Change of status, extension of status, and adjustment of status. Is there a difference and what do these terms mean?

As an immigration attorney, I often hear these legal terms mixed up. It is important to understand that each of these terms has a very different meaning in context of immigration practice.

Change of status applies only to non-immigrants who are physically inside the United States. Change of status occurs when a non-immigrant wants to change from one non-immigrant status to another non-immigrant status. For example, Joe is in the U.S. on a B1/B2 visitor visa. After vacationing for some time, Joe decides he wants to earn his MBA at a prestigious U.S. university. Joe applies to a several academic institutions and gets accepted. However, Joe cannot legally study on a B1/B2 visa. Therefore, Joe must apply for a change of status with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) so that he can legally study in the U.S. This will allow Joe to stay in the U.S. as opposed to leaving and having to get a new visa from his home country.

This is different from extension of status which also applies to non-immigrants physically present in the U.S. However, extension of status occurs when a non-immigrant wants to stay in the U.S. beyond the authorized period granted to them. For example, Samantha enters the U.S. with a B1/B2 visitor visa. The customs officer (CBP) grants her the maximum amount of time which is six months. After visiting her sick grandmother for five months, Samantha realizes that her six month status is about to expire. Therefore, she applies for an extension of status with USCIS so that she can remain in the U.S. legally in the same status she entered with.

The last of the three terms is adjustment of status. This refers to a non-immigrant who is applying for permanent residency (i.e., a green card) inside the U.S. Adjustment of status is not to be confused with entering the U.S. using an immigrant visa which is a different process referred to as Consular Processing. Both processes ultimately lead to the same thing, permanent residency. The difference is adjustment of status takes place inside the U.S. while consular processing takes place at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.

To learn about the difference between “status” and “visa” (which are often confused), read the article titled VISA VS. STATUS.

**THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO BE LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT. YOU SHOULD CONSULT AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY TO DETERMINE HOW THIS GENERAL INFORMATION IMPACTS YOUR SPECIFIC CASE.