How You Entered The U.S. Determines How Long You Can Stay
For an immigration lawyer, one of the first questions for a client who is already in the U.S. is how did they get here. In particular, what sort of visa, if any, did they use to come to the country. Let's take a look at the impact that the way a person has come to the U.S. can have on their chances of being able to stay longer.
The United States accepts two kinds of back visitor's visas. The first is a simple 90-day visa waiver that allows easy entry, but the unfortunate effect for anyone seeking permanent status is that it also allows the government to kick them out with little effort.
If you obtained a B-2 tourist visa, though, you can stay 6 months. More importantly, you'll have the right to request an extension without leaving the U.S. first, although you'll have to request a non-immigrant temporary visa. Folks going this route also have the right to seek a hearing in front of an immigration judge rather than being summarily deported.
From the viewpoint of an immigration lawyer, starting with any type of visitor's visa is the worst way to seek more permanent status. The government expects people to honest about their intentions when they apply for visas. If you're in the U.S. on a visitor's visa, it may be worth the effort to return to your home country and apply for a permanent visa if your circumstances change and you want to stick around longer. Talk with a lawyer to see if that course of action might be best for your situation.
Temporary Protected Status
If you're leaving your country of origin because of civil war or disaster, you can apply for temporary protected status (TPS). This is a non-permanent visa that provides a preset period, such as 18 months, during which you can reside and work in the U.S. You can request a review when expiration approaches.
Work visas are granted to individuals who either have in-demand skills or those who are invaluable in assisting such people. These are often the best visas for people who want to reside long-term in the U.S. without becoming citizens, although it may be necessary to seek sponsorship from a U.S. company or a business with strong interests in the country.
Commonly referred to as a green card, seeking permanent residency is ideal for those who expect to be in the U.S. for the long run. This is especially the case if you will need to travel in and out of the country regularly.