The day a child reaches legal age marks the beginning of big changes. This is not only in their own personal lives, professional ventures, or social relationships, but changes will also be seen in their status in the U.S. If they are not holders of a green card, their temporary visas automatically expire when they turn 21.

It is important that parents have a plan in place and arrange their children’s immigration matters long before they reach legal age. Here are some things to do to protect children and enable them to stay in the U.S. after they turn 21 without a green card.

Mark the Date They Turn 21

Naturally, a parent knows exactly when their child will turn 21 years of age. But in this case, they have to think of it in an immigration standpoint. They have to consider what case they can file for their child that will allow them to stay in the U.S. after they turn 21. Typically, a child turning 21 will already be in college, so a student or F1 visa may be available.

Make Sure to File on Time

The immigration process is not something that happens overnight. It can take months to years to complete. Most cases need to be filed six months prior to the date the change of status needs to happen. So for children turning 21, the case needs to be filed half a year prior to their birthday.

Think a Couple of Years Early

Planning for a child’s change of status once they turn 21 doesn’t have to wait until their 21st birthday draws near. It’s ideal to think a couple of years early, at least two years prior. In most cases, the immigrant parent might be able to include their child in their own green card application and show that they qualify for the child protection act to freeze their age for several more months.

Some immigration cases, such as those concerning immigrants from India and China, for example, face long backlogs with the Visa Bulletin. It can take several years for these cases to get approved, so the immigration planning needs to start when the children are much younger.

The key to protecting a non-immigrant child when they turn 21 is proper planning. As long as their parents have a good handle of their immigration affairs and get started on filing their child’s adjustment of status, they will be able to keep their children in the U.S. when the time comes.