Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Many people that come to the US on a dependent H4 Visa have to spend years before they are eligible to work in the US. These spouses are usually well educated and had a thriving career back in their home country. So, naturally a long wait to be eligible to work here can be frustrating and may even lead to resentment towards their partner.
While some choose to volunteer or get some certifications to upskill themselves, another
options for them is to use the time to study i.e. do a Master’s course here in the US. While you can study in the US on your H4 Visa, it comes with certain restrictions. Instead, it is always better to move to a Student Visa i.e. An F1 Visa that makes you eligible for CPT, OPT and also leads to a chance of getting a job where the company may file your own H-1B Visa.
This Guide will give you all the information that is needed to Change Your Status from H4 to F1 and answer all the Questions that you may have about it too.
Below are the steps that you need to follow to Change Your Status from H4 to F1
Finding a university & Applying
The first thing that you need to do is find a college / university that meets your needs and offers the program that you want to pursue for your degree here. Most of you might look for universities that are within your home state. However, there are plenty of universities that offer an online course and requires you to visit the college once a month for executive sessions.
Once you’ve identified the college of your choice, follow the application process for it and by the end of it, you will get an I-20 and a letter of acceptance proving that you’ve been granted admission to that college.
Applying for your Change of Immigration Status from H4 to F1:
The easiest way to apply for a Change of Status is to fly outside of United States and get your passport stamped with a F1 Visa. Most people would recommend you do that by flying to your home country to prove stronger ties to your home (since F1 Visa is a Non-Immigrant visa and requires the applicant to prove that they will eventually move back to their home country).
However, during times such as these, where there are multiple travel restriction, it is safe to opt for the second option. i.e. to stay in the United States and apply for a Change of Status from H4 to F1.
H4 to F1 Change of Status Process within the US
To apply for a change of status from H4 to F1, you need to complete the from I-539.
Below are the set of supporting documents that you need to send to the USCIS along with the form I-539.
Your I-20 that you received from the University
Your letter of acceptance from the University
Copy of SEVIS fee receipt. The SEVIS fee is currently $200.
A copy of your most recent I-94
Copy of your Passport (First Page, Last Page and all Visa Stamps)
Copy of your previous I-797s (if you’ve ever got your H4 extended in the US)
Proof that you’ll be able to afford your tuition fees. For this, you might need to submit your spouse’s last 3 months of bank statements and the bank balance should be greater than the tuition fees
A letter to explain you’re changing your status from H4 to F1 (this is optional, but you should definitely include it. There have been cases, where people who didn’t send this got an RFE)
Marriage Certificate Copy
Your Spouse’s following documents:
Copy of spouse’s Passport (First page, last page and all visa stamps)
Most Recent I-94
Last 3 pay stubs
Cover letter from H-1B Spouse that they are covering your education fees (i.e., if they are)
What’s the Fees?
The current fee is $370 plus a $85 for biometrics
Current Processing Time
The processing time for Form I-539 varies depending on which service center handles your petition. Most I-539 petitions are handled in the Vermont Service Center, which typically takes about 12 – 16 months.
I-539 petitions sent to the California Service Center take 1 – 5 months to process, while petitions sent to the Nebraska Service Center take 6 – 8 months. Petitions handled by the National Benefits Center have the best processing times with a turnaround time of as little as one week. For an up-to-date estimate, see the USCIS Case Processing Times.
USCIS determines which service center will handle your petition based on your unique filing type. Petitions that are submitted to USCIS lockbox locations are forwarded to the nearest service center. Once USCIS receives your petition, they will send you a receipt that indicates which service center is processing your case.
Can I enroll while my COS is pending?
You can enroll to your university while your Change of Status is pending with the USCIS. But you need to make sure that you maintain your H4 status while your COS is pending.
Also, you may not be eligible for CPT or OPT while your COS is pending.
What if my H4 status is about to expire?
If your H4 status is also about to expire then you need to file another application to extend your H4 visa status.
Any change of status application is valid only till the time you’re within the United States. If you step out of the country, you need to visit a US consulate and get the F1 visa stamped.
Forms and Document Downloads