Changing Status in the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program
Learn when it’s possible to change your status when in the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. However, if circumstances change and you wish to extend your stay or change your status while on the VWP, it’s important to understand the process and eligibility criteria.
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Understanding the Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program is designed to facilitate short-term visits to the United States without the need for a visa. It allows citizens of participating countries to enter the U.S. for tourism, business, or transit purposes for a maximum of 90 days. While on the VWP, you are generally not eligible to extend your stay or change your status, except under specific circumstances.
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Eligibility for Changing Status
Under normal circumstances, individuals on the Visa Waiver Program cannot extend their stay beyond the 90-day limit or change their status while in the U.S. However, there are a few exceptions when it may be possible to change your status:
a. Extraordinary Circumstances: If unforeseen circumstances prevent you from leaving the U.S. before the expiration of your authorized stay, you may be able to apply for a change of status. Examples of extraordinary circumstances include medical emergencies, natural disasters, or other events beyond your control. In the case of Visa Waiver Program entrants, USCIS typically grants up to 30 days for “satisfactory departure,” giving them extra time to leave the country. They may request additional 30-day periods of satisfactory departure. To apply, call the USCIS Contact Center.
b. Immediate Relative: If you marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident while on the VWP, you may be eligible to apply for a change of status to a marriage green card. Note, this option may be a challenge due to the 90-day rule.
c. Employer Sponsorship: If a U.S. employer is willing to sponsor you for a work visa, such as an H-1B or L-1 visa, you may be able to change your status while in the U.S. on the VWP.
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Applying for a Change of Status
If you believe you meet the eligibility criteria for a change of status while on the Visa Waiver Program, the following general steps can be taken:
- Gather Required Documents: Identify the necessary documents for the specific change of status you are seeking. This may include marriage certificates, job offer letters, financial documentation, or any supporting evidence related to your extraordinary circumstances.
- Submit Application to USCIS: Prepare and submit the appropriate application forms, along with the supporting documents, to USCIS. Ensure accuracy and completeness to avoid delays or rejection.
- Pay Fees: Pay the required application fees. Fee amounts may vary depending on the type of change of status you’re seeking.
- Attend Biometrics Appointment: If necessary, attend a biometrics appointment to provide fingerprints, photograph, and signature to complete the background check process.
- Await Decision: Once USCIS receives your application, the agency will review it and make a decision.
- Follow Instructions: If your application is approved, you will receive instructions on how to proceed with the change of status. If your application is denied, you may need to make alternative plans, such as departing the U.S. before the authorized stay expires.
In general, no. The Visa Waiver Program does not allow for extensions. However, there are exceptions for certain extraordinary circumstances, immediate relatives, or employer sponsorship.
It may be possible to change your status to a work visa while on the VWP if you have an employer willing to sponsor you.
If your application for a change of status is denied, it’s important to consult an immigration attorney immediately. You may need to depart the U.S. before the authorized stay on your VWP expires.
Yes, as long as you comply with the requirements of the VWP, you can travel outside the U.S. and re-enter. However, the total duration of your stay in the U.S. cannot exceed 90 days within a 180-day period.