How to Extend a Visa with Form I-539

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Although temporary visitors to the United States enter the country with a planned departure date, it’s possible to extend the stay by filing the appropriate paperwork. With Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, visitors can request an extension of time to remain in the U.S. To be successful in gaining request approval, however, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the process as a whole and to be as accurate as possible when filling out the form.

Form I-539 is five-pages long and is divided into six parts. Much of the form is completely straightforward and self explanatory. In Part 3 of the form, however, applicants must be especially careful in their responses. It’s this section that’s used by USCIS to identify those visitors who aim to stay in the United States on a permanent basis. If USCIS officials determine an applicant has attempted to gain an immigrant visa, a correlation is made that the applicant intends to remain in the United States permanently and get a green card. Because visitors are granted nonimmigrant visas, applicants aren’t allowed to request a switch to an immigrant visa category.

Other questions in the section relate to brushes with law enforcement and ask about possible visa violations. Applicants must provide honest answers to each of these questions. Answers to these questions should also be straightforward, concise and well thought out.

The form’s other parts are largely self explanatory and can be filled out quite easily. Most applicants, for example, don’t have a social security number and will simply write “– none” in its space. Only applicants who have faced proceedings in immigration court or who have previously filed immigration applications will only have an A-number.

Form I-539 is used by visitors who enter the United States with nonimmigrant status. Among the most common of these are holders of B-2 tourist visas and F-1 student visas. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), Form I-539 is most often used by:

Certain nonimmigrants to extend their stay or change to another nonimmigrant status;

CNMI residents applying for an initial grant of status;

F and M nonimmigrants to apply for reinstatement; and,

Persons seeking V nonimmigrant status or an extension of stay as a V nonimmigrant

Visitors not in a category that requires direct sponsorship by an employer.

USCIS won’t grant an extension to visitors who’ve violated visa terms. Violations include matters like working illegally or committing a crime. It’s also a violation to remain in the United States with an expired visa if an application for extension hasn’t been filed. While USCIS does allow a one-week grace period, it’s highly recommended that extension application be filed before I-94 expiration.

Once the form has been completed, applicants must provide USCIS with supporting documents and fee payment. Documents include a front and back photocopy of Form I-94 for the applicant and the applicant’s family, a marriage certificate and birth certificates of family members included in the Form I-539 application and also a letter of explanation for the extension request. Additionally, supporting documents written in a language other than English must include a full English translation.  The Form I-539 filing fee is $290 and a fingerprinting fee of $85.

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