A visitor's immigration status depends on the type of visa he used when applying to enter the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, compliance with the visa's specific requirements will determine whether the foreign citizen is "in status" or "out of status."
Nonimmigrant visa holders can apply to enter the United States for a time-specific purpose, such as tourism, education, training and temporary work. In contrast, immigrant visa holders can come to the States to live permanently. There are specific classifications for both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas.
Each visa classification has a specific purpose and requirements that the visa holder must follow to remain in status and stay in the States lawfully. For example, some classes of nonimmigrant visas do not allow the foreign citizen to work while in the States.
Some classes of nonimmigrant visas require registration with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Nonimmigrant students, exchange visitors and their dependents must enroll in SEVIS to maintain immigration status.
Failure to Maintain Status
Visa violations such as unauthorized employment, overstay or criminal activity can lead to being out of status. Both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement warn visa holders that failure to maintain status can lead to severe consequences such as arrest, inability to remain and ineligibility for future visas.
Change of Status
A current visa holder can apply for a change in immigration status if the purpose of her stay will change, such as if the visa holder entered the country as a tourist but now wishes to attend school. However, the applicant should continue to follow the requirements of her current visa until she receives authorization from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
U.S. visa holders should educate themselves about updates to U.S. immigration law and understand how any changes in the law could effect them. They should consult with a local immigration attorney if they have questions about their rights or wish to learn about the consequences of any change in immigration status.