Changing Visa Status After Arrival

If you’re not totally satisfied with your program, you may be able to transfer to a new one.

You’ve been waiting to move to the USA for what seems like forever, but what if you get here and realize you signed up for a program or school that doesn’t work for you?

If you’re in the USA on any kind of student visa, you can only enter the USA within 30 days of the first day of your program. If you want to arrive earlier so you can do all kinds of fun stuff before you have to focus on studying, you’ll need a tourist visa (if relevant from your home country). Once you’re in the USA with your tourist visa, you’ll have to then request a change of status from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and won’t be allowed to start your program until the change is approved. You’ll also have to make sure that your Form I-20 is updated correctly. But if you have lots of frequent flyer miles, the good news is that instead of dealing with paperwork you can just leave the USA and then re-enter with your valid student visa within 30 days of your start date.

F-1 visa holders can transfer schools or programs with their visa, but it’s of course a whole process in itself. You’ll need to be in direct touch with your Designated School Official, and that person will need to see lots of official information from the new school or program such as the written confirmation of your acceptance there and the new place’s school code and contact information, and will then help you figure out when you can officially transfer. You’ll also need a new Form I-20 that reflects the new school or program information, and you’ll need to start the new school or program pretty much immediately.

M-1 visa holders cannot change their visa status in the USA to an F-1 or H-1 visa, and would need to apply for an F-1 visa from their home country. However, an M-1 visa holder can change programs – though only in the first six months and only within certain parameters.

But it’s not all about you: If you change your own visa status, you’ll most likely also need to change the status of your spouse and dependents if they have joined you in the USA, including new Form I-20s for them as well. Make sure you know everything required for all of you before starting the visa transfer process.