The process of obtaining a visa for entry to the US can be quite a complicated affair. It is hardly surprising that immigration lawyers have established thriving practices which are centered on ‘guiding’ foreign nationals through this complex and time consuming process. Moreover ever since the terror attacks of 9/11, US immigration law has also undergone many changes and this has made the process of obtaining a US visa even more tedious.
All the various US visas that are issued for work, study and also immigration to the US require personal interviews at local US consulates and embassies where the applicant is based. The wait times for these interviews and the supporting documents that are required for each visa application differ in every individual case from country to country. If you intend to relocate to the US to work or to study it is advisable that you start the process of applying for your appropriate US visa well in advance of the date of your intended departure to the US. Please see the following subsections for the various categories of visas.
Change of Status
Once you have entered the US on a particular visa it is possible to change status under certain circumstances, for example, if you have arrived on a B2 visa but want to enroll in a graduate school or a university where you have been accepted. In this case you can file an I-539 with the USCIS in order to change your status to that of a student (F-1) without leaving the U.S.
However if you want to change your status from a B2 (ordinary visitor) to an H (worker), L (transfer worker) or O (extraordinary ability) you cannot file the application yourself. In these instances your prospective employer has to first file the form I-129 and you have to return to your home country to make your visa application at the appropriate consulate or embassy.
Additionally if you are changing status to F (students), M (vocational students) or J (exchange scholars) or even B (visitors) categories from any of the work visa categories you can file the requisite form I-539 on your own. However, J visa holders have to have a waiver before they change status and M visa holders can’t switch to F categories.
Further you must apply for change of status before your current visa status expires. You might experience huge backlogs in certain visa categories but if you have applied to the USCIS and your case is in a pending state you will remain in a legal status even if your current status expires before you receive an approval. However, if your visa status has expired and your I-539 is denied you can face problem and complications. So it is advisable to actually return to your home country and make another visa application under the new visa category if you want to change status.