A little background - I recently got my F1 visa from an H4 and wanted to cite my experience for those interested. I first went to the US in 2001 on an F1, and later got a job and worked for a year and a half on CPT and OPT. Meanwhile I got married (while still working on an OPT). My husband (also an Indian and F1 - OPT holder until then) got an H1 the year before. After I worked for a year and a half, my employers had to readvertise my job if they were to hire me on an H1. Unfortunately on the last day of the application, they found a "qualified American citizen" to do my job and so I had to leave following an interview, a teaching demo and so on. I went through the whole song and dance knowing very well that they were not going to give me the job. As expected, I didn't get it.
I had always wanted to do a Ph.D so I had started applying to universities while going through the whole pretence rehiring phase. My job ended in December. My OPT was valid until Jan 13, 05. I applied and got an H4 which I was on from Jan until I returned to India for my F1.
I was thankfully accepted at all the universities I applied to with full assistantship. I read a whole lot of things on message boards about the risks involved in converting an H4 to an F1. But I also knew that getting it in India would put me at ease for the next 5 years and so I decided to take my chances.
I applied at the Pune Center as I was applying for my actual visa in Mumbai. The date I submitted my visa application, a photocopy of my I-20, cash Rs. 4896 (a DD would be issued right then), two copies of the first page of my passport and 1 copy of the last page was June 20th. The interview date was July 1 at 8:15 a.m. The center offered a lounge for an additional Rs. 150 per person. This was to be your AC waiting area if you arrived from out of town and needed to wait. It included a free snack and drink and a bus ride to the counsulate. I declined the lounge ticket. People traveling with you could continue to wait in the lounge.
On July 1, I reached the consulate at 8:00 a.m. I was asked to wait with a group of other people. But was very soon, the whole group of people who had come for an 8:15 appointment were escorted inside the counsulate by their staff after confirming my interview time and date reciept. After standing in line for a few minutes, I had to walk through the security check and was also checked by a female staff - separate lines for males and females. The sec. staff also gave me a wooden block with a number on it. After that I entered the main room. To my right was a line that I joined along with others who entered with me. Two people were standing behind a counter. When my turn came, I was asked my name and given a yellow envelope which had all the papers I had previously submitted in Pune. After collecting that, I joined another line where another staff member came, took the yellow envelope and all its contents from me, just as she did from others and gave each one of us a pink slip with a number. As I reached the front of that line at window # 1, I was finger printed - index fingers of both, right and left hands.
Taking the pink slip, the waiting began. I finished all these formalities by 8:20 a.m. After that some numbers were called at different window numbers. Although my appointment was at 8:15 a.m., my turn didn't come until 9:15 a.m. Finally my number was called at counter number 2 (or 3, I don't remember now). I spoke to the person at the counter through a telephone. He mostly asked me questions about my Ph.d program and what I intended to do research in. Having been admitted to a top-ranked university and with a full assistantship helped I'm sure. Towards the end of my grilling, he said, "I'll grant you your visa." Just as I thought the whole process was over, this is what happened -
He - "Are you married or single?"
Me - Married.
Where is your husband?
In the US?
What visa is he on?
Where does he work?
Where you on an H4?
Ok. I'll grant you your visa. You'll have it by courier in 3-4 days.
That was it. Just like that. I was really scarred about the whole husband on H1 thing. Some people had advised me against mentioning my husband in my form (but that would have made me illegal in the country for the few months betn my OPT and F1). Also, my sister and brother--in-law are both GC holders. But I decided to be honest and mentioned everything in my form. I have heard the consulate conducts some random background checks. While this may or may not be true, I'd rather not find out. I urge everyone applying that they need to be honest. That way, you don't have to get into a slippery slope of lies.
Since I am from Pune, I got my passport back by Blue Dart the very next day. When you go to apply for a visa at a center (Pune, Ahmedabad), they will give the second copy of the first page of your passport with a red stamp. When the Blue Dart delivery guy delivers your passport in the yellow envelope, you will need to turn that stamped passport page to him. Also, you need not be personally present to collect your passport, a blood relation will do.
I hope this has helped some of you. Before I applied, I read a lot of queries on H4 to F1. I'll be happy if my information helps some one. Another point to note would be that since I got my F1 (OPT) to H4 in the US, my H4 was not stamped in my passport when I went to the counsulate to get my F1. Also,my original I-20 was returned to me at the counsulate with the interviewer only keeping the passport.
All the best.