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 : 1208 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 ( 1,208 )

  1. Krishna

    Hello!
    I am on H1 with 6 years maxout on 6/15/2020. My employer filed I140 petition on 3/20/2020 in normal processing(the intention was to be in premium processing but it was suspended).
    My wife has a L1 which is valid until Apr2021.
    what are my options now?
    1.Can i file for L2 and stay in the US with receipt notice? How long/until when should i be able to work on H1 in this case?
    2.If USICS allows premium processing’s on I140, it may take up 2 months for me to get back on H1.What happens if i get my H1 in Aug 2020 and my L2 is still not approved yet? what happens to the stay between 6/15/2020 to Aug 2020?

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Krishna,
      1. Yes, that is an option to switch to L2.
      2. Well, the timing is a difficult thing with pending applications. Discuss with your attorney on how best to do it. One option is you can exit the country and re-enter to cancel the processing of other and submit the withdraw as well.

      1. Krishna

        Thanks for your reply Kumar.
        I have a followup. Which one is easier? COS from H1 to L2 here in US or going to india and getting L2 stamped?

        1. administrator
          Kumar

          Krishna,
          Well, it depends. Easier is getting stamped. If you apply for COS, it can be a long wait and you may not travel during the pending time…

  2. Markand

    Hello,
    I am on H1B visa until October 2020 (but I never went back to stamp it) and my company is currentLy filing for my H1B extension. However, I am planning to get my MBA in the fall of 2020. My current employer has also filed for my GC process.
    I intend to apply for COS to F1. As far as my research goes, I need to follow the steps below:
    1. Withdraw my GC application
    2. Secure funding
    3. Get my new I20
    2. Apply for COS

    I just want to know if I am missing something or I need to do anything differently, also the fact that I never stamped my H1B will it affect any of the steps involved.

  3. Grace Lee

    Hi, I’m trying to do a COS from F-2 to F-1. My husband is on F-1 and his current studies will end this semester (Apr 23), even though the program end date on the I-20 is Aug 23. He wants to leave the country to start working back home, while I stay and wait for my COS. I believe, since I’m currently in status and will apply for the COS while in status, I should be able to stay while my husband left. However, my school’s DSO said the regulations have changed and my husband must maintain his status while my COS is pending. Is this true? Can anyone verify if our F-2/F-1 needs to be maintained while COS is pending???

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Grace,
      It is going to be slightly tricky, as your DSO said…the reason is your status is dependent on your Spouse’s status, as you are dependent on his status. Until you get COS approved, you need to maintain your previous status. You cannot take it for granted that you will get F1 approved. Imagine, your F1 COS is denied, then your status becomes invalid as your spouse is not on F1…Always, take the advice of DSO.

  4. Vijet

    Hi Kumar, firstly, thanks for answering so many questions for everyone!
    Here’s mine 🙂
    My premium processing H1B extension petition received an RFE on Feb 5.
    Lawyers responded to the RFE on Feb 25.
    It’s been 10 days since then, and I haven’t received a result yet.

    My question is about my options in case of denial –
    My I-94 expires on March 31.
    I’m trying to avoid exiting the country in order to get H4.

    Scenario 1: H1B extension denied before March 31

    I can apply for a new H1B petition but can’t work after March 31
    I can apply for H4 COS (spouse is on H1B)
    I apply for both H1B and H4 COS. If H1B is approved later, I withdraw the H4 application. If H1B is denied again, I can wait for H4.
    Scenario 2: H1B extension denied before March 31

    I don’t want to exit the country to get H4. Hence I apply for H4 COS before March 31, and if H1B is approved later, I withdraw the H4 application.
    Apply for another H1B petition after March 31 and hope it gets approved.
    Can you people provide me with your expert opinions on my best course of action here?
    I want to be prepared for the worst case scenario, but also want to avoid accruing illegal stay.

    Thank you for reading.

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Vijet,
      You have to apply for H1B as transfer before your I-94 expires, so that you do not end up in bridge situation. You may consider applying for H4 as well, but the issue is with long processing times, the timing can be tricky. H4 stamping is relatively safe, so nothing to worry, you can go to Canada or Mexico and get it done. You need to wait for long time with biometrics, if you apply for COS and need to do it before March 31st. Discuss with an attorney on the timing.. There is no perfect thing, you have to take some by gut feel and go with the risk associated with it.

  5. Soudip

    Hello Kumar,

    I have valid H1B Visa till April 4th, 2020. This date marks the last day of my 6 years stay in the US on H1B. I have also got H4 EAD approved, but with start date from April 8th, 2020.

    I now know that I would have to travel outside the US for the ‘in between’ period ? In other words I would be considered out of status from April 5th to April 8th if I don’t stay out of the US for these days.

    In case I leave the US what would be your advice on which country could be a sound choice to get my H4 Visa stamped before returning back ? Choices include neighboring countries like Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, or all the way to India.

    I don’t have a Canadian visa. Do I have enough time to take the risk of applying Canadian tourist Visa (and temporarily part with my passport in the process) owing to the fact I only have a little over a month before my I94 expires ?

    Thanks much,

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Soudip,
      You can go to Mexico or take a cruise…Fly to any country that has visa free entry for you…Talk to your attorney before you plan anything..

  6. Fatima

    Thank you for the reply! There is one more thing I wanted to know. Does this change of status affect travelling to adjacent countries? Like if I wanted to visit Canada do I have to get F2 stamped before coming back to the USA or is it only for my home country?

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Fatima,
      Any country, if you going to get a New I-94, when you exit and re-enter…unless you use Automatica Revalidation…Talk to your attorney on the Automatic revalidation part, to be sure before you travel.

  7. Neha Narang

    Excellent Article. However, could you please also elaborate on whether the current visa category status (for example H1B) needs to be maintained in the duration between filing for COS (for example to H4) and before getting the decision (assuming decision is approval).

    To put it simply, do you need to work in the time you are waiting for the COS decision for H1B to H4.

    Thanks

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Neha,
      You are right, it is your duty to maintain your previous/current status, until you hear on the other status…You cannot move to other status as soon as you apply, you need to wait for it to be approved. Yes, for your example, yes they need to work on H1B until H4 is approved or at least until the end of the H1B status.

  8. Khushboo

    Hi Saurabh

    I got my H4 approved in Sept 2019 and it is valid until Dec 2021. I went to India and got my H4 stamped and returned back to US on Jan 15. After returning back my H1-B extension got approved on Jan 30th. Now, I am looking for changing jobs and my new employer is suggesting that I can travel outside the country and reactivate my H4 – that ways I can join my new company and they will file a new H1 petition for me.

    Is this a valid scenario?

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Khushboo,
      Was that approved with COS ?
      yes, you can travel out and re-enter to come back to H4 status. yes, they can apply for H1B transfer and COS as well using that…

      1. Khushboo

        Yes H1B was a COS. What I am worried about is that my H4 might have been invalidated due to the H1B approval .. will I have a problem at the border since the most recent I-94 is for h1b.
        Will they not ask for a new H4 stamp if I want to re enter in H4 status?

      2. Khushboo

        Yes my H1B was approved with COS. My current company’s lawyers are saying the H4 visa has been invalidated too, but new company lawyers are saying it is perfectly fine to re-enter on H4. Confused who to trust now.

        1. administrator
          Kumar

          Seek another second opinion and go for it. If you are really worried, just go back home and go for dropbox and then try to re-enter…

  9. SD

    Hi All,

    I am currently on H1 and it is valid till May 2020. My Maxout is Sep 2020. My current employer has filed for H1 extension for the duration of May 2020 to Sep 2020 and the extension is pending decision with USCIS, the case status shows “Case Was Received”
    My husband is on H1 till 2022,and I would like to convert to H4 effective after my Maxout in Sep 2020.

    1) Can I file the I539 COS while my current extension is pending with USCIS
    2) If I need to wait for my current extension to be approved, how many days before my Maxout do i need to start my I539 COS from H1 to H4
    3)Can I file I539 COS from H1 to H4 with an effective date in future ?
    4) Can I continue to stay in US on a pending I539 COS H1 to H4 decision after my H1 visa gets over ?

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      SD,
      1. yes, you can with a future date.
      2. You should apply anytime now as the h4 processing takes a long time with Biometrics.
      3. Yes
      4. Yes, if you file on time before the I-94 expires and your max out period.

  10. Avani

    Hello,

    I am on my H1 (stamping not done in India). I am starting my PhD in August 2020. I am confused on the steps that I have to do for Change of Status process.
    Can you please guide me?

    Also, is it recommended to visit India for F1 stamping before I start my school in August?

    Thank you

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Avani,
      It is a good idea to get Stamping done in Home country. The biggest reason for getting stamping is that F1 stamping can be tricky for you as you had H1B in the past. You are moving from a dual intent visa to Non-immigrant visa. So, if you get stamping done in India, then you will be sure that you can travel freely and have no issues in future with your travel.
      If you go for COS in US, then if in 5 years, anytime you leave the country, you need stamping and your program and education maybe at risk, if you do not get F1…so, it is better to get it sorted out before you start the program…

      1. Avani

        Hi Kumar,

        Thank you for answering my question.

        To understand things correctly, after I receive my I-20 for my PhD school, before the program starts in August 2020, I go to India and get my F-1 stamp for the PhD program, that way I do not have to worry anytime in the next 5 years?

        Also, since I never got my H1-B stamped, the question of interviewing for H1-B does not arise as I will have my F-1 I-20.

        Please let me know if my interpretation is correct.

        Appreciate your help.

        Thanks!

        1. administrator
          Kumar

          Avani,
          Yes, your understanding is correct. It may or may not, but it does not matter as long as you have maintained proper status.

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Sandeep,
      Yes, you should apply for it and attach the reports indicating your situation. Talk to your H1B attorney and then plan it. Apply for it soon, before I-94 expires.

  11. RAHUL

    Hello
    I have a question. I am on F1 OPT. My wife was on F1 but got her status change to F2 (approved) here in the USA. Now she is planning to go to India. Will she be requiring stamping.?
    If yes, then does she needs to just submit a passport at the application center or she has to appear for an interview as well.? Please advise

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Rahul,
      If she has to re-enter US on F2, she will need the visa stamping in her passport. She would have to appear for interview. Usually F2 stamping are tricky, be aware of that, before you step out.

        1. Rambhia

          Oh nice! That was quick. Which processing center was it?
          My wife’s application has been stuck in California center since last 8 months 🙁

  12. Rambhia

    Hi Kumar,

    My wife’s COS from B2 to F2 has not been processed since last 8 months. When we check the date on the USCIS website, the date keeps fluctuating. Currently, the date has passed our application date and we can request for a status.

    But the status reply is we need to wait more for any decision. Is this a red flag for COS?

    Also, my spouse wants to travel to our home country. Is it okay to leave the country when she doesnt have a visa status?

    Will applying again for F2 in home country create any issues?

    Thanks,
    Rambhia

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Rambhia,
      It is hard to say, the COS can take very long for F2. Not necessarily red flag, it is hard to say…
      Going for Stamping for F2 is always risky, many users say that it is tough to get F2 stamping and has more risk of rejection…
      If you travel out of the country, to re-enter there is a need for F2 visa to re-enter…so, be aware of that…Talk to DSO and raise an expedite request, if it is past the processing time.

  13. faluk

    Hi Kumar,

    I am currently on H4 and planned to go for COS to F1 as I got admit for MS.In support of funding can the bank attested copy stating I have xxx amount of funds in my account be enough or is it mandatory for me to submit 3 months statement.
    Kindly suggest!

    Thank you

  14. Raj

    Hi Kumar!

    I was on OPT and my spouse on F2. My h1 got approved on Jan 24th 2020. For my spouse,I need to apply COS to h4 but I did not receive the approval documents from USCIS yet. How long do I have to apply for my dependent’s COS? While I am waiting for the documents, Is the gap between my approval and COS submission is considered out of status? Please advise.

    Thank you!

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      Raj,
      You should apply as soon as you receive the approval notice. Ideally, you should have applied it in concurrent…This is slightly grey area, hard to say how USCIS would look at it….they usually consider the date you got the physical notice…Talk to your H1B attorney and take care of it immediately.

  15. dongya

    I am L2, and my wife is L1, and my kid L2. My wire was noticed to be fired 1 month.

    Can I change to F1 vise as soon as possilbe?

    There is college giving me I 20 soon, and if L visa expired, can we stay here and applying the F1 and F2 status?

    Thank you.

    1. administrator
      Kumar

      dongya,
      Yes, you may apply for Change of Status. Discuss with DSO at the school and apply for it immediately. Factor in the delays and time taken for COS as it can take a long time…

    2. Zubeda Osheen

      Hello! My husband is on F1 visa and I changed my status from F1 to F2 four years ago. I am planning to leave for India. My USCIS approval paper says I need to get visa stamped if I get a new visa.
      Does that mean should I have to submit my passport for F2 visa to be stamped or should I have to give an interview at the consulate to be able to fly back to USA?

      1. administrator
        Kumar

        Zubeda,
        Yes, you will need a valid visa stamp of F2 to re-enter US. You need to apply for Visa and go for interview in your country and then enter using the stamp…You need to aware the risks of stamping as well.

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