Change of Status

Before applying, note that: Although ISSS can give general guidance on the I-539 process, we are not able to give legal advice. If you decide you will still apply for a change of status with USCIS, ISSS recommends consulting an immigration attorney.

The following is only general guidance on the I-539 process.  It is not nor should it replace legal advice.  Be sure to also visit USCIS for specific information regarding eligibility and the application process.

  • The processing time for a change of status can be quite lengthy and is not recommended in most cases.  This long delay could affect the result of your request and delay your academic studies.  

  • You must maintain your underlying status in order for your change of status to be approved.  

  • Your application should not be submitted earlier than 90 days from your last entry or any other status related change.

  • You should not leave the US while the change of status application is pending with USCIS. 

    • This will cause an abandonment of the application. 

    • Your SEVIS record may no longer be valid upon departure

  • Your current immigration status will determine if you can begin studying while the change of status is pending or if you must wait for approval.

  • If the request for change of status to F-1 or J-1 has not been approved by the program start date on the I-20/DS-2019, you should notify ISSS. 

    • ISSS may need to defer your program start date in SEVIS to avoid the termination of your SEVIS record.

    • Until your application is approved, you must provide monthly updates to ISSS on your application status to avoid any issues with your immigration status.

    • Upon receipt of Form I-797 Notice of Approval to F-1 or J-1 status, immediately check-in with ISSS

  • Students may not begin an assistantship, or engage in on-campus employment of any kind until the change of status has been approved.

  • Even with an approved change of status, most students will need to apply for a US entry visa for their new status during their next trip abroad.  (Citizens of Canada & Bermuda are exempt.)

  • Applicants who receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS should update ISSS and consult with an immigration attorney before responding.

  • If your application is denied or is not adjudicated before the expiration date on their current I-94, students should update ISSS and consult with a qualified immigration attorney.

  • IMPORTANT: On Form I-797 Notice of Approval, pay special attention to the “Valid from” date as the date indicates when your new status (F-1 or J-1) takes effect.

    • From this date on, you should stop your previous status related activities (e.g. H-1B employment).

Below are recommended documents to include with your application to USCIS.  Visit USCIS for official instruction.

  • Cover Letter: Request the change of status, explain the circumstances of why you entered the US in your current immigration status and why your goals/intentions changed after arriving in the US.  Those requesting F or J non-immigrant status must show they do not intend to immigrate to the United States.  Including evidence such as a demonstration of ties to your home country is recommended.

  • Form I-539 and related fees

Copies of

  • SEVIS Fee Payment Confirmation

  • Form I-20 or DS-2019 issued by Penn:  Be sure form I-20(s) or DS-2019(s) are signed.

  • Passport Identification Page & US Entry Visa: Include page showing the passport expiration date if separate from the identity page. Canadian and Bermudian citizens are not required to have a US Entry Visa.

  • I-94 printout and entry/admission stamp in passport.  If issued paper I-94, include copy of the front and back of I-94 card.

  • Financial documentation used to obtain the I-20/DS-2019 from Penn

  • Individuals currently holding dependent status: copies of the primary's passport, I-94, and proof of status.

  • Additional documents may be needed depending on your current immigration status.

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

Mailing your Application:

  • For the mailing address and instructions, refer to USCIS website

  • We advise that you send your completed application by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested or by express mail with tracking and to keep a copy for your records.