Change Visa Status - How to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status
- Why Would I Need to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status?
- Am I Eligible to Change Visa Status?
- How Do I Apply to Change Visa Status?
- How Do My Spouse and Child Apply to Change Visa Status?
- When Should I Apply to Change Visa Status?
- What If I File Late?
- What If I File on Time but USCIS Does Not Make A Decision Before My I-94 Expires?
- Checking the Status of My Application
- How Can I Appeal If I am Denied?
- HELP! with Changing My Visa Status
Why Would I Need to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status?
A nonimmigrant temporarily enters the United States for a specific purpose such as business, study, temporary employment or pleasure. When you are admitted into the United States, a U.S. official assigns you a nonimmigrant visa category according to the purpose of your visit. If you want to change the purpose of your visit while you are in the United States, then you or, in some cases, your employer must ask the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to change your nonimmigrant visa status.
For instance, if you arrived here as a tourist, but want to become a student, you must submit an application to change your visa status with the USCIS. If you do not apply to change your nonimmigrant visa status, you will be breaking U.S. immigration laws. Proof that you are willing to obey U.S. laws may be important if you want to travel to the United States as an immigrant or nonimmigrant in the future. You may also become subject to removal (deportation) if you break U.S. immigration laws.
Am I Eligible to Change Visa Status?
To find out who may apply to change nonimmigrant visa status, please see Change Visa Status - Am I Eligible to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status?
How Do I Apply to Change Visa Status?
For the following visa categories of nonimmigrants, your employer should carefully read and file USCIS Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) and any required supporting documentation before your Form I-94 expires:
E-1 or E-2 – Treaty Traders and Investors
H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, or H-3 – Temporary Workers
L-1A or L-1B – Intracompany Transferees
O-1 or O-2 – Aliens of Extraordinary Ability
P-1, P-2, or P-3 – Entertainers and Athletes
Q-1 – Participants in International Cultural Exchange Programs
R-1 – Religious Workers
TN-1 or TN-2 – Canadians and Mexicans under NAFTA
If you are in the following nonimmigrant visa categories, you should carefully read and complete USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) and submit any required supporting documents before your Form I-94 expires:
A - Diplomatic and other Government officials, and their families and employees.
B-1 or B-2 – Temporary Visitors for business or pleasure
E – Dependents of Treaty Traders and Investors
F – Academic Students and their families
G – Representatives to International Organizations and their families and employees.
H-4 – Dependents of Temporary Workers
K-3 or K-4 – Spouse of US Citizen and Minor Child Accompanying / Following to Join
L-2 – Dependents of Intracompany Transferees
M – Vocational Students and their families
N – Parents and children of the people who have been granted special immigrant status because their parents were employed by an international organization in the United States.
NATO – NATO Representatives, Officials, Employees, and Immediate Family Members
O-3 – Dependents of Aliens with Extraordinary Ability
P-4 – Dependents of Athletes and Entertainers
R-2 – Dependents of Religious Workers
TD – Dependents of TN (Canadians and Mexicans under NAFTA)
The application and correct fee should be mailed to the location indicated in the form instructions. Forms are available online, or by calling 1-800-870-3676, or by submitting an online request to receive forms by mail. Further information on forms, filing fees, and fee waivers is available in USCIS Forms / INS Forms and Other US Immigration Forms, Fees & Filing Locations.
How Do My Spouse and Child Apply to Change Visa Status?
If your employer files USCIS Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) for you, then your spouse and child must carefully read and complete USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) and submit any required supporting documents to change to a new nonimmigrant visa category. It is best to submit both forms at the same time.
If you are filing USCIS Form I-539 for your own extension, you may include your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 in your application if you are all in the same nonimmigrant visa category, or if your spouse and children were given derivative nonimmigrant status. Derivative nonimmigrant status means that your spouse and children were given nonimmigrant visas based on your nonimmigrant status. For instance, if a student is given an F-1 "Academic Student" visa, then the spouse and child are given F-2 "Spouse and Child of an Academic Student" visas.
When Should I Apply to Change Visa Status?
You should apply as soon as you determine that you need to change to a different nonimmigrant visa category. You must apply to change your nonimmigrant visa category before you current nonimmigrant visa status expires (at least 60 days is recommended by USCIS). Also, do not start new employment without first being approved for your change of status. The date your status expires can be found in the lower right-hand corner of your USCIS Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). You should have received an USCIS Form I-94 when you legally entered the United States. For more information, please see:
- I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) (this also explains how to obtain a replacement)
- Length of Stay is Determined by My I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) -- NOT My Visa
- The delay was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond your control;
- The length of the delay was reasonable;
- You have not done anything else to violate your nonimmigrant visa status (such as work without USCIS approval);
- You are still a nonimmigrant (you are not trying to become a permanent resident of the United States and obtain a Green Card; there are some exceptions); and
- You are not in formal proceedings to remove (deport) you from the country.
What If I File on Time but USCIS Does Not Make A Decision Before My I-94 Expires?
If USCIS receives your application before your visa status expires (in exceptional cases, they may excuse filing after your visa status expires due to circumstances beyond your control), and if you have not violated the terms of your visa status and you meet the basic eligibility requirements, you may remain in the United States until USCIS makes a decision on your application. However, you cannot start the activities allowed by the visa status for which you are applying until your application is approved and your visa status is changed. In addition, once your original nonimmigrant visa status expires, even though you generally will be allowed to remain in the United States while your extension of stay application is pending, you will not be considered to be in any nonimmigrant status until your change of status application is approved. Therefore, you may not, for example, engage in employment during this period, even if your original nonimmigrant visa status would have allowed you to do so. If USCIS denies your change of visa status application, you will be considered “out of status” as of the date that your original nonimmigrant status expired, and you must depart the United States immediately after you are notified of the denial.
Checking the Status of My Application
You may check the status of your application or case online, by phone, or by contacting an appropriate USCIS office. For details see USCIS Case Status: Check USCIS Case Status for Visas and Immigration. You may also want to review US Visa Wait Times and USCIS Immigration Processing Times. For more assistance, see HELP! (below).
How Can I Appeal If I am Denied?
If your application to change your nonimmigrant visa status is denied, you will receive a letter that will tell you why the application was denied. You will not be allowed to appeal a negative decision to a higher authority. However, you may submit a motion to reopen or a motion to reconsider with the same office that made the unfavorable decision. By filing these motions, you are asking the office to either reexamine or reconsider their decision. A motion to reopen must state the new facts that are to be provided in the reopened proceeding and must be accompanied by affidavits or other documentary evidence. A motion to reconsider must establish that the decision was based on an incorrect application of law or USCIS policy, and further establish that the decision was incorrect based on the evidence in the file at the time the decision was made.
- Have a specific question? To help you find an answer quickly, we have placed "Ask a Visa & Immigration Lawyer" boxes on this page. Simply type a question in any of the boxes to receive a response online from a visa and immigration lawyer.
- You may also contact your nearest USCIS District office or Sub Office or call the national USCIS toll-free information service at 1-800-375-5283. Be aware that if you have broken immigration laws, you may be subject to removal (deportation) from the U.S.
- You may also want to seek the advice of an immigration attorney (this link will help you find the right lawyer for your case), or an immigrant assistance organization. A list of accredited organizations and individuals is maintained by the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which also maintains a list of free legal service providers.