People visiting the United States for a temporary purpose, such as tourism or to attend school, usually obtain different visas that are grouped into a category known as nonimmigrant visas. The nonimmigrant status usually means that at the time the visa is granted, the person has represented that he or she has no intention of staying in the country long term. However, when a nonimmigrant visa holder changes his plans and wishes to stay longer, he is required to apply for a change or adjustment of status.
A person may adjust status from a nonimmigrant visa status to an immigrant visa status, or change status from one category of a nonimmigrant visa to another. For example, if a visitor on a nonimmigrant tourist visa wishes to change status in order to attend school in the United States, he or she can apply for a nonimmigrant student visa. Similarly, if a visitor on a nonimmigrant visa wishes to get married, he or she can apply to adjust his status to an immigrant visa or lawful permanent residence.
You cannot change your nonimmigrant status if your nonimmigrant visa is expired. You would have to leave the country and reapply for the visa you need from outside the United States. However, if your visa expired and you stayed in the country for a long period of time out of status, leaving the country is no guarantee that you will receive another nonimmigrant visa.
There are some nonimmigrant visa holders who may not change status while in the United States. These include finance visa holders and people who are granted nonimmigrant visa for helping the United States government by informing on terrorism and organized crime. If you cannot change status while in the United States, it does not mean that you cannot change status by leaving the country and reapplying for a different visa from your home country or from another country.
Additionally, some nonimmigrant visa holders, for example under the J-1 visa, are required to return to their home country for a minimum of two years after the end of their program. This means that they are not allowed to change or adjust status before fulfilling the two-year requirement if it applies to them. There is a waiver available under certain conditions. If the person holding a J-1 visa and his or her family members believes they will be subject to persecution based on race, religion, or political opinion upon returning to their home country, they may qualify for a waiver of the requirement. If a waiver is applicable, it may be possible to change or adjust status.
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Life can be unpredictable, and your reason for visiting the United States may change during your visit, and you may have to apply for a new visa in order to avoid immigration issues down the road. If you need to change your visa from one nonimmigrant visa to another, or from a nonimmigrant visa to lawful permanent resident status, contact us for more information and assistance on filing your application. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP.