Mother has an annual income of !5000/- US Dollar per annum. But I have in my personnel account of US Dollar 20000/- and my mother has 20000/- US dollar as saving in liquid. I Have 304 GRE Score and 104 TOEFL. I Have done my B-Pharma from Punjab University Chandigarh with CGP 7,4.and having above 80% marks in 12th and 10 th Class. MY SOP contains that I want to do research in Alzheimer diesels and the same research is going there in KU. Kindly giude me for obtaining F-! Visa and if more funds are required can i get sponsor from my grand Parents also .
    Regards
    Sugandha

  2. Laukik Sardesai says:

    Can I start classes if my H1B to F1 application is still processing?

  3. Robin says:

    I had the same question. Could I start classes while the change of status is pending? I have already finished 2 years of a doctorate program when the potential loss of job(H1 sponsoring job) has me looking to change my status to F1, to be atleast able to finish my program without interruption.
    Did you get an answer to your question??

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