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Immigration Immigration - Greenwood Law

Your Options for Changing Your Immigration Status


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants visas for specific reasons and purposes. When your reason for living in the U.S. changes, you need to change your immigration status to lawfully remain in or reenter the country. If you fail to change your status, you could be deported or denied entry into the U.S.

When You Need to Change Your Immigration Status

The U.S. divides immigration visas into two broad categories based on your travel purpose and immigration intent.

Immigrant Visas

Immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who enter the U.S. intending to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Examples of immigrant visas include those issued to:

  • Fiancés and spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Family members of green card holders and U.S. citizens
  • Certain professionals, investors, scientists, and athletes

Immigrant visas usually require a petitioner, also called a sponsor, separate from the applicant.

Non-Immigrant Visas

Non-immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals to enter the U.S. temporarily for tourism, study, work, or business. A non-immigrant visa holder intends to return to their country of origin rather than remain in the U.S. permanently. Some categories of non-immigrant visas include:

  • Tourists
  • Students
  • Temporary workers
  • Patients seeking medical treatment
  • Professors and students in exchange programs
  • Actors and artists
  • Athletes competing in tournaments or competitions

In most cases, you do not need a sponsor to apply for a non-immigrant visa. However, you may need supporting documentation from your school or employer to verify why you wish to enter the U.S.

Reasons for Changing Immigration Status

Visa holders typically change their immigration status in two circumstances:

  • Non-immigrant visa to non-immigrant visa
  • Non-immigrant visa to immigrant visa

For example, someone with a temporary worker visa might want to attend school on a student visa. Or a professor in an exchange program might decide to take a job at a university and remain permanently in the U.S.

Options for Changing Immigration Status

The U.S. provides two procedures for changing your immigrant status.

Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status happens while you remain in the U.S. In other words, you petition for a different status while remaining lawfully in the U.S. on your current status.

To adjust your status, you will apply before your current visa expires. If the new status requires a sponsor, that person will file the petition while your current visa remains valid.

The drawback of this process is that you must plan several months ahead. If your visa expires before or during the application process, you must leave the country.

Consular Processing

Consular processing happens when you apply for a visa from outside the U.S. This situation typically happens when you decide to change your status close to the expiration of your visa. You leave the U.S. as planned and apply for a change in status at the U.S. consulate in your home country.

The drawback of this option is that you can only re-enter the U.S. after your new visa is granted. Depending on the type of visa, this process could take several months to a year.

Learn Your Options for Changing Your Immigration Status

Immigration is a complex area of law with high stakes. An experienced immigration lawyer can help you review your options and work with immigration authorities to change your immigration status.

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