If you are already in the U.S. on a temporary non-immigrant visa and are looking to change from your current status to an F-1 student visa status, you will first choose the institution (US-Universities List) where you want to study and fill out their international application form. The school must be approved by USCIS to issue F-1 Visas to foreign students. If you have any questions you should contact the admissions department of the school.
Once your international student application is accepted you will obtain form I-20 from the school's DSO and will be added to the SEVIS database.
Even if you have completed or been terminated from a school, that school is still obligated to transfer your SEVIS record to any school you desire. If your current/previous school refuses to transfer your SEVIS record, work with the DSO at your new school to try to resolve the situation. A school cannot refuse to transfer SEVIS records for any financial or business reasons.
Wait for USCIS to respond. It takes approximately two weeks to receive a confirmation letter with an application receipt number (i.e. LIN, WAC, EAC). You can check your application status by entering your receipt number in the USCIS Case Status. You may also receive a Request for Evidence or a Request for Information. Consult your DSO and respond to the request as directed. The two usual grounds for denial of change of status are failure to file on time and insufficient funds. You will need to plan early and contact the school DSO well before your current visa's expiration date to ensure a successful application process.
Once you have sent the application for Change of Status to USCIS and your record has been added to the SEVIS database, you have gained the right to remain legally in the United States until your application is either approved or denied. While your application is pending you should remain in the U.S. Currently it takes USCIS 2 to 4 months to reply to student visa candidates depending on the USCIS center processing the application.
If your spouse or children are visiting the United States with you as your dependents, they can apply for F-2 Family of Foreign Student status when you apply to change your status to F-1. They will be included on your form I-20 by the DSO and will be added to the SEVIS database. At the time of application for change of status, you will have to prove the availability of additional funds to cover their living expenses and also prove your relationship by providing the original translation of your marriage and/or children's birth certificate. Their F-2 status will be dependent upon your status as an F-1 foreign student. This means that if you change your status, your family must change their status, and if you lose your status, your family will also lose their status.
You may be advised to extend your current visa before applying for a change of status, depending on the duration of your current visa. Discuss your situation with the Admissions Department of the school you are planning to attend and alert them to the fact that you are nearing your visa expiration date.
If you wish to transfer to another institution while studying on an F-1 student visa, you will need to be a full time student and in good academic standing. You will also need to insure that the school you are transferring to is approved by USCIS to educate Foreign Students.
If you arrive at a US school from abroad and decide to immediately transfer you must first report to the school listed on your Form I-20. The School DSO should activate your SEVIS record and transfer it to the new school you plan on attending.
If you plan on leaving the country during the transfer process keep in mind that you must reenter with a Form I-20 for the school that holds your active or initial record. So travel must be either
Started and completed before the transfer release date with an active Form I-20 from the transfer-out school
Started and completed after the transfer release date with an initial Form I-20 from the transfer-in school