What Nonimmigrant Visa Holders Need to Know About Change of Status

When you gain entry to the United States as a visa holder, you’re authorized to stay for a specific purpose. Your visa type defines the exact reasons you’re allowed to be in the US as a nonimmigrant. For that reason, you may be barred from certain activities during your stay. For example, if you’ve entered the country on a student visa, your purpose is to study—not to gain employment, which is why your student visa will typically prevent you from working in many types of jobs while you’re in school.

Those are the basic rules when you’ve entered the US on a visa. In reality though, life isn’t always so straightforward. If you are a student visa holder, you might decide that school isn’t working out and you’d rather look for a job. Should you simply drop out and start sending in your applications? The answer is no—you’ll first need to apply for a change of status.

What is Change of Status?

When you file for a change of status, you’re essentially applying to change your visa type to match the new purpose of your stay in the United States. You must file with USCIS using the appropriate form before your current visa expires. The sooner you apply, the sooner you’ll learn whether you’ve been authorized to start acting on your new purpose.

Remember that if you violate the terms of your current visa, you may lose your nonimmigrant status. As a result, you may become barred from returning to the US—and you may even get deported.

Who Can Apply?

If you meet the following basic conditions, you’ll generally be able to apply for a change in nonimmigrant status:

  • You entered the US lawfully with a nonimmigrant visa
  • Your visa is still valid
  • You have not violated the conditions of your visa status
  • You have not committed a crime that would make you ineligible

In some cases, you cannot apply at all. If you’re in transit through the US without a visa (TWOV), or you currently have a D-Visa, C-Visa, K-Visa, or S-Visa, you won’t be able to change your status for that particular visiting period. Additionally, M-1 vocational students cannot apply for a change of status to an F-1 (for academic students) or any H status (for temporary work) for a job that relies on vocational training you received in the US. Lastly, J-1 international exchange visitors may not change their status in two instances: if they came to the US for graduate medical training, or if they must meet a foreign residence requirement (unless you receive a special waiver in either instance).

When Do You Need It?

Whether you need to apply for a change of status depends on your exact situation. There are several scenarios where you might not need to apply at all. For instance, if you came to the US on a B-Visa for business purposes and you want to stay in the country for pleasure until your authorized stay expires, you don’t need a change of status. You can also forgo the application if you want to attend school in the US and you’re the spouse or child of someone with a specific visa category (such as the A-Visa for government officials, the E-Visa for international trade and investors, and the J-Visa for exchange visitors, to name a few).

If you’re considering a change of status, make sure you do it right. The seasoned immigration lawyers at Sánchez-Roig Law Firm, P.A. can walk you through every step of the process to ensure you understand the requirements, the restrictions, and the laws you’ll need to observe along the way. Give us a call for skilled help with your change of status application and dedicated service from start to finish.