U.S. Residency Status Extensions, Changes, and Adjustments
Extensions of Status and Changes of Status
Individuals who entered the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa may be eligible to apply for extensions of status or changes of status by submitting applications to USCIS. However, persons who entered the country without a visa (using ESTA) may file such applications only in exceptional cases.
In addition, one must be careful whether, how, and when to file such petitions and applications because the filing of such applications can lead to fraud charges if, for example, there is circumstantial evidence that one intended to enter with one status upon entry (e.g., as a tourist on a B visa) and soon thereafter apply for a change of status (e.g., to F-1 student status).
If the application for extension or change of status is approved, one gets a new I-94 document. If one leaves the U.S., however, one will:
• need a new visa for a status extension if the old one has already expired, and
• need a new visa for a change of status to enter the U.S. with the new status.
Adjustment of Status
An adjustment of status is an application filed in the U.S. to obtain a green card after entering the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa (or as a recognized refugee). Adjustment of status allows one to remain in the U.S. without having to leave to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa outside the U.S.
Before or at the same time as applying for adjustment of status, a petition must usually also be approved. The petition is used to lay the groundwork for adjustment of status, such as employment or marriage to a U.S. citizen.
As with status extensions and status changes, you generally cannot petition for adjustment of status if you entered visa-free (using ESTA). However, there is an exception for close relatives of U.S. citizens, namely:
• unmarried children under the age of 21, and
• Parents (provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21-years-old).
Even if you qualify for adjustment of status in principle, e.g., as a close relative of a U.S. citizen, you must be careful not to be accused of fraud, e.g., intentionally entering the country on a visa that does not allow for immigration intentions, only to apply for a green card shortly thereafter through adjustment of status.