If you’re currently in the U.S. there are typically two visa options for you. One, extend your stay on your current visa status. Or two, change your status by applying for a different visa or for U.S. permanent residency. This article will explore both options.

There is a third reason for asking this question. If you’re an undocumented immigrant and hoping to get legal status while still in the U.S., your options are limited. We recommend that you seek the advice of an immigration attorney.

How to Extend Your Visa in the U.S.

You can apply to extend your visa stay with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To apply, you should file Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Do this before your visa expires; the USCIS recommends you file at least 45 days before the expiration of your visa.

Not everyone can apply to extend their stay. You must meet the following requirements to be eligible:

  • You were lawfully admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa
  • Your nonimmigrant visa status remains valid
  • You have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa
  • You have not violated the conditions of your admission
  • Your passport is valid and will remain valid for the duration of your stay

Certain visas are not eligible for extensions. If you were admitted through one of the following categories, you cannot extend your stay:

  • Visa Waiver Program
  • Crew member (D nonimmigrant visa)
  • In transit through the United States (C nonimmigrant visa)
  • In transit through the United States without a visa (TWOV)
  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or dependent of a fiancé (K nonimmigrant visa)
  • Informant (and accompanying family) on terrorism or organized crime (S nonimmigrant visa)

How to Apply for a Different Visa Status

If you are currently in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa and want to apply for a different nonimmigrant visa, you will need to request this change with the USCIS.

There are over 40 nonimmigrant visa categories and each is used for a different purpose and has its own set of eligibility requirements. Before you apply for a different visa, be sure that you meet the eligibility requirements of that visa.

If you are applying for an employment-based visa, your prospective employer should file the USCIS Form 1-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker. In general, if you are applying for a different visa type (not employment-based) you should file the USCIS form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

In order to be eligible for a change of status, you must also meet the following requirements:

  • You were lawfully admitted into the United States as a nonimmigrant
  • You have not committed any act that would make you ineligible to receive an immigration benefit
  • There is no other factor that requires you to depart the United States prior to making a reentry based on a different classification (for example, a USCIS officer may determine that you should obtain a new visa prior to being readmitted into the United States)
  • You submit an application for a change of status by mail or you can file online using USCIS ELIS for a change of status before the expiration date as shown on the admission stamp in your travel document on your Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. (There are certain very limited circumstances under which USCIS will excuse a late submission.)

If you were admitted to the U.S. in any of the following nonimmigrant  categories you cannot change your status and must leave the U.S. when your current visa expires:

  • Visa Waiver Program
  • Crew member (D nonimmigrant visa)
  • In transit through the United States (C nonimmigrant visa)
  • In transit through the United States without a visa (TWOV)
  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or dependent of a fiancé (K nonimmigrant visa)
  • Informant (and accompanying family) on terrorism or organized crime (S nonimmigrant visa)