USCIS provides a process by which non-immigrants in some categories may apply for a Change of Status while inside the US. This process requires an application to USCIS on the part of the non-immigrant and, in the case of a change to F-1, the issuance of an “Initial – Change of Status” form I-20 on the part of a school DSO.
The student applying to USCIS for a Change of Status will be advised that obtaining F-1 status through travel outside the US, application for and receipt of an F-1 visa, and re-entry to gain that status at a Port of Entry is, in almost all circumstances, preferable to applying to USCIS for the COS.
This alternative will allow the student to obtain a visa that is normally valid for an extended period of time and will allow multiple uses, whereas the COS is a Change of Status only and will still require that the student obtain the visa in order to re-enter the US during the next travel abroad. The immediate granting of F-1 status upon re-entry will also avoid the complicated timing issues surrounding maintenance of current status while the COS is pending and the requirement of immediate full-time enrollment once the COS has been approved.
The criteria for obtaining the F-1 visa at a US consulate abroad and that for obtaining a COS through USCIS are very similar, though the likelihood of obtaining the COS may be slightly lower, since the student will need to meet all the F-1 visa criteria and, in addition, provide an explanation for the change of purpose.
Because so many variables are involved in the many diverse COS scenarios, all students requesting the COS form I-20 will be encouraged to consult with an immigration attorney regarding the preferable course of action in their individual cases.
The only role that ISS will play in the COS process will be the issuance of the form I-20 and the required deferrals of the program start date as requested by the student when the COS has not been granted. It will be the responsibility of the student to monitor the status of the pending COS and to request the periodic deferrals.
DSOs will defer the program start date 30 days at a time (upon request by the students) while the COS is pending in order to allow students holding other non-immigrant statuses and enrolled for a full course of study to fulfill F-1 registration and enrollment requirements at the time the COS is granted. Students will request the updates using the form I-20 replacement form and will retrieve these in person from the ISS office or request their delivery via eShip Global.
When the COS is granted, the student will notify ISS via email and will complete the requirements for check-in of new F-1 students so that ISS can register the SEVIS record.