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What Is Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status?

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September 27, 2022

Key Takeaways

If you’re in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa and you need to stay past your visa’s expiration date, you can apply for an extension using Form I-539: Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. To use Form I-539, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, complete the form and return it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and pay a $370 filing fee plus $85 for biometrics. This article explains how to fill out Form I-539 and who is eligible to use it to extend their stay in the United States.

Table of Contents

What Is Form I-539?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for processing Form I-539 (the “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status”). Certain nonimmigrant visa holders, including temporary visitors, who want to change their visa status or extend their visa length will need to use Form I-539. Applicants may use Form I-539 to prolong their stay under their current nonimmigrant visa temporarily.

Applicants requesting to change status may only change to other nonimmigrant visa statuses. Applicants can usually also list their dependents (spouse or children) as co-applicants on the same Form I-539 to extend or change their family statuses. If you have a qualifying familial connection to U.S. citizens or green card holders and want a more permanent stay, you may instead wish to apply for permanent residency. If this is the case, you may file Form I-485 instead to initiate the green card application process.

Who Is Eligible To File Form I-539 for an Extension of Stay?

You are eligible to file Form I-539 if you hold one of the following visa statuses:

  • A-visa (career diplomats and their immediate relatives)
  • A-3 visa (attendants, employees, or immediate relatives of A-visa holders)
  • B-visa (foreign nationals visiting for business or tourism)
  • CW-1 dependents (temporarily hired nonimmigrant workers)
  • E-visa (treaty traders, investors, and their dependents)
  • G-visa (foreign government representatives and their immediate family members)
  • G-5 visa (attendants, employees, or immediate relatives of foreign government representatives)
  • H-4 visa (dependents of temporary specialty workers)
  • K-3 visa (fiancé(e) or minor child of a U.S. citizen)
  • K-4 visa (dependents of U.S. citizens, including spouses and minor children)
  • L-visa (spouse or children dependents of intracompany dependents)
  • M-visa (vocational students and their spouse or children dependents)
  • N-visa (parents or children of certain special immigrants)
  • NATO-7 visa (attendants, employees, and immediate relatives of NATO representatives)
  • O-3 visa (spouse and minor children dependents of individuals with extraordinary abilities)
  • P-4 visa (spouse and minor children dependents of athletes and entertainers)
  • R-2 visa (spouse and minor children dependents of religious workers)
  • TD visa (spouse and minor children dependents of TN visa holders)
  • T-visa (trafficking victims and their spouse or minor children dependents)
  • U-visa (crime victims and their spouse or minor children dependents)
  • V-visa (spouse or minor children dependents of certain green card holders)

Be aware that your eligibility depends on whether you have violated the terms of your current visa. As long as you have not violated the terms of your qualifying visa status, you may file Form I-539. Common visa term violations include unauthorized work or criminal convictions. If you fail to apply for an extension to your Form I-94 (the “Arrival/Departures Travel Record”), you may also risk your eligibility to remain in the United States.

Who Isn’t Eligible To File Form I-539 for an Extension of Stay?

Certain nonimmigrant visa holders listed below aren’t eligible to use Form I-539 to extend their stay or adjust their status:

  • C visa holders (“alien in transit”)
  • D visa holders (crewman)
  • K-1 and K-2 visa holders (fiancé(e) or dependents of fiancé(e))
  • K-3 and K-4 visa holders (certain spouses of U.S. citizens, along with their dependent children)
  • S visa holders (witnesses and informants)
  • TWOV visa holders (transit without a visa)
  • WT and WB visa holders (individuals entering under the Visa Waiver Program)

Foreign nationals under the following visa categories face certain restrictions on requesting a change in status:

  • J-1 visa holders. Note that J-1 exchange visitors are subject to 2-year foreign residence requirements.
  • M-1 visa holders (vocational students)

Timeline for Filing Form I-539

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that applicants file Form I-539 at least 45 days before their current stay expires. Alternatively, USCIS recommends applicants should file immediately after realizing they’ll need to extend or change their visa status. Sometimes, if USCIS has approved you for another visa, you’ll need to file Form I-539 to extend your original visa stay if there is a gap between your original and new visa periods.

If you don’t file Form I-539 before your visa’s expiration date, USCIS may make some exceptions to this timeline if:

  • You faced extraordinary circumstances preventing you from filing on time.
  • The lateness of your application is reasonable.
  • You haven’t violated any of your visa status conditions.
  • You have shown that you are a nonimmigrant with no intentions of remaining permanently in the United States.
  • You are not part of any U.S. removal proceedings.

Guide To Completing Form I-539

Form I-539 has four main sections. The form asks questions regarding your biographical information, application type, processing information, and additional information about you and your application. Before beginning this form, you should review the Form I-539 instruction guide published by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Part 1: Information About You

Part 1 asks basic biographical questions about yourself. Question 2 asks whether you have an Alien Registration Number (A-number). A-numbers consist of eight or nine digits.

You will only have an A-number if you have previously been part of a removal proceeding at an immigration court. You should speak with an immigration lawyer before applying for your extension if you have an A-number.

If you have filed any previous petitions or applications online, you should have a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Online Account Number for Question 3. USCIS Online Account Numbers are different from A-numbers.

Question 9 asks for your U.S. Social Security Number (SSN), if applicable. You will likely only have an SSN if your visa status permits you to work in the United States.

Question 11 asks for your Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record Number. You may find this number on the small white card you get from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the border, or on the I-94 website. If the date on your Form I-94 has passed, your visa status has expired, so you may no longer apply for an extension with Form I-539.

If you entered the United States with your passport, you can write “N/A” in the travel document box for Question 13. If, since your arrival, the travel document or passport you used has expired, you should write the passport number and expiration date of the passport you used when you first received your Form I-94.

When completing your current nonimmigrant status for Question 15, write in your visa status. You may find the expiration date for Question 15 on your Form I-94. Nonimmigrants in the United States with J exchange visitor visa status should check the box in Question 16, since their Form I-94 may say D/S. If this is the case, you’ll be able to remain in the United States until your study program finishes.

Part 2: Application Type

Part 2 will ask you about your application type. You will note whether you are applying for reinstatement to your student status, an extension of stay in your current status, or a status change. If you have the same or a linked visa status with them, you can also include information about your dependents (spouse or children). If you include your spouse or children on this USCIS form, you might need to submit Form I-539A, the Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.

Part 3: Processing Information

Part 3 will ask you to input the date you’d prefer to leave the United States. This date must fall within the maximum period U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has granted you on your visa status. Question 2.a. asks whether you are basing your current application on an extension or change of status already given to your spouse, child, or parent. If so, answer “yes.”

In Part 3, you may indicate whether you have dependents you would like to include in your application. If you do wish to include your dependents in your visa extension, be sure to answer Question 3.a. with “yes, filed with this Form I-539.” If you want to include your dependents on your Form I-539 and USCIS has not yet decided on their application(s), you should answer “yes, filed previously and pending with the USCIS” for Question 3.a.

Part 4: Additional Information About the Applicant

Part 4 assesses your passport, visa, immigrant petition, and inadmissibility status details. The first questions of Part 4 ask you to input information such as your passport country, expiration date, and number. You’ll need to complete this section even if your passport expires. If your passport’s expiration date is during the extension period, you may renew it at a U.S.-based consulate of your home country. Your passport should typically be valid for at least six months before leaving the United States.

If your application references past applications for an immigrant visa, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may be alarmed. Immigrant visa applications signal that you are interested in remaining in the United States as an immigrant. Since USCIS is deciding on an extension on your nonimmigrant visa status, they may reject your extension because they suspect you don’t intend on eventually returning to your home country. Filing an immigrant petition is the first step toward applying for U.S. permanent residence. When USCIS suspects you intend to reside in the United States permanently, they likely won’t approve extensions of your nonimmigrant status.

Later questions determine whether you’re inadmissible to the United States. Inadmissibility happens when you have committed certain crimes or violated U.S. immigration laws. USCIS will use your answers from questions six to fifteen to determine whether you are inadmissible or not. If you have any criminal history, you may want to submit a copy of the police report explaining the circumstances. If you’ve committed more serious crimes, you should seek help from an immigration attorney before applying for an extension.

Visa violations, such as overstaying your visa, working without a proper employment authorization document (EAD), and misrepresenting your original length of stay intentions, can jeopardize your extension application.

What Supporting Documents Are Needed?

You’ll need to provide several supporting documents as part of your Form I-539 application, including:

  • Your printed Form I-94, which shows your complete travel record.
  • Copies of your passport pages (including any blank pages). Note that your passport must be valid for the entire duration of your stay in the United States.
  • Proof that you have enough financial support to cover your expenses in the United States for an extended stay.
  • A letter explaining your reason for extending your stay, why you can prove that your stay is temporary, and the impact your extended stay has on your foreign employment or residency options.

Form I-539 Filing Information

To file Form I-539, you will incur a filing fee of $370. You must also pay a biometric fee of $85 for yourself and another $85 for each additional co-applicant. In total, your filing and biometric fee costs will be at least $455. You’ll be able to pay with a check, money order, or cashier’s check. If you pay with a check, you should make the check out to the “US Department of Homeland Security.” If you’re filing at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Lockbox facility, you may also pay by credit card using Form G-1450 (the “Authorization for Credit Card Transactions”).

If your extension application is unsuccessful, you’ll still need to pay these fees. Even if you withdraw your application before USCIS makes a decision, you won’t be able to get a refund on your filing fees.

The following visa holders will incur no biometric services fee or filing fee for extension and change of status applications:

  • A-1, A-2, and A-3 visa holders
  • G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, and G-5 visa holders
  • NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, and NATO-6 visa holders

Applicants changing into or extending the following visas aren’t required to submit the biometric services fee:

  • H-4 visa
  • L-2 visa
  • E-1, E-2, E-2C, E-3, and E-3D visa

Most applicants mail in their Form I-539 to the appropriate USCIS filing address. Be sure to use the correct USCIS mailing address to ensure that they receive your completed application. If you send your application in by mail, be sure that your application contains a copy of each required document and a copy of your proof of payment.

If you don’t have co-applicants, you can also choose to submit the form online. To do so, you must have one of the following visa statuses:

  • B-1 temporary business visitor
  • B-2 temporary tourist visitor
  • M-1 vocational student
  • M-2 spouse or child dependent of an M-1 student, but only if the M-2 dependent’s visa expiration date is different from the M-1 student’s visa expiration date
  • F-1 academic student
  • F-2 spouse or child dependent of an F-1 student, but only if the F-2 dependent’s visa expiration date is different from the F-1 student’s visa expiration date

Conclusion

While nonimmigrant visas are not paths to U.S. permanent residence or citizenship, nonimmigrant visa holders may find themselves in a changing situation during their time here. As a nonimmigrant visa holder, if you become an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you may become eligible to apply for a green card. Applying for a green card can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!

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