If you’re a foreign national currently living in the United States on nonimmigrant visa, you’re allowed to stay in the country over the period specified in your visa—but you’ll have to file Form I-539, an Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status.
What is Form I-539?
Form I-539, also known as an Application to Change/Extend Nonimmigrant Status, is a form issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows foreign nationals currently living in the U.S. to request for an extension or change of visa status.
This form may only be used if you wish to change to another nonimmigrant visa status. If you’d like to become a permanent resident, you may wish to file Form I-485 instead.
Who may file Form I-539?
Your current visa will affect your eligibility to file Form I-539. Other factors that may affect your eligibility include whether or not you’ve violated the terms of stay by working illegally or being convicted of a crime, for example. Failing to apply for an extension to your I-94 can also place your eligibility to stay in jeopardy.
The following types of nonimmigrant visa categories are eligible to file Form I-539 for an extension of stay or change of status:
- A-visa holders such as ambassadors, public ministers, career diplomatic or consular officers, and their immediate family members (spouses, children, parents, and siblings)
- A-3 visa holders including attendants, servants, and personal employees of those who hold an A visa, as well as any immediate members of their families
- B visa holders including both B1 (foreign nationals who are visiting the U.S. for business) and B2 (foreign nationals who are visiting the U.S. for pleasure)
- CW-1 dependents
- E visa holders such as treaty traders and investors as well their dependents
- G visa holders like designated principal resident representatives of foreign governments and their immediate family members
- G-5 visa including attendants, servants, employees or officials or foreign governments, and their immediate family members
- H-4 visa holders, dependents of temporary specialty workers
- K-3 visa holders fiancés of U.S. citizens and minor children
- K-4 visa holders, dependents of U.S. citizens (spouses and minor children)
- L-visa holders, dependents of intracompany dependents (spouses and children)
- M visa holders, vocational students and their dependents (spouses and children)
- N visa holders, parents and children of certain special immigrants
- NATO-7 visa holders such as attendants, servants, personal employees of NATO representatives, officials, employees and their immediate family members (spouses, sons and/or daughters, parents, and siblings)
- O-3 visa holders, dependents (spouses and minor children) of individuals who have extraordinary abilities
- P-4 visa holders, dependents (spouses and minor children) of athletes and entertainers
- R-2 visa holders, dependents (spouses and minor children) of religious workers
- TD visa holders, dependents (spouses and minor children) of TN visa holders
- T visa holders, trafficking victims and their dependents (spouses and minor children)
- U visa holders, crime victim and their dependents (spouses and minor children)
- V visa holders, dependents (spouses and minor children) of certain permanent residents
Who may not file Form I-539 or faces application limitations?
The following nonimmigrant visa categories are not typically ineligible to adjust their status or extend their stay beyond the date that is specified on Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record:
- C visa holders, alien in transit
- D visa holders, crewman
- K-1 and K-2 visa holders, fiancés or dependents of fiancés
- K-3 or K-4 visa holders, certain spouses of U.S. citizens and their dependent children
- S visa holders, witnesses or informants
- TWOV visa holders, transit without visa
- WT or WB visa holders, those who enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program
There are restrictions pertaining to a foreign national’s eligibility to request a change in status for the following visa categories:
- J-1 visa holders, exchange visitors who are subject to the 2-year requirement for foreign residency unless a waiver is granted
- M-1 visa holders, vocational students
Exceptions for college students
There are exceptions for foreign national students who are in the U.S. on an F visa (in post-secondary academic institutions) and their dependents. If the Form I-94 contains “D/S” (which means “Duration of Status”) as the expiration date, which means that the visa holder may only be required to extend the underlying authorization, usually through an updated Form I-20, also known as a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status For Academic and Language Students. This is usually done only if the new Form I-20 is issued before the old Form I-20 expires.
It is usually the responsibility of the Designated School Official (DSO) at the academic institution to keep the F visa student’s information up-to-date, even if the student is transferring to a different academic institution. All reporting requirements also typically go to the DSO rather than directly to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or USCIS.
International students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT) typically have to secure a new Form I-20 to show that their institution approves their OPT before they can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by filing Form I-765 to USCIS.
M visa holders and some F visa holder students who do not have “D/S” marked as the expiration date on typically have to file Form I-539 to extend their stay or when they transfer to another academic institution.
When to file Form I-539
USCIS recommends that Form I-539 should be filed at least 45 days before the current stay expires or right after the applicant realizes his or her need to extend or change the visa status. You may also have to file Form I-539 once approved for another visa in order to “bridge” the gap between your current visa status’ expiration period and the validity of your future status.
If you fail to file Form I-539 before the expiration date, USCIS may make an exception if you can demonstrate the following:
- The delay was caused by extraordinary circumstances;
- The period of the delay is reasonable;
- There are no violations to the status otherwise;
- The applicant is still a bona fide nonimmigrant; and
- The applicant is not part of any removal proceedings
Guidelines on how to complete and file Form I-539
How to obtain the form
You can find a downloadable copy of the form on the USCIS website. Alternatively, you may also request for the form to be mailed to you by calling the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5289.
To request for an extension of stay or change of nonimmigrant visa status, you may be required to submit the following:
- Copy of your I-94, Arrival/Departure Record
- Passport copy (should be valid for the entire duration that you intend to stay in the U.S.)
- Copies of evidence of financial support
- An official letter explaining why you would like to extend your stay in the U.S, the reason why your stay is temporary, and the impact on an extension of your stay on your foreign employment or residency
A more detailed list of the requirements for filing Form I-539 depending on your specific nonimmigrant visa status cab be found here.
How to complete Form I-539
- Part 1 – Basic information. This section asks for personal information such as your name, address and country of birth. Your Alien Registration Number (A-number), USCIS Online Account Number, and U.S. Social Security Number may also be requested, but you can usually leave these areas blank if you don’t have them.
- Part 2 – Application type. Select the appropriate box indicating the intended purpose of your application. If you have dependents (a spouse and/or children), you may include their details in your application as long as their visa status is the same as yours or if their visa status is linked to your initial application. If you are including your spouse or children, you may need to complete Form I-539A, Supplemental Information for Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status.
- Part 3 – Processing information. This section may ask you to input the date that you would like to leave the U.S., which should fall within the maximum period granted on your visa status. If you have dependents (a spouse and/or children) and you would like to include them in your application, you may indicate this by selecting the option “yes, filed with this Form I-539” in Question 3.a.
- Part 4 – Additional information about the applicant. The questions found in Part 4 mostly apply to additional background information such as whether you (or any other person named in the application) are applying for an immigrant visa, been convicted of a crime or have ever violated the conditions of your current visa status.
Important information when completing Form I-539
- You can write “N/A” for questions that don’t apply to your situation or “None” for questions that require a numeric response, unless otherwise directed.
- All applicants are typically required to sign Form I-539 in black ink. Typewritten or stamped signatures typically aren’t accepted. Applicants under the age of 14 may have their parent or legal guardian sign on their behalf.
- You may receive a Biometrics Services Appointment from USCIS, which will indicate the date and place of your appointment where your fingerprints, photograph, and/or signature will usually be taken to confirm your identity.
- Supporting documents should be legible photocopies unless USCIS specifies that original documents are required. If you provide original documents and they are not requested, USCIS may destroy them. If an original document is required, USCIS will generally return it to you.
- If any information is written in a language other than English, you must include a certified English translation to confirm that the translation is complete and accurate.
- If you are in the middle of removal (deportation) proceedings, consult with an immigration lawyer before filing Form I-539 as USCIS may be unlikely to issue an extension or change of status in such cases.
- If USCIS grants your request for an extension and you have included your family members on your application, the extension will apply for all individuals named.
How much does it cost to file Form I-539?
The filing fee for Form I-539 is $370, except for specific A, G and NATO nonimmigrant visa holders who are typically not required to pay the filing fee.
An additional $85 is also due for biometric services, if requested. However, A, G and NATO visa nonimmigrant visa holders are typically exempt from the filing fee.
Payments may be made by check or money order and made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; abbreviations will not be accepted. If you wish to pay with a credit card at a USCIS Lockbox facility, you may also have to file Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.
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