Change of Status COS FAQs

Change of Status (COS) – F1, H1B, L1, H4, L2, F2 – FAQs – All you need to Know !

In US Immigration - Visas by SaurabhUpdated : 1322 Comments

What is Change of Status (COS) ?

When a non-immigrant or an international student/ worker enters US, that alien is given a visa category. This is mentioned in the I-94 that is issued at PoE (Port of Entry). Immigration laws allow the alien/ international student/ worker to move from one visa category to another, with few exceptions, like from H4 visa to H1B or F1 visa to H1 or L1 to H1B, without needing to go out of the country and getting the visa stamped for the new category. This process is called Change of Status and commonly referred as COS in immigration context.

What is the process for Change of Status (COS)?

When applying for COS, following steps happen:
1. The applicant submits COS form (I-539).
2. Additional documents need to be submitted to show that the alien has been maintaining valid status in US, and will be able to maintain status in the new visa category. To demonstrate this, one needs to submit:

  • Copy of current I-94, that states you are in valid status and not I-94 not expired
  • Depending on the status you are in, you need to submit additional documents.
    • If working on H1B or L1, copy of most recent payslips/ pay stubs and W2s
    • If on H4 or L2 as dependent, then copy of spouse’s payslips and W2s (when current visa category is H-4 or L-2)
    • If on F1 visa, copy of I20, if working on F1 OPT, relevant pay stubs as well.
    • If working employment documents like employment letters, etc.
    • Also, if on H4 or L2, then spouse’s employment documents and approval notice of H1B/L1

The above documents are just few examples, if you have any other documents that can prove your status, submit them accordingly.

How long does Change of Status (COS) take to process?

If just the COS is filed, then it takes few months to one year process, there is no specific timeline define. You can check USCIS website to see current processing times.  If the COS is filed along with H1B with I-129 form, then it can also take anywhere from few weeks to few months to process. The actual processing times are available at USCIS website. If you have premium processing option available like for moving to H1B, then you can get it done in 15 days, but you need to check USCIS website, if that is available at that point. For instance, in September 2018, USCIS suspended premium processing until Feb 2019

How long can I stay in US with COS in pending state ? What if my I-94 expires ?

In general, you can stay in US, as long as a final decision on your Change of Status (COS) application is made. In general, if your I-94 expires, your status in US ends and you are considered out of status. But, in the case of COS pending application with I-94 expired, you do not accrue ‘unlawful presence’. You will be in period of authorised stay. If your COS is approved, your I-94 tie back to the expired date and you will be considered as maintaining proper status. If let’s say you get denial on your COS application and your I-94 has expired for the previous status, then you will need to leave US immediately after you get the decision notice. For more info, read Lawful status vs Period of Authorised Stay – How it works 

Can I expedite 221g or RFE processing?

If standard COS is filed, then it cannot be expedited. If it is filed along w/ I-129 form, then it can be upgraded to premium processing. In this case, it will be adjudicated within 15 calendar days. If your COS petition is filed under premium, then once your RFE response is given, the 15 days calendar days clock kicks in and will be expedited.

What happens once COS is approved?

If USCIS approves the COS, then they would issue approved 797 along with an attached I-94. The attached I-94 will have the start and end date of the new visa category along with annotation for the new visa category. Check Sample H4 Approval Notice with I-94. The alien will be on the new visa category from the start date mentioned in the approval notice, and is supposed to start maintaining the new status from that date. For example, if COS is applied from L-1 to H-1, then L-1 status needs to be maintained until COS approval date, and H-1 status needs to be maintained thereafter.

What happens once COS is denied?

If USCIS denies the COS, then alien would continue to remain on your current visa category and need to maintain the same.

Is no stamping required with COS?

When COS is approved, the alien’s visa category changes immediately. No need to go for stamping. However, when the alien leaves the US next and wants to re-enter on new visa status into US, then they will have to go for the visa stamping of that visa category.

Can I travel out of US when COS is pending with USCIS ? Implications ?

You may travel out of US while COS is pending, but the COS will be considered abandoned as you left US. Your petition may be approved, but COS part will be denied and you will need to get Stamping at consulate to get into the new status.

What is Change of Status ( COS) in short ?

COS is a request to USCIS to process your application in a way, so that they grant you new visa status, without leaving the country. It is Change of Status of applicant from X to Y without leaving US.

Can Change of Status (COS) be applied when you are out of US ?

No, COS is not relevant when you are out of US. It is applicable only when you are in US and trying to change your status from one to other.

Will COS Abandonment with Travel out of US impact my Visa Stamping ?

Not necessarily. Your visa stamping at consulate depends on the visa type, its application related supporting documents and not directly related to your travel and COS abandonment.

Any other questions ?


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Comments ( 1,322 )

  1. Avani Parikh

    Hi Kumar,
    I have a question about F1 visa requirements.
    I have a valid F1 visa stamp from the Masters program that expires in June 2021. Currently, I am working on my H1B visa.
    In Fall 2021, I will be joining a different school for my PhD training.

    My question: For COS to be active, can I enter US from India on the prior F1 stamp if I enter before June 2021 but with new school I20? Or I need a new stamp with the new school name on my passport?
    Thank you!

    1. administrator

      This is slightly grey area. If it was not cancelled with any stamp, you may be able to re-use it. Just write to CBP officer once on this and get confirmation before you travel out to be safe.

      1. Avani Parikh

        Hi Kumar,
        Thank you for your reply. I understand what you are saying here.
        One follow up question: When you say “write to CBP officer” – can you shed some light on this? I am not able to completely get your thought here.

        Thank you!

  2. AB

    I have received NOID for COS denial due to travel during h1b processing. What happens if NOID is not responded? Would I get denial automatically for the whole petition or my h1b petition will be approved with consular processing or
    Do I need to respond to NOID to request for Consular processing?

  3. Chandu

    I was on L1A until 9/30 and got my H1B approved filed under COS. I have applied I539 COS L2 -> H4 for my spouse while I applied for H1-B and received a receipt notice in June. I understand there has been significant delays in sending the biometrics appointments to dependent visas. L2 is only valid until end of November this year and I’m concerned if the change of status to H4 might not happen until then.
    Can an L2 lawfully stay in the states if spouse’s H1 is already approved and H4 received a receipt notice?

  4. savitha Devkare

    I am on L2 EAD and my EAD expires on Jan 2020. I have applied for EAD extension ,however my L2 is valid until Aug 2020 and my spouse employer may file for extension along with his L1 in Jan 2020.

    Meanwhile my current employer had filed my H1 ,however i have not received any updated yet even though the effective date for COS was Oct 1st 2020.

    Currently my COS and L2 EAD extension are with USCIS and no update yet .

    Does anyone have any experiences on what are my options to continue work ?

  5. athiS

    I had applied for my H4 COS and EAD with an effective date as 22Aug20 when my H1B extension decision with USCIS was pending. On 03Sep20 my H1B got approved and i would like to continue working on H1B.
    My question is:

    Can i continue to work until my H4 COS is approved or should I have stopped working from 22Aug20 which is my effective H4 COS start date?
    In any way can i modify the effective date of my pending H4 COS to December,20 so I can continue working until dec and then stop?
    If I have to pull out my H4 COS petition, is there a timeline before which it should be done? Like before biometrics or anytime before its approved?

    Please help

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