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The Complete Guide to Change of Status for H1B Visa
May 5, 2022
7 mins
A mock-up illustration of a US H1B visa card with the American flag as a background

Our blog serves as the complete guide to the following topics about H1B Change of Status:

  • What is Consular Processing?
  • Change of Status from F1 to H1B
  • Change of Status from H1B to F1
  • Change of Status from H4 to H1B
  • Two-year foreign requirement

Before you begin to read this article, we recommend you to also go through an article about Change of status premium processing for a better understanding on this topic.

What is H1B Change of Status & What Does it Mean for H1B Holders?

The H1B visa is one of the most popular visa types in the USA. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services issued the H1B visa as a gateway for foreigners to work for US-based employers. The first step to obtaining an H1B visa is to find an employer in the US who will sponsor your H1B visa. Your employer may choose to file the H1B petition as a Change of Status (COS) petition or as a Consular Processing petition, depending on where you are at the time of filing and your preference.

If you plan to obtain your H1B visa, it is best to stay acquainted with these terms and processes for your visa. So, let's dive into our main topic of discussion- the H1B Change of Status.

When someone is applying for an H1B visa using Change of Status (COS), it means the H1B holder is currently residing in the US and is applying to change their current visa status to H1B visa without leaving the country. If the H1B is approved with COS, it will have the following details and attachments:

  • H1B approval notice and I-94
  • Class of Visa as H1B
  • Duration of status with start and end date

Now, What Does Consular Processing Mean?

In Consular Processing, you, the H1B applicant, must go to the US Consulate to get a US Visa Stamp on your passport. If you do not live in the US, you are most likely to encounter this situation when applying for a visa. By default, all applicants outside of the US are considered to be using consular processing to apply for H1B. Using that visa stamp, you can enter the US and obtain the visa status once inside the country. Consular Processing is different from COS because you need to follow these steps:

  • Fill out the DS-160
  • Fix an appointment for the visa interview
  • Obtain a US visa stamp on the passport

Travel Restriction After Applying for H1B Change of Status

Please note that there are several travel restrictions when you apply for H1B Change of Status. The USCIS will abandon your COS if you leave the US while your application is still pending. So, we recommend you do not make any travel plans once you have applied for H1B COS until it gets approved.

Next, let's explore how you can initiate a Change of Status from other visas to an H1B visa.

Change of Status from F1 Visa to H1B & Vice Versa

Often, international students graduating from colleges in the US decide to change their status from F1 to H1B status. If you also wish to do the same, you must know the process and how to apply for your COS. You should:

  • Find a job with an H1B sponsoring employer.
  • File an H1B petition.
  • File for a Cap-Gap Extension to extend the F1 visa status while waiting for H1B approval.
  • File your LCA or Labor Condition Application.
  • Fill out form I-129.

Kindly remember that the processing duration for the visa petitions largely depends on the USCIS workload. Hence, it may take weeks or months for your visa petition to be processed. If you want to speed things up, you can opt for Change of Status Premium Processing, which will expedite the process within 15 working days.

Change of Status from H1B visa to F1

You can get your visa status changed from H1B to F1 and extend your stay in the US. To switch from a non-immigrant to a student status while remaining in the United States, you must meet the following criteria and submit a change of status application to USCIS. You may apply for an H1B status if:

  • You are legally admitted to the USA on a non-immigrant status.
  • You have not violated the status conditions.
  • Your non-immigrant status has not expired.
  • You have not engaged in any unlawful activities that may disqualify you from applying for the COS.

You must also take the following steps to meet the above-mentioned criteria before the USCIS approves your application:

  • Apply to a US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school and gain acceptance.
  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee.
  • File Form I-539 or Application to Extend or Change Non-Immigrant Status.
  • Obtain a Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status and Form I-20 from the SEVP-certified school.
  • Obtain a change of status in the Issue Reason section of Form I-20 from the Designated School Official or DSO.

Also, note that you must have a valid H1B status while your Form I-539 Change of Status application is pending with the USCIS. The processing duration may last for 3 to 8 months before the USCIS arrives at a decision. You can also attend classes while your petition is pending with the USCIS. Also, the USCIS allows you to get your F1 visa stamped abroad if you leave the country during this time.

Also Read: A Beginner's Guide to H1B Change of Status Premium Processing

Change of Status from H4 to H1B & Vice Versa

H-1B employees can bring their spouse, and unmarried children under 21 years to live with them in the US. Termed "Dependants," they need to have a valid H4 visa to stay with the H1B holder. As an H4 holder, your family member can study and even work in the US under the new H4 EAD rule. Sometimes, H4 dependents may want to apply for a COS from H4 to H1B for several reasons.

Is it possible? Yes, it is. They may convert from H4 to H1B status if they qualify for all the H1B requirements. Here again, they must find an H1B-sponsoring employer who will submit the required documents to the USCIS on their behalf. The documents include:

  • Form I-129
  • Form I-539
  • Labor Condition Application certified by the US Department of Labor (DoL)
  • Proof that states the offered job position is a "specialty occupation."
  • Proof for specialized training.
  • Copy of academic degree certificate.
  • Copies of permissions, licenses, and certifications from the relevant state for practicing the occupation.

How to initiate COS from H1B to H4 visa

Changing status from H1B to H4 visa is highly possible if your spouse has a valid H1B visa. You can extend your stay in the US and use the time to look for a new job. To apply for a COS from H1B to H4 visa, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Your spouse should have a valid H1-B visa.
  • Your marriage with your spouse should be legally bonafide.
  • You should not be holding a job when your H4 is approved.

Here's the document checklist to file for H4 status from H1B:

  • Form I-539 to change the non-immigrant status.
  • Copies of yours and your spouse's passports.
  • Copy of your spouse's H1B visa.
  • Copy of your spouse's H1 visa approval notice.
  • Copy of your wedding certificate.
  • Your most recent Form I-94 Arrival and Departure record,
  • Previous year's paystubs for both you and your spouse.

Although your H1B visa will still be valid when your H4 is approved by the USCIS, you are not permitted to work. If you wish to carry on with your job, you must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Change of Status from J1 Visa to H1B & J2 to H1 Visa

Although J1 to H1B Change of Status will open the door to multiple job opportunities, the J1 visa is applicable only for a specific group of non-immigrants, who are involved in study- and work-related exchange programs. Moreover, since there is a perpetual demand for skilled employees with an H1B visa, changing your status from J1 to H1B should be quite easy, provided you meet all the eligibility criteria.

However, like a J1 holder, the biggest obstacle you may encounter is the 2-year Foreign Residency criterion.

What is the 2-Year Foreign Residency Requirement?

In some categories of J1 visa holders, a cumulative two-year foreign residency period is required before applying for another visa. In other words, you need to stay outside the U.S. for two years (preferably in your home country) before applying for a change of status. The following are some of the people who need to fulfill the two-year requirement to change their status:

  • J1 holders who are recipients of government funding
  • J1 holders with education or work experience in a skilled field are required in their country of residency.
  • Participants of a graduate medical training program in the US or a part of the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.

If you submit the correct documents and your case is clean, the H1B Change of Status timeline should not exceed more than 2 to 3 days.

How to Apply for Your J1 to H1B Visa Change

  • Find an H1B sponsor.
  • Employer submits your LCA
  • Employer files Form I-129 when the LCA is approved.
  • Wait for petition approval.
  • Visit the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country to process the visa.

The processing time may take upto six months. You also have the Premium Processing option to expedite the process within 15 calendar days. However, please remember that even if your processing time is reduced to 15 days, you still have to wait for the six months between April 1st to October 1st.

Changing your Status from J2 to H1

Unless you have received a waiver of the two-year residency requirement in your home country, your employer will not be able to request a change of status on your behalf if you are currently in J-1 or J-2 status. J2 visa holders do not have to fulfill the two-year foreign residency requirement before changing their visa status under certain circumstances.

The Summation

Changing your visa status from H1B to another visa status is one way to extend your stay in the US. If you wish to get your H1B Change of Status visa stamping, you must apply for the change and wait for the results. Also, if you are on a valid H1B visa, you must remain in the US and wait for your COS approval. If you have lost your job, you must leave the country immediately. If not, the USCIS will reject your COS application because you have violated the US immigration laws.

For any additional information regarding the Change of Status, visit TechFetch H1B - A pool of wealthy and trustworthy information.

**Disclaimer: All information regarding the H1B visa is subject to change. Kindly refer to the USCIS official website for further information.

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