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Changing your U.S. Immigration Status

If you are currently in the United States in a valid non-immigrant status and intend to begin a new program or activity that requires a different status, you may need to change your category. Your immigration status carries specific requirements and permissions, which may be limited or less desirable than other options to pursue your new plans. Once you determine whether you are eligible for a new category, you will need to decide how to change your immigration status. There are important considerations for timing, visa applications, and other transition issues, which should be discussed with an advisor in the ISO as early as possible.

There are two ways to obtain a new nonimmigrant status: (1) By traveling outside the U.S., obtaining the necessary visa stamp, and establishing that status upon re-entry, or (2) By application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) while remaining in the country. Both methods have associated advantages and disadvantages, including immigration, timing, and financial considerations. Depending on the details for your situation, the ISO may advise that one of these options is preferable. Please contact the ISO to discuss your individual circumstances in detail.


Changing Your Immigration Status by Travel

The process to change status by travel is the same as if you were traveling to the U.S. for the first time in that status. You will need to obtain the necessary forms and documents for your requested category, including eligibility certification from the University of Rochester and any necessary supporting evidence. If possible, it is often more convenient to collect these documents prior to leaving the U.S., so that they are available in time for the visa appointment. It is generally preferred that foreign nationals return to their home country when applying for a new visa.

Once the appropriate visa is issued, you will be able to return to the U.S. in your new category. Depending on the permissions of your new status, there may be limits on how far in advance you can return before the new program or activity is scheduled to begin. Please visit our Travel section for more information about this process and rules specific to your requested category.


Changing Your Immigration Status by Application to USCIS

The application process for a Change of Status (COS) will allow you to remain in the U.S. while the decision is pending, provided the application is filed in a timely manner. This means that your current non-immigrant status MUST be valid when the government receives your Change of Status application. Once it is received, you can stay for as long as it takes to receive an answer, even if your previous status expires in the meantime. However, certain timing considerations may impact your ability to start your new program or activity due to delays or busy application periods, which can cause serious problems in meeting certain academic and employment schedule requirements. The COS application typically take between 2-4 months for processing. Additional information about the application materials is available in our handout on Change of Status Applications to USCIS.

Note: The COS option is not always available to certain individuals, especially B-1/B-2 visitors and Exchange Visitors (either J-1 or J-2) who are subject to the 212(e) 2-year Home Residency requirement. Please contact an advisor in the ISO for further guidance.

Traveling outside the U.S.: Any travel outside the U.S. while a Change of Status application is pending will automatically be considered an abandonment of the application. Therefore, if you must travel after submitting the application to the U.S. government, be sure to allow enough time abroad (preferably in your home country) to apply for the appropriate visa stamp. Additionally, the Change of Status approval will NOT eliminate the need for an appropriate visa stamp if you travel outside the U.S. in the future. At that time, you must obtain the visa before you may re-enter the U.S. and resume your current program or activity. For additional information, please visit our Travel section.