FAQs About Changing Your Visa Status

Nonimmigrant visas are approved for immigrants who plan to be in the United States temporarily. The federal government has established more than forty very precisely-defined nonimmigrant visa categories.

That provides a lot of options for those who want to enter the U.S. temporarily to work, study, conduct business, or simply take in the sights and attractions. It also makes obtaining a nonimmigrant visa or changing your nonimmigrant visa status quite complicated.

You are about to learn how – and when – you may seek a change of your immigration status. For example, if you entered the U.S. with a tourist visa, but now you want to become a student, you must apply for a change of your immigration status.

If you have decided to seek temporary employment in the United States, your prospective employer must submit a Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) on your behalf.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHANGING YOUR VISA STATUS?

Some nonimmigrant visas allow for temporary employment in the U.S.; others allow tourists, students, and diplomats to enter the United States temporarily.

If you are in the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa, and if your original reason for entering the United States changes, you may be required to change your nonimmigrant status before you can lawfully engage in any new activities linked to your requested new immigration status.

And to change your nonimmigrant status, you are going to need the help of a skilled immigration attorney.

FAQ #1: HOW DO I QUALIFY FOR A CHANGE OF MY IMMIGRATION STATUS?

You may qualify to have your immigration status changed your status if:

1. You were admitted lawfully into the United States.

2. You have done nothing that would disqualify you from receiving an immigration benefit.

3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines that nothing warrants requiring you to leave the United States before re-entering with a different status.

4. You apply for a change of status before the expiration date on your Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). If you miss that date, your change of status request may be rejected.

FAQ #2: WHO IS INELIGIBLE FOR A CHANGE OF STATUS?

If you were admitted to the United States in one of these nonimmigrant categories, you may not change your nonimmigrant status: C, D, K1, K2, S, WT, WB, J1, M1, and Q2.

If you are classified in any of these categories, you must leave the United States on or prior to the expiration date on your Form I-94.

FAQ #3: WHAT STEPS DO I TAKE TO CHANGE MY NONIMMIGRANT STATUS?

To change to any of the employment-based nonimmigrant categories listed here, the prospective employer must submit a Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) before your Form I-94 expiration date: E1, E2, H1B, H2A, H2B, H3, L1A, L1B, O1, O2, P1, P2, P3, Q1, R1, and TN.

And you will need to submit Form I-539 to change to any of the nonimmigrant categories listed here: A, B1, B2, E, F, G, H4, K3, K4, L2, M, N, NATO, O3, P4, R2, and TD.

FAQ #4: CAN I CHANGE MY STATUS IF MY ORIGINAL STATUS HAS EXPIRED?

The answer is no, and exceptions are made only if you can prove that you are out of status because of circumstances beyond your control.

If your original status expired prior to filing a change of status request, you are out of status, and you may be unable to receive immigration benefits or even return to the United States.

FAQ #5: WHEN SHOULD I FILE? HOW LONG WILL A STATUS CHANGE TAKE?

You can submit a request for a change of immigration status for up to six months before the expiration date on your Form I-94, and you should make your request at least 60 days before that date.

Be patient. The amount of time USCIS needs to process a change of status request can vary greatly. That’s one reason why your application needs to be absolutely accurate, complete, and on deadline. If it’s not, your change of status request will be delayed or possibly even denied.

FAQ #6: IF I QUALIFY, WILL MY CHANGE OF STATUS BE APPROVED?

A status change is not automatically granted. USCIS scrutinizes every change of status request individually.

USCIS will take into account your current immigration status and your stated reasons for desiring a change.

Until you are notified by USCIS, don’t presume that your requested new status will be approved, and do not change your visa-related activities in the United States.

FAQ #7: WHAT IF NO DECISION IS MADE BEFORE MY I-94 EXPIRES?

If USCIS receives your change of status request prior to your I-94 expiration date, and if you have not violated any of the conditions or terms of your visa, you can stay in the U.S. until USCIS approves or rejects your change of status request.

However, if USCIS rejects your change of status request after your I-94 expiration date, you will be considered “out of status” since that date, and you will have to leave the United States immediately.

And while awaiting a decision, you may not begin any of the activities associated with the requested new status until USCIS grants your request and officially changes your status.

FAQ #8: WHEN IS A CHANGE OF STATUS NOT NECESSARY?

If you entered the U.S. for business purposes with a B-1 visa, you are not required to change your nonimmigrant status if you stay in the U.S. for tourism until your authorized stay expires.

A change of status is not needed to attend school in the U.S. if you are the spouse or child of someone currently in the U.S. in one of these nonimmigrant categories: A, E, F, G, H. I, J, L, and M.

Additionally, if you are a vocational student with an M-1 visa, you may not change your status to any H (temporary worker) category or to F-1 (for academic students).

FAQ #9: WHY WILL YOU NEED AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY’S ADVICE?

Every immigration procedure is complicated. Every immigration procedure takes time and patience. It is easy to miscommunicate with immigration authorities, and it’s easy to make a mistake when you are trying to complete all of the forms and applications.

That is why, if you are seeking to change your immigration status, or if you are an employer seeking the proper visa for a prospective employee, you will need the advice and guidance of an immigration attorney.

FAQ #10: HOW CAN AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER HELP?

Immigration laws are changing rapidly. There’s a great deal of confusion and misinformation, and most of that misinformation is on the internet.

Immigrants and their employers need to have their questions answered by an experienced immigration lawyer who is reliable, trustworthy, and stays abreast of current developments.

Finally, you need to work with an attorney who is familiar with immigration procedures and laws because the penalties can be harsh for immigrants – and for employers – who fail to comply.

Get the advice and help you need. And don’t accept immigration advice from anyone but a qualified immigration lawyer.