Maintaining Legal Status in Texas

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What Is Legal Status?

It is critical for noncitizens and immigrants residing in the United States to maintain legal status. Your legal status dictates your ability to continue residing in the U.S. and the activities you can participate in while in the country.

Legal status generally pertains to a person or entity’s legal condition. In U.S. immigration law, legal status refers to the visa category a person has been assigned. The visa category states the holder’s privileges, duration of their stay, purpose of their visit to the U.S. and whether they are lawful permanent residents or nonimmigrants (temporary visa). Violations of the privileges or restrictions of the visa can be detrimental to one’s legal status.

An immigrant’s or nonimmigrant’s legal status is directly related to their purpose for being in the U.S. As such, your activities in the U.S. are limited to the purpose of the issued visa. For example, when the Department of State provides an international student with an F1 visa, the U.S. government is stating that the person is coming to the United States to pursue higher education and their activities are limited to that purpose.

Types of Legal Status

Maintaining legal status heavily depends on the person’s purpose for coming to the U.S. Legal status types can be grouped into two broad categories: immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas.

Immigrants who intend to relocate to and live as a permanent resident in the U.S. must obtain a green card. Green cards or immigrant visas are forever renewable. These allow for all types of employment, not just contractual jobs. Green cards can also be a path to citizenship.

Temporary visas or nonimmigrant visas are an alternative to green cards. These visas are used for leisure, education, or employment and are good for multiple trips to the U.S. F1 student visas are a common type of temporary visa.

What Is an F1 Student Visa?

An F1 student visa allows an international student to enroll in traditional academic programs at an American university or college. Similarly, M1 student visas allow international students to enroll in vocational programs. These students are not characterized as immigrants since they are staying in the U.S. temporarily.

How Can F1 Students Maintain Legal Status?

F1 students have various restrictions from the time of their arrival in the U.S. until completion of their academic program.

F1 students can arrive in the United States no more than 30 days prior to the start of their program and must immediately contact their designated school official (DSO). They must contact their DSO again when they arrive at their school.

After their program end date, F1 students have 60 days to leave the U.S. International students can apply for a program extension, change education levels or apply for an adjustment of status if they wish to continue residing in the U.S.

During the course of their academic program, F1 students can maintain their legal status by:

  • Maintaining a 2.0 or higher GPA.

  • Maintaining a full course load each semester.

  • Attending all their classes and making normal academic progress.

  • Speaking with their DSO before dropping any classes or if they need to extend their program.

  • Receiving prior authorization from their DSO before working outside of their program. Undergraduate students and graduate students are eligible for curricular practical training and optional practical training related to their program of study.

Consequences of Losing Legal Immigration Status

If the worst-case scenario happens and you lose your legal or valid visa status, this means that you will lose the privileges attached to that status.

Due to the loss of legal status, you may encounter issues with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If the problems with your visa and legal status are not resolved, you may be deported or penalized.

Failing to maintain your legal status may also affect any future attempts to get a new visa. For example, if someone with an F1 student visa decides to work without prior authorization, they could be deported and also be barred from reentry to the U.S.

How Do You Get Legal Status in the US?

Applicants must follow the necessary visa application process and receive authorization from the USCIS in order to enter the U.S. legally. Understanding which green card categories are applicable to you and your situation is important for obtaining legal status.

If you are already in the country, you can utilize Form I-485, the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to request an adjustment of status. By filing for this adjustment of status, you may be able of obtain lawful permanent residence in the U.S. without returning to your home country.

How Do I Check My Immigration Status?

​​If you are in the U.S., you can contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 or TTY 1-800-767-1833. If you are outside the U.S., you can call 212-620-3418 or reach out to an international field office of the USCIS. You will need to provide your full name, birth date, and alien registration number (if applicable), or receipt number.

You can also request immigration records through the Freedom of Information Act or Privacy Act system.

Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law Can Help

The U.S. immigration process can be intimidating. It poses multiple challenges for those seeking to immigrate to or temporarily stay in the United States. An immigration attorney can provide guidance and assistance to those seeking to maintain legal status.

If you are concerned about your status, need to adjust your status or want to immigrate to the U.S., an experienced immigration attorney in Texas can help. At Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, we offer our services to immigrants and nonimmigrants who need us. Whether you are residing in or outside of the U.S., we work hard for you.

Contact us today for support and guidance. Our team is proficient in immigration law and can communicate in English and Spanish.