The alternative to submitting an application to the USCIS for a change of status is to travel outside the US and apply for an F-1 entry visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Students who are eager to begin studies may wish to apply for a student entry visa at a U.S. Embassy in Canada or Mexico. Although there is the risk of having the visa application denied, many students do not want to wait several months for the USCIS to make a decision regarding their application. While there are no guarantees regarding a student's successful application, quite a few students have gone to a U.S. Embassy and successfully obtained a student entry visa. This allowed them to begin studying and working on campus immediately upon entry into the U.S. in F-1 status.

If you chose to try to travel to Canada or Mexico, you need to know if you need a visa to enter the respective country. To do so you can visit the following websites:

If you have violated your nonimmigrant status because you have overstayed your visa you are not eligible to apply at a border post. In other words, if you have remained in the U.S. longer than the period authorized by the Immigration Officer when you entered the U.S. in any visa category, you must apply for a visa in your home country. You should be aware that you may encounter difficulties at the time of interview when you apply for a visa outside of your home district.

Consular officers at border posts will deny visas when they believe there are fraud indicators present or when their lack of knowledge of local conditions and familiarity with documents in the third country prevents them from properly adjudicating the case.

Some benefits of traveling outside the U.S. to apply for an F-1 entry visa:

  • If the application is going to be approved, it is frequently approved quickly (but not always).
  • If you re-enter in F-1 status, you are entitled to the benefits of that status immediately, including on-campus employment.
  • If you apply for an entry visa in Canada or Mexico, it is our understanding that the security check is processed before you arrive at the embassy or consulate. Please note that this does not guarantee the visa will be issued.

Some disadvantages of applying for an F-1 entry visa:

  • Some applicants must go through a security check. There is no way of knowing who will be subject to a security check, nor is there a way to expedite its progress. A security check can take weeks or months to be processed.
  • Your application for an F-1 entry visa could be approved, but if you are subject to a security check, the approval could take months.
  • The application could be denied. In that case, you would not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status. You may, if you have another valid entry visa, enter in another nonimmigrant status, but you would not be in F-1 status, nor would you be entitled to any of the benefits of F-1 status.
  • If you don't have another valid entry visa, you would have to apply for a new entry visa and wait for its approval.
  • You cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the report date indicated on the I-20.

Please consult with your immigration attorney if you have a green card application pending.

Some benefits of applying for a Change of Status:

  • You do not have to travel and risk being separated from your spouse/parent (for individuals in a dependent status).
  • This process is generally less expensive (you have to pay $350 SEVIS Fee and $370 application fee and $85 biometrics fee, but no plane fare).

Some disadvantages of applying for a Change of Status:

  • If the application for a Change of Status is approved, it only changes your status in the U.S. This means that if you travel outside the U.S. during your program of study and wish to re-enter in F-1 student status, you would still need to apply for the F-1 entry visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. You should review the pitfalls of applying for a U.S. visa at an embassy or consulate above as they will apply to you; that is, you could be refused the visa, be subject to a security clearance, etc.
  • If the application is denied and your previous status has expired, you will not have any valid nonimmigrant status in the U.S. For example, if your B-2 status expires and your Change of Status application is denied, you will not be invalid nonimmigrant status and will be required to leave the U.S. on very short notice, possibly causing an interruption in your program of study at an inconvenient or academically disadvantageous time.
  • Anyone in Exchange Visitor (J) status who is subject to the two-year home residence requirement cannot apply for a Change of Status in the U.S.
  • Individuals who have recently entered the U.S. in B-2 status (without the prospective student annotation) should plan to travel as a Change of Status might be very difficult.
  • Individuals in WT or WB status cannot change their status in the U.S.