Share

How to transition from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa

While the H-1B visa allows visa holders to live in the U.S. while working for sponsoring employers, there are some situations in which H-1B visa holders might decide to transition from H-1B visas to F-1 visas.

We and all of our authors strive to provide you with high-quality content. However, the written content on this website solely represents the views of the authors, unless otherwise specifically cited, but doesn’t represent professional financial or legal advice. As we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the published articles or sources referenced, please use the information at your own discretion.

Securing an H-1B visa to live and work in the U.S. is a dream of many people from other countries. While the H-1B visa allows visa holders to live in the U.S. while working for sponsoring employers, there are some situations in which H-1B visa holders might decide to transition from H-1B visas to F-1 visas. Unlike an H-1B visa, the F-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows international students to study in the U.S. at approved institutions of higher education. However, the F-1 visa does not allow people to remain in the U.S. permanently.

H-1B visas vs. F-1 visas

F-1 visas and H-1B visas are both nonimmigrant visas. However, they are issued for different purposes. The F-1 visa program is designed to allow international students to study in the U.S. at SEVP-approved colleges, universities, seminaries, and conservatories. Once their studies are completed, they are expected to return to their home countries. Eligible F-1 visa holders are allowed to work for up to 12 months before they graduate or afterward through the OPT program. People who graduate with certain STEM degrees may be eligible to extend their post-completion OPT by 24 months through the STEM OPT extension. However, once they have finished OPT, the F-1 visa holders are expected to return to their home countries rather than remaining in the U.S.

To secure an F-1 visa, students must convince the government that they have an intent to return home once they complete their degree programs. When they undergo F-1 visa interviews, they must provide evidence of their intent to return home after they finish their studies. If the consular or embassy official who interviews the F-1 applicant is not convinced of his or her intent to return, the visa application will be denied. If the F-1 visa application is approved, the student will be allowed to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start of his or her degree program and to remain until his or her studies are completed.

The H-1B visa is a dual-intent visa. It allows highly skilled workers from other countries to work in the U.S. for sponsoring employers for up to three years. The H-1B visa is renewable. After the H-1B visa holder has lived and worked in the U.S. for six years, his or her employer can sponsor the H-1B worker to become a lawful permanent resident. If the employer agrees to sponsor the H-1B worker, and his or her petition is approved, the worker will then be allowed to continue living and working in the U.S. permanently.

Moved to the U.S. from Australia, India or the UK?

Put your international credit score to work in the United States

Access your free international credit report to see which U.S. credit cards you could already be eligible for. No SSN is required to start your U.S credit history.

Select Country...

Why change from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa?

H-1B workers may have the opportunity to secure green cards. However, they cannot initiate the application process on their own. Instead, their employers must agree to sponsor their I-140 petitions. If the employer refuses to sponsor an H-1B visa employee's I-140 petition, the employee will not be able to transition to a green card and will have to leave the U.S. when his or her H-1B visa status expires unless he or she can transition to a different visa.

H-1B visa holders might also be laid off from their jobs and want to remain in the U.S. Another reason why someone might want to apply for an F-1 visa might occur when their petitions to renew their initial H-1B visas are denied. Changing their visa statuses from H-1B visas to F-1 visas by pursuing a Master's degree or Ph.D. might allow H-1B visa holders to continue living in the U.S.

Some H-1B visa holders renew their H-1B visas after the initial three-year period to work for three more years and then to transition to green cards. However, some workers who reach their sixth year of work learn that their employers are unwilling to sponsor their I-140 petitions. One option that H-1B visa holders whose visas will expire without being sponsored by their employers for lawful permanent residency have is to transition to an F-1 visa. This can allow them to pursue a Master's degree or Ph.D. in the U.S. Securing a Master's degree or Ph.D. might provide the students with a greater chance of eventually becoming lawful permanent residents by getting new H-1B visas with their greater skills. They might also be eligible for EB-2 visas once they have secured advanced degrees in addition to their substantial work experience from when they had H-1B visa statuses.

Applying for an F-1 visa while on an H-1B visa

As an H-1B visa holder, the application process for an F-1 visa will depend on whether you are still in the U.S. or are outside of it. In both cases, you will need to apply to a SEVP-approved university or college and be admitted. Since H-1B visa holders already have four-year degrees, you will likely be applying to a Master's or Ph.D. program.

Applying for an F-1 visa within the U.S.

If you are still in the U.S. with a valid H-1B visa, you can apply to adjust your status from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa. After you have received your acceptance to the Master's or Ph.D. program of your choice, you will need to submit some paperwork. The DSO at your school should give you a Form I-20 that lists your department and the projected length of your studies in the academic program. You will need to tell the DSO that you intend to change your status from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa and sign the student attestation section.

To change your status, you will need to submit your letter of acceptance, your Form I-20, and a Form I-539. You will also need to submit a filing fee of $370 and a biometric services fee of $85. After you have submitted everything, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will contact you to tell you your next steps. You will also need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee of $350 to the Department of Homeland Security. Once you pay this fee, save a copy of the receipt because you will need to submit it.

The USCIS will want to see proof that you will be able to financially support yourself during your studies. In addition to the other documents, you must submit a copy of your I-94 and photocopies of all of the I-797 approval notices that you have received.

You will also need to send photocopies of your passport and the page with the H-1B visa stamp. You will also need to submit copies of every immigration document that you have had, including your employment authorization document and send a letter explaining why you have decided to go back to school. Send pay stubs from your current employment and a letter of verification of your employment status from your current employer.

Ask the adviser at your intended school to write a letter of support for you. If you have dependents, you will need to get their documents prepared for submission as well. Keep copies of everything that you submit and send your documents to the USCIS by U.S. Postal Services at the following address:

USCIS

P.O. Box 660166

Dallas, TX 75266

If you want to send your documents by courier, send them to the following address:

USCIS

ATTN: I-539

2501 S. State Highway 121, Suite 400

Lewisville, TX 75067

You must remain in a valid visa status to apply for a change of status from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa while you are still in the U.S. Your current status must be valid until 30 days before the start date of your new academic program. You are allowed to begin your program while your change of status is still pending, but your status must remain valid until the change of status is approved. The processing times for a change of status can take from three to nine months. If you believe that your H-1B visa might expire before your change of status is approved, you will need to file a second change of status petition with the USCIS to take care of the gap. You do not want to fall out of status. If you are in this situation, you should talk to an immigration attorney for additional help.

DID YOU KNOW?

You don't need to start your US credit history without help!

Credit history used to stop at the border—until now. Your existing international credit history could help you establish credit in the United States. No Social Security Number (SSN) is required to start your US credit history.

Learn More

Applying for an F-1 visa outside of the U.S.

The second approach to changing from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa is to apply for the F-1 visa while you are outside of the U.S. While you can do this in any other country, you should apply from your home country. To apply, you will need to submit your Form I-20, your DS-2019 from your school, a copy of your acceptance letter to your academic program, and all of the immigration documents that you have received in the past. You will need to pay your fees and apply for the F-1 visa using the Form DS-160, which is completed and submitted online. Save a copy of the confirmation page because it will contain a bar code for your application. After you have submitted the application and have paid your application fee, contact the U.S. consulate or embassy in your country to schedule an interview. Make sure that you arrive early, and bring all of the required documents.

Unlike the H-1B visa, the F-1 visa is not a dual intent visa. This means that you will need to convince the consular or embassy official that you intend to return to your home country once you have completed your studies. Some of the types of proof that you can submit include property deeds, memberships in different organizations in your home country, evidence of your ties to family and your community, and others. You should be prepared to answer questions about why you want to continue your studies in the U.S. after having worked on an H-1B visa. If your application is approved, your passport will be stamped with the F-1 visa. You will not be able to travel to the U.S. until 30 days before the start of your academic program.

You will need to bring the following documents to your F-1 visa interview:

  • Your valid passport

  • Your Form DS-160

  • The receipt for your application fee payment

  • Copies of your prior I-94 and I-797 forms

  • Your Form I-20

  • Copies of your transcripts and degree

  • Your EADs

  • Passport photos

  • Test scores for graduate programs

  • Letter of acceptance for your graduate program

  • Documents demonstrating your intent to return

Differences between the F-1 visa and the H-1B visa

You need to understand that the F-1 visa is intended for people to study in the U.S. It is not a work visa. However, you may be eligible to work through the optional practical training program during your studies or immediately following their completion. Pre-completion OPT allows you to work in a job that directly relates to your field of study for a maximum of 20 hours per week when your academic term is in session or up to 40 hours per week when school is not in session. However, pre-completion OPT is limited to a maximum of 12 months. If you work in pre-completion OPT, the times that you work will be subtracted from your post-completion OPT. Post-completion OPT is limited to 12 months after you finish your degree. However, if your graduate degree is in a STEM field, you might be eligible to extend your OPT for up to 24 months.

Applying for a new H-1B visa

Once you complete your graduate studies, you can apply for a new H-1B visa. To secure a new H-1B visa, you will need to find a sponsoring employer that has a job available that requires a Master's degree or Ph.D. The employer must submit a labor certification that you will be paid the prevailing wage in your area for your position and must attest that the employer was not able to find a U.S. worker to fill the position. Employers are now required to electronically register people that they want to apply for H-1B visas in March. The USCIS will pull registrants through a lottery. If you are selected, your employer will need to submit the petition for your H-1B visa during the application window at the beginning of April.

If you are approved for a new H-1B visa, you will be allowed to work for another three-year period. Your visa may be renewed for another three years, and if your employer is willing to sponsor you for an employment-based immigration visa, you will be able to continue living and working in the U.S. permanently.

There is no guarantee that you can secure an H-1B visa after you complete your graduate studies. However, the USCIS has an additional 20,000 visas available each year beyond the cap of 65,000 for applicants with advanced degrees. This means that completing your Master's degree or Ph.D. might increase your chances of success in securing a new H-1B visa.

Wrapping everything up

If you want to change your status from an H-1B visa to an F-1 visa, it is possible to do so. However, you will need to secure admission to a graduate program at a university that is SEVP-approved and submit all of the required paperwork and fees. If you are approved for the change of status within the U.S. or for the F-1 visa while you are in your home country, you will be allowed to continue living in the U.S. to complete your graduate degree.

Living in the U.S. will involve making many transactions. You will need to find an apartment to lease, open a bank account, and potentially purchase a car. You might also want to get a credit card. Lenders, landlords, and banks in the U.S. check the credit records of applicants before they will agree to extend credit to them. One issue that people might face when they move to the U.S. from another country is that credit histories do not automatically transfer from other countries. Nova Credit can help to solve this problem with the global credit passport. The company translates the credit histories of people from other countries into a Nova Credit score. This score is used by many major lenders and banks in the U.S. to make credit decisions about international applicants. When you have your Nova Credit score, you will encounter fewer obstacles as you build your new life in the U.S. as an F-1 visa graduate student.

Moved to the U.S. from Australia, India or the UK?

Put your international credit score to work in the United States

Access your free international credit report to see which U.S. credit cards you could already be eligible for. No SSN is required to start your U.S credit history.

Select Country...

More from Nova Credit:

The best credit cards for international students

How international students can get financial aid

Student loans for international students

The ultimate guide to the F-1 visa

Everything you need to know about F-2 visas

What is an F-1 visa extension? How do I get one?

An F-1 visa employment guide

What is the difference between CPT and OPT?

The complete guide to OPT work permits: How long does it take to get an EAD card for OPT?

How to transition from OPT to a green card

What is OPT? Everything you need to know about Optional Practical Training

What is the F-1 grace period of allowance for OPT extension?