When a person in the United States in one nonimmigrant visa (temporary) status decides to engage in a primary activity permitted only under a different nonimmigrant (temporary) status – for example, a B-2 tourist decides to attend school, or an F-1 student decides to take up other than school-approved employment – the nonimmigrant visa has two options:
1. Visa Processing at a United States Consulate Abroad
Under this option, the person leaves the United States, applies for the appropriate visa at a United States consulate abroad, and then re-enters the United States in the correct nonimmigrant classification. This option, often referred to as “consular processing.”
2. Change of Status Application
The second option entails an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request a change of status to a different nonimmigrant classification more appropriate to the proposed activity.
In short, some of the critical factors in determining whether an alien is eligible to change his status include: (a) whether the status the alien currently holds permits a change of status; (b) whether the alien is maintaining a valid status; (c) the timing of the application; and (d) the status to which the alien wishes to change. Each of these factors (among others) may render an alien ineligible to apply for a change of status, requiring the alien to consular process if she or he wishes to obtain a new immigration status.