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Prospective students currently in the United States in an immigration status other than F-1 or J-1 who wish to change to F-1 or J-1 student status should indicate their current immigration status in the U.S. and whether or not they require a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Students will request a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from UNC-CH by completing the Admitted/New Student Intake process in the ISSS portal.  More information on this process can be found on the new student webpage (steps 1-3).

Change Status by travelling outside the U.S.

A prospective student may choose to depart the United States, apply for a student visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status. This will require  a Form I-20 for F-1 status or Form DS-2019 for J-1 status from UNC-Chapel Hill. To apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa please follow the instructions on the U.S. Department of State Web site and be aware of the visa wait times at the embassy/consulate where you plan to apply.

Some students are not eligible for a change of status within the U.S. and therefore are required to travel outside the U.S. to apply for a student visa. Individuals currently in a visitor visa status (WB, WT, B-1 or B-2), or subject to the two-year home residence requirement based on a stay in J-1 status may not be eligible to change their status in the U.S.  Individuals who have obtained a B-2 visitor visa which indicates “prospective student” or “prospective exchange visitor” may be eligible for change of status within the U.S. and should consult with ISSS staff.  If you have questions about your eligibility to apply for a change of status within the U.S., please seek qualified immigration advice.

Change of status within the U.S.

U.S. is processed through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  Students who choose this option will NOT depart the U.S. Instead, they will pay a fee to USCIS and complete an application including a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from UNC-CH and the I-539 form.  We recommend students check the current processing times in order to appropriately time the submission of their change of status application and avoid possible delay in studies and/or employment.

Studying while change of status is pending

Individuals in F-2 status (except for children in elementary or secondary school) cannot study full-time.  Individuals in the status of B-1, B-2 (including those with a visa annotated “prospective student”), W/B or W/T also violate their immigration status by beginning a course of study.  F-2 and B visitor visa holders as listed above are not eligible to begin classes until the change of status has been approved by USCIS.

An individual in a status other than F-2 or B visitor may be eligible to study while the change of status application is pending at USCIS (for example, J-2, H-4, and other dependents).

Please check with an ISSS advisor if you have questions about studying while your change of status is pending.

Employment Issues

Students applying to change their immigration status are not eligible to work on campus until they have received the change of status approval notice from USCIS. This means students are not able to accept Teaching or Research Assistantships (TA or RA) until the change of status approval has arrived. Students who are unable to accept their TA or RA may be responsible for paying their own tuition and health insurance and are advised to discuss this situation with their hiring department.

Please consult with an ISSS advisor if you have questions about working while your change of status is pending.

USCIS Processing

  • Notice of Action: USCIS will send an official Notice of Action (Receipt Notice) to you approximately two to four weeks after receiving the application. This notice will confirm official receipt of the application by USCIS and indicate a receipt number which can be used to track the application.
  • Request for Evidence:  In the course of adjudicating the application, USCIS may send a Form I-797 “Request for Evidence” to an applicant if an item is missing, or USCIS requires additional information before making a decision on an application. Please make sure your address is up to date so that you will receive any correspondence from USCIS and respond in a timely manner.
  • Checking the Status of the application: Students may check their case status on-line at USCIS. It may take up to 3-5 months for USCIS to reach a decision on the case.
  • Approval: Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail an Approval Notice to you. After receiving the approval notice, please bring it to ISSS to check-in. Students may not begin employment (or study in some cases) before receiving the approval notice.