Transferring Schools or Colleges on an F-1 Student Visa

Foreign students are allowed to transfer schools, but the procedures must be followed carefully.

No matter how much research and planning you did before choosing a school in the United States, you may find that the one you have chosen is not right for you. Perhaps the program is not what you expected, you don’t get along well with your fellow students, or the school’s geographic location is too cold—or too hot. Fortunately, you may be able to transfer to another school.

Acceptable Reasons to Transfer Schools While on an F-1 Visa

F visa holders must start out at the school listed on their I-20. However, if you become dissatisfied with that school, you can change at any time and for any reason.

Preconditions for Transferring Schools While on an F-1 Visa

You must have maintained your student status at your original school to be eligible for a transfer. If, for example, your dissatisfaction got to the point that you dropped out of classes and your status expired or was terminated by your DSO, you will not be allowed to transfer schools until you’ve applied for and been granted reinstatement. You might also have be able to solve this issue by leaving the United States and entering on the new school's I-20. However, this will be treated differently from reinstatement; for instance, it might complicate your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT) based on timing issues.

Procedure for Transferring Schools While on an F-1 Visa

The procedures for transferring schools are simple for F-1 students. A transfer does not require approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). All the paperwork will be handled by the Designated Student Official (DSO) at your current school, along with the DSO at your new school.

Your first step toward a school transfer will be to get accepted by a new school. Application procedures vary from school to school, so do your research.

After you have been accepted by a new school, tell the DSO at your present school of your intent to transfer and provide proof of your admission. (You might want to talk to your DSO even before this, to see if she can be of any assistance—but this is the point at which you absolutely must tell your DSO.). The DSO will likely require you to fill out paperwork with your new school that will validate the transfer and confirm the transfer date. On the date selected for our transfer, the DSO at your new school will create a new "initial" I-20 for you in the SEVIS system.

No later than 15 days after the program start date on your new I-20, you must contact your new DSO so that he or she can register you in SEVIS. This registration must be completed no later than 30 days after the program start date.

Once you are registered, your status in SEVIS will be changed from "initial" to "active" and the transfer will be complete. Your DSO will print a new I-20, which both of you will sign.

If you had a work permit (Employment Authorization Document or EAD) at your first school, it will automatically be canceled by your transfer. You will need to apply for a new work permit if you become eligible to work again.

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