For aliens who entered the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa, it is important for them to maintain their status and to engage only in activities consistent with the status. Aliens who fail to maintain status become deportable. They can neither change to said non-immigrant status nor apply for adjustment of status to permanent residence.
A foreign national who wishes to apply for admission into the U.S. generally applies for a visa at a U.S. consulate overseas. There are several types of visa classifications depending upon their specific purpose. Aliens who wish to come to the U.S. for pleasure are issued a B-2 visa. They are generally allowed three (3) to six (6) months to stay with a possibility to extend their status for another six (6) months.
Once a foreign national is legally admitted into the U.S., it is the date on the I-94 that governs his legal immigration status and the duration of his authorized stay in the U.S. The I-94 card is no longer issued. The foreign national can access the most recent I-94 admission record through the I-94 website. If the alien overstays or remains in the U.S. beyond the date on the I-94, the person becomes out of status.
If they overstay for six (6) months or more, they are subject to the three-year bar. If they overstay one year or more, the bar extends to ten years. The three or ten year bar means that if they leave they cannot reenter the U.S. until after three or ten years of stay abroad.
If a non-immigrant decides to pursue a different purpose or engage in another activity in the U.S., he has to apply for a change of status. An example is a person who entered as a student with an F-1 visa gets a job offer after finishing his/her studies in the U.S. Given the change of purpose of the stay in the U.S. from studying to working, the prospective employer may petition for a change of status on his behalf from F-1 to H-1B.
Likewise, a person who originally came as a tourist with a B-2 visa to visit family and friends may later on want to pursue studies in the U.S. Instead of going back to his country to apply for a new F-1 visa, the person can opt to apply for a change of status to F-1 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
An alien on a B-2 visa who files Form I-539 to change status to student, may not start classes prior to its approval. An F-1 student fails to maintain his status if he fails to maintain a full course of study or if he transfers schools without permission.
An F-1 student who decides to work in the U.S. may not begin working before the Form I-129 petition filed by the employer is approved. Also temporary workers fail to maintain status if they change jobs without authorization. Those who work without authorization also fail to maintain their status.
The alien is authorized to engage in activities consistent with the status he is seeking only through the formal USCIS approval of the application to change status. If the alien took on activities not allowed under his current status, the application will most likely be denied. It is therefore important that the non-immigrant not violate the conditions of his non-immigrant visa/status.