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F-1: Should I Change status or apply at a Consulate?

By December 21, 2023Family Immigration
F-1 Student

F-1 Visa is a great visa for foreign nationals who want to come to the U.S. and attend university, college, high school, elementary school, or other academic institutions.

There are two options how you can get F-1 status in the U.S. – You can either apply for an F-1 visa at a Consulate and get an actual F1 visa stamp in your passport (the visa stamp will allow you to travel internationally), or you can change status in the U.S. to F-1 status.

Applying for an F-1 visa at a Consulate abroad

The main advantage of applying for an F-1 visa at a Consulate is that you will be able to travel internationally as long as your F-1 visa is valid, you have a valid endorsed I-20 form for travelling, and you are complying with the terms of your F-1 student status.

If you are living in your home country and you want to come to the U.S. to study, applying at a Consulate would really be your only option. For your F-1 visa Consular petition, you would have to submit a DS-160 application , pay the F-1 visa fee, and at the time of your interview present supporting documentation such as I-20 form signed by the Designated school official, proof of your SEVIS payment, evidence that you are able to financially support yourself and your studies in the U.S., or documents showing that you have ties to your home country.

One disadvantage of applying at a Consulate is that the wait time for the interview may be quite long (this was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic), but currently, you should be able to schedule an F1 visa interview appointment fairly quickly). You should check the approximate wait times at the Consulate where you would like to apply at at the Department of State website.

Changing status in the U.S.

If you are already in the U.S. on some other valid non-immigrant status, you could file a Change of Status petition with USCIS and change your status to F-1 student status. The main advantage of this procedure is that you don’t have to leave the U.S. during the change of status process, and you can wait for the decision in the U.S.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can not start studying until you get the F-1 change of status approval, so you may need to just wait for a decision for several months (there are some exceptions for certain non-immigrant status holders that could continue studying in the U.S. if their current status allows them to study, but you should speak with an experience immigration attorney and discuss your particular situation to see if this would be allowed in your case so you don’t violate your status). If you entered as a B-1 or B-2 visitor, you could never start studying until you get the F-1 approval from USCIS.

Another thing you should keep in mind is that if you file your F-1 Change of status petition under regular processing, you may be waiting several months for an approval and so you may not be able to start school in time. Recently, USCIS enabled Premium Processing for F1 change of status petitions – this means that USCIS will make a decision on the case within 30 days of filing for additional fee of $1,750. This was a great news and if you take advantage of the Premium Processing, you would know the decision fairly quickly.

If your change of status petition is approved, it will enable you to stay and study in the U.S. as long as you comply with the F-1 status requirements. One disadvantage of changing your status in the U.S. is that if you leave the U.S., you would need to apply for an F-1 visa at a Consulate. Many foreign nationals just prefer to apply for an F-1 visa at a Consulate in the beginning especially if they know that they will want to travel internationally in the upcoming future.

Please see our blog post on Whether a Canadian student needs and F-1 visa to study in the U.S.

Please see our blog post on What are Permissible activities in the U.S. on F1 status.

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