Change Status from Tourist Visa to Green Card | Guide

Most foreign nationals visiting the U.S. on a visitor’s visa can only stay in the country for a short period. When their duration of stay elapses, they must leave the U.S. to avoid being barred from returning to the U.S. for a long time.

Some visitors considering adjustment of status may be eligible to apply for a green card from within the United States and become lawful permanent residents. Adjustment of status is one of the best ways of obtaining an immigrant visa in the U.S.

As a result, these people can be legally present in the United States, get work authorization, and eventually become U.S. citizens through the naturalization process.

Although this is possible, many steps, restrictions, and conditions are involved in changing a tourist visa to a lawful permanent resident. The process can be long and complicated. This article discusses all the possible ways of seeking permanent residence in the U.S. while on a tourist visa.

How to Extend Your Visitor’s Visa to a Green Card?

If you’re planning to visit the U.S. for business, tourism, or both, you must acquire a B-1, B-2, or B-1/B-2 visa. These are temporary nonimmigrant visas that are processed by the National Visa Center (NVC) at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in your country to allow you travel to the U.S. for business or tourism.

Then, when you arrive at the port of entry, a customs officer will give you authorization to stay in the U.S. for a certain period, usually up to six months

However, if you wish to stay longer, you can apply for an extension before your authorized stay period elapses by filing Form I-539, Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The USCIS recommends filing this Form at least 45 days before the expiry of authorized stay, allowing you to remain in the U.S. for up to one year. 

Although the National Visa Center processes these tourist visas, it isn’t responsible for granting visa extensions and change of status requests. Instead, the USCIS takes charge of processing Form I-539 and considers several factors before approving these applications.

Who Qualifies for An Adjustment of Status?

The eligibility requirements to adjust status in the U.S. include:

  • Have been lawfully admitted to the U.S.
  • Have a valid nonimmigrant visa status
  • Have a valid passport that will remain valid through the extension
  • Not have committed crimes that can compromise your eligibility
  • Not have violated the USCIS’s conditions of admission

Changing A Visitor Visa to Green Card

Besides extending your tourist visa, you can also change it to a green card by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

The eligibility requirements for filing for adjustment of status application include any of the following: 

  • You have a qualifying family member (a spouse, child under 21 years, or parent) who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident
  • You have a job offer, and the employer is willing to sponsor you 
  • You’re a person with extraordinary abilities in arts, education, sciences, business, or athletics
  • You’re a victim of abuse, and human trafficking, among other related crimes

You may need a sponsor to complete the application. The sponsor must file an underlying petition form to accompany your adjustment of status application.

For example, suppose you have a job offer, and the potential employer is willing to sponsor you for an employment-based green card.

In that case, the potential employer must file Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker, before you can file for an adjustment of status.

How to Apply for a Change of Status From a Visitor Visa to a Marriage Green Card

Arguably, marriage is among the easiest ways a foreign citizen can become a permanent resident of the United States. If you have a visitor or tourist visa and you’re married to a green card holder or U.S. citizen, you may apply for a green card to live with your spouse in the U.S.

You should consider the below factors to avoid costly mistakes in your application. These include:

1. Eligibility to File an Adjustment of Status (AOS)

Some tourist visa holders can be eligible to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident status while in the U.S. However, others can only do so in their home countries through consular processing. Therefore, checking whether you’re eligible for adjustment of status before filing Form I-485 is essential.

Before applying for an AOS, you must:

  • Have been inspected and admitted or paroled into the U.S.
  • Be physically in the United States
  • Eligible for the marriage-based green card
  • An immigrant visa must be immediately available for you through the visa bulletin
  • Be admissible to the U.S.

Otherwise, the USCIS will reject your green card application. Additionally, you must ensure the immigrant visa is immediately available before you can apply for a change of status from visitor to green card holder.

2. Obeying the 90-Day Rule

A visitor visa is type of temporary visa that allows you to stay in the U.S. for a certain period. It’s proof that you’ve declared your intentions to leave the United States of America before your authorized stay period is over.

Therefore, if you marry a U.S. citizen or green card holder during this visit, the USCIS could reject your green card. This is because USCIS officers assume that temporary visa holders misinterpret their original intentions of acquiring a visitor’s visa.

However, you can still marry your U.S.-based spouse. But to avoid prompting the USCIS to deny an adjustment of status, you should not apply for a green card green card within 90 days from the date you arrived in the U.S.

This is because the USCIS uses the 90-day rule guidelines to determine whether your intentions for traveling to the U.S. were true. This rule states that a temporary visa holder who seeks a green card within the first 90 days of arriving in the U.S. is presumed to have misrepresented their original intentions. 

Therefore, obeying the 90-day rule can help you avoid many questions when the USCIS officer scrutinizes your intentions and reasons for your status adjustment application.

If you have complied with this rule and you have a valid visa, you can apply for adjustment of status to obtain a green card from within the U.S.

3. Marrying a US Citizen Vs. A Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card Holder)

The status of your spouse determines the procedure you must follow when adjusting your tourist visa to a green card. Here’s what happens in either of these two situations.

1. Married to a U.S Citizen

First, you and your spouse must file Form I-130 and Form I-485 simultaneously (also called concurrent filing), although you may opt for separate filing.

Your spouse must complete and sign Form I-130 to establish the marriage relationship and petition for you. On the other hand, you must complete and sign Form I-485 to request an adjustment of status and apply for a green card. 

Next, you must prove that your marriage is genuine and not intended for the green card application. Some of the documents you may give include: 

  • Birth certificates of children born into the relationship
  • Wedding photos, invitation cards
  • Photos of vacations as a couple
  • Evidence of joint financial responsibility

You must also pay the mandatory filing fees and include proof of payment in your application. Additionally, you must attend the scheduled biometric appointment and green card interview to complete the adjustment of status process.

If your application is successful, you’ll receive your green card within 5 to 24 months from the time of your application. 

2. Married a Lawful Permanent Resident

If your spouse is a green card holder, they must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to sponsor you for the green card. Once the USCIS approves this immigrant visa petition, you must wait to receive a visa number before filing Form I-485. This is because visa numbers aren’t readily available to spouses of green card holders. For this reason, the processing time takes longer, approximately 12 to 48 months.

Because of the long wait, your tourist visa may expire before a visa is available for you to apply for the marriage green card. In such a case, you must travel back to your home country to continue your application through consular visa processing. Otherwise, if the visa number is available before your current visitor visa expires, you’ll continue with the green card application process through adjustment of status.

You can avoid traveling back to your home country if you secure a tourist visa extension or another non-immigrant visa to stay legally in the U.S. If that happens, you’ll continue waiting for your visa number to file Form I-485.

Alternatively, if your spouse becomes a U.S. citizen through nationalization, you can change the application process to that of applicants married to U.S. citizens. 

Consular processing isn’t only an option for foreign nationals married to lawful permanent residents. Those married to U.S. citizens can also apply for a green card through this process if it’s more convenient.

Traveling Abroad After You Apply for Adjustment of Status

Despite the long green card processing timelines, you may need travel out of the U.S. to visit family, do business, for tourism, or any other eligible reason. Unfortunately, if you leave the U.S. with a pending green card application, the USCIS will presume that you’ve abandoned your green card. As a result, your application will be terminated. 

However, you can still travel abroad while waiting for an adjustment of status application to be approved. But first, to travel abroad after applying for a green card without jeopardizing your application for lawful status, you must secure an advance parole travel document by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. This document allows you to travel abroad without nullifying your green card application.

Visa Waiver Program in Adjustment of Status

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows foreign nationals from certain countries to enter the U.S. for business or tourism without a tourist visa. Usually, these visitors can stay in the country for up to 90 days. The program has some restrictions, including forbidding the visitors from seeking permanent residence or adjusting status.

However, there’s an exception to this restriction. For example, if you are a visitor under the Visa Waiver Program and an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, you can adjust your status to become a permanent resident. The immediate relatives include: 

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Children of U.S. citizens under 21 years
  • Parents of U.S. citizens if the citizens are over 21 years

VWP application is usually done online. First, you must find out whether your country participates in the VWP. Additionally, you must have an electronic passport to apply.

Next, fill out the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA) form online, pay the application fee, and retrieve your ESTA application number. This number allows you to check your application status online to know whether you can travel to the United States.

FAQs About Changing Your Immigration Status

How Long Does it Take to Adjust Status to “Permanent Resident”?

On average, it takes about 8 to 14 months to receive a green card through adjustment of status. However, this period may vary depending on several factors, such as the local USCIS office handling the application and the availability of a visa number.

How Many Times Can I Request The Extension Of The Visa?

Unfortunately, you can’t request a visitor visa extension as often as you’d want. Instead, the USCIS officer may grant you an extension for your requested duration. You must also justify your reasons for seeking a visitor visa extension. The maximum extension period is six months.

Does My Tourist Visa Still Expire If I’m Applying for a Green Card?

Your visa can still expire while waiting for a visa number to apply for a green card. If that happens, your visa will be automatically canceled, making you illegally present in the U.S. You may not be able to apply for an adjustment of status to remedy the situation. Instead, you must travel back to your home country to continue with the green card application through consular processing.

Can You Get Married on a Visitor Visa?

Yes, you can get married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident while on a visitor’s visa. However, you must be careful to respect the 90-day rule to avoid raising doubts about your intentions for traveling to the U.S.

Can You Get Married on a Visitor Visa and Get a Green Card?

Yes, you can get married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident while on a visitor’s visa. However, you must be careful to respect the 90-day rule to avoid raising doubts about your intentions for traveling to the U.S.

Can I go to the U.S. As a Tourist and Then Change Status?

You may be eligible to change your tourist status after entering the U.S. However, this shouldn’t be your original intention to enter the United States. This is because the USCIS may cancel your visa, deport you, or bar you from re-entering the U.S. if they find out you misrepresented your intentions to visit the U.S.

Can I Adjust Status on a Visa Waiver?

Visitors on a Visa Waiver aren’t allowed to adjust their status. However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, you can change your status if you’re an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or VAWA-based applicant under the visa waiver program.

Can I Work While Waiting on a Decision on My Adjustment of Status Application?

Yes, you can work while your adjustment of status application is still pending. However, you must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also known as a work visa, before securing a job.

How Much Does it Cost to File an Adjustment of Status Application?

The filing fee for an Adjustment of Status application varies depending on factors such as age and category. Fortunately, you can use the Fee Calculator to determine the accurate filing fees you must pay to complete your application. As of December 2022, adjustment of status filing fees range from $750 to $1225.

Should I Apply for a B-1/B-2 Visa or an ESTA?

B-1/B-2 visa and ESTA allow you to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism. You can extend your B-1/B-2 visa or change its status to an immigrant visa. On the other hand, you can’t extend your stay in the U.S. when you use ESTA, nor can you change its status. You can’t apply for ESTA if your country doesn’t participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

Can I Work In The U.S. On A B-1 / B-2 Visa?

The B-1/B-2 visa doesn’t allow you to work in the U.S. However, you may successfully change your tourist status to another visa that permits foreign nationals to work in the U.S. Alternatively, if you may consider applying for employment-based visa categories, such as the EB-2 visa.