This website is for prospective J-1 Scholars only.

For persons currently in the United States in another nonimmigrant status, they can obtain a new immigration status via travel abroad OR by applying to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status without departing the United States.

  • Per the Immigration and Nationality Act, either method requires that the individual demonstrate that he or she intends to leave the United States after completing the program of study or does not plan to stay in the United States indefinitely.
  • A change of status application is the responsibility of the applicant. The above information is provided only as a courtesy.  It is recommended that persons with complex applications consult a competent immigration attorney before proceeding.
  • Acquiring J-1 Status by Travel
    • Individuals may acquire J-1 status by leaving the United States before commencing their academic programs, obtaining a J-1 student visa stamp and reentering the United States in J-1 status.
    • First, must have a DS-2019 issued by Penn.
    • Second, pay the SEVIS fee when they receive Form DS-2019 and to use the Form DS-2019 to apply for a J-1 visa (stamp) at a US embassy or consulate abroad. ISSS recommends that the individual apply for the visa stamp in his or her country of citizenship or permanent residence.
    • Finally, upon entry to the United States, students should present the orm DS-2019, passport, visa stamp, and SEVIS fee payment confirmation (that can be printed from the fee website) to the immigration inspector. They will receive a Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record (if issued paper I-94), or receive an entry/admission stamp in their passport from CBP (if issued electronic I-94) indicating J-1 status.
      Refer to the automated I-94 process at http://global.upenn.edu/isss/travel


    For more details on obtaining an entry visa and entry to the United States .

    Upon arrival in the United States, all J-1 scholars new to the University of Pennsylvania or beginning programs in J status for the first time must report to ISSS in person to register their immigration status within 15 days from the program start date listed on the Form DS-2019.

  • Acquiring J-1 Status while in the United States
    • Individuals currently in the United States may apply for a change of status from certain nonimmigrant classifications to J-1 status.
    • This process does not require a departure from the United States. USCIS reviews applications for change of status based on an applicant's ability to document and justify a change of intent after arrival to the United States.
    • Applications are approved at the discretion of the USCIS adjudicator.
    • NOTE: consult ISSS prior to e-filing I-539 via the USCIS website as the processes differ.
    • Please note the applicant's current non-immigrant status must be valid at the time the application is received at USCIS and that the current status will continue to be valid up until the date that the new status is requested to begin.
    • If USCIS determines that the change would be approved more than 30 days in advance of the program start date, there is a chance the application could be denied.
    • It is recommended that individuals contact ISSS to discuss their eligibility to apply for change of status and the timing of the application.

    To apply for a change of status to J-1 within the United States, applicants must submit the documents listed below to USCIS. An applicant may need to include additional documents depending on the immigration status he or she currently holds. Please refer to the appropriate instructions in the section immediately below.

    • A cover letter from the applicant requesting the change of status and explaining the circumstances, including information about purpose of entry to the United States in the current immigration status, why and how the applicant's goals/intentions changed after arriving in the United States, and any other relevant information. Because F and J are non-immigrant visa status categories, applicants should demonstrate strong ties to their home countries or otherwise show that they do not intend to immigrate to the United States.
    • Form I-539, available from the Immigration Forms page of the USCIS web site. Dependent family members changing their dependent status (to J-2) should be listed on Supplement 1 on Form I-539.
    • Processing fee, check or money order payable to the US Department of Homeland Security (see above link for fee amount). A single fee covers the primary applicant and any J-2 dependents listed on Supplement 1 of Form I-539.
    • Original SEVIS Form DS-2019 issued by the University of Pennsylvania. The J-1 applicant must sign the Form DS-2019 and the SEVIS forms for their dependents.
    • SEVIS fee payment confirmation (that can be printed from the fee website). For payment instructions, please refer to SEVIS fee payment website. Online payment of the SEVIS fee will allow a confirmation receipt to be printed immediately.
    • Copies of passport identification page and visa stamp Copies should include the page showing the passport expiration date if separate from the identity page. Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa stamp.
    • Copy of your I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or I-94 entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94) 
      Refer to the automated I-94 process at http://global.upenn.edu/isss/travel
    • Copies of the financial documentation used to obtain the Form DS-2019 from the University

    Individuals currently holding dependent status should also include copies of the primary's passport, I-94, and proof of status.

    Students who have been offered assistantships or fellowships should include in the application a brightly-colored cover sheet stating "Please Expedite: assistantship pending." USCIS may, as a courtesy, expedite the application.

    We advise that applicants photocopy their complete applications for their personal records. It is also recommended that completed applications be sent by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested or by courier service. For the mailing address and instructions, refer to Form I-539 on the Immigration Forms page of the USCIS web site.

  • Criteria Specific to Current Non-Immigrant Status
  • Individuals in certain immigration categories will need to supply additional documentation with the change of status application and/or meet certain eligibility criteria. Please consult ISSS with any questions about documentary or eligibility requirements.

    Changing from H-1B or H-4

    In addition to the items in the section above, applicants should include:

    • Copies of all previously issued Forms I-797 showing H status
    • Evidence that the individual has maintained valid H status e.g. a letter from the H-1 employer confirming current employment and 2-3 most recent pay stubs
    • For H-4: copies of spouse's or parent's H-1 immigration documents: Passport, I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94), Forms I-797, and 2-3 recent pay stubs.

    Once the change of status to F-1 or J-1 student is effective, the individual must cease work for the H-1 employer.

    It is permissible to begin study while the change of status application is pending.

    Changing from J-1 or J-2

    In addition to the items in the section above, applicants should include:

    • Copies of all previously issued Forms DS-2019
    • For J-2: Copies of spouse's or parent's J-1 immigration documents: Forms DS-2019, passport information page, visa stamp page and I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94)

    It is permissible to begin study while the change of status application is pending.

    Both J-1 and J-2 visa holders who are subject to INA Section 212(e), also known as the two-year home residency requirement, may not apply to change status within the United States unless they have received a waiver from USCIS, a waiver recommendation from the US Department of State (DOS), or have fulfilled the requirement.

    Changing J category, e.g. from J-1 research scholar to J-1 student, requires an application to DOS, not to USCIS. Change-of-category requests are rarely granted. Please consult with an ISSS advisor for details.

    Changing from A or G status

    In addition to the items in the section above, the applicant must

    • Complete Form I-566 and submit it the US Department of State in Washington DC through the diplomatic mission or international organization.
    • After Form I-566 is signed and returned by the Department of State, the applicant must submit the form with all of the items listed on page one.

    It is permissible to begin study while the change of status application is pending.

    Changing from F-2

    In addition to the items in the section above, applicants should include:

    • Copies of all previously issued F-2 Forms I-20
    • Copies of spouse's or parent's (F-1) immigration documents: Forms I-20, passport information page, visa stamp page and I-94 card (front and back if issued paper I-94) or US entry/admission stamp in passport  (if issued electronic I-94) If the spouse or parent is on post-completion Optional Practical Training, the application should also include a copy of the spouse or parent's Employment Authorization Document.

    The F-1 status must be approved before commencement of study is permitted.

    Changing from B-1 or B-2

    Applications for change of status from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 made by persons who have either already applied to US schools from abroad or who apply for a change of status shortly after entry to the United States are routinely denied. However, if the B-2 visa is marked prospective student, the change of status may be approved.

    The F-1 status must be approved before commencement of study is permitted.

  • Mailing Your Application
  • Photocopy your complete application for your personal records. We advise that you send your completed application by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested or by express mail with tracking. For the mailing address and instructions, refer to the I-539 application at http://www.uscis.gov/forms.

  • Important Considerations
    • Please consult ISSS prior to e-filing I-539 via the USCIS website or ELIS.
    • Travel abroad while a change of status application is pending is considered to be an abandonment of the application and will affect the SEVIS record. An applicant who decides to leave the United States while the application is pending should consult an ISSS advisor.
    • In certain cases, a change of status to J-1 cannot be approved after the program start date. If the request for change of status to J-1 has not been approved by the program start date on the Form DS-2019, the individual should notify an advisor at ISSS to determine whether the program start date on the Form needs to be deferred. Failure to do so may result in the SEVIS record being "terminated" and lead to a serious violation of immigration status.
    • Students may not begin an assistantship, or engage in on or off campus student employment of any kind until the change of status has been approved.
    • Even with an approved change of status, most students will need to obtain the appropriate visa (stamp) for the new status during their next trip abroad. This will necessitate a visit to a US embassy or consulate during that trip.
    • Applicants who receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS should immediately consult with ISSS and/or immigration attorney before responding.
    • Denial of a change of status to J-1 may lead to legal problems and, in some cases, could result in the individual being barred from reentering the United States for several years. It is strongly recommended that individuals whose application will not be adjudicated by the expiration date on the current I-94 consult an ISSS advisor and/or a qualified immigration attorney.
    • Applicants for change of status must immediately report the outcome of their applications to ISSS. Upon receipt of Form I-797 Notice of Approval to J-1 status, students should immediately report to ISSS and bring photocopies of the approval notice (which includes Form I-94), passport pages, DS-2019. ISSS will then register their immigration status in SEVIS.
    • IMPORTANT   On Form I-797 Notice of Approval, pay special attention to the “Valid from” date as the date indicates when your new status (J-1) takes effect.  From this date on, you should stop your previous status related activities (e.g. H-1B employment).