Form I-539 Application to Extend or Change Your Nonimmigrant Status: The Full Guide

The United States issues nonimmigrant visas to people from other countries (foreign nationals) who want to visit temporarily. For example, there are visas for business trips, work, tourism, and studying. However, your plans might change after you arrive in America. If the reason you came to the U.S. is no longer the same, you may be able to extend your stay or change your visa type to match your current situation better. For this to happen, you must submit Form I-539 with USCIS. This guide will help you understand when you need to apply and what to do.

Here’s the important part: you can only extend your stay or change your visa status if you are eligible. There are specific rules for each type of visa. Also, you must apply before your current visa expires. Our guide to Form I-539 will explain in detail who can apply to extend their stay or change their visa status, how to fill out the application form, how long it typically takes, and more. 

So let’s get started!

What Is the I-539 Form?

If you want to stay longer or do something different than what your current U.S. visa allows, you might need to apply for a change. Form I-539 is how you ask USCIS to extend your current visa or change it to a different type.

Let’s say you came to the U.S. on a visitor visa (B-2) to visit family. While you’re here, you get accepted to a university. You can’t study on a visitor visa, so you must use Form I-539 to change your visa to a student visa (F-1).

IMPORTANT! There are specific rules for each visa type, so make sure you check if you qualify before applying!

Who Can File Form I-539 to Extend or Change Their Nonimmigrant Status? Eligibility Criteria and Requirements

If you’re currently in the United States with a temporary visa (nonimmigrant visa), you might need to extend your stay or change your visa type depending on your evolving circumstances. Form I-539 is the primary tool for many nonimmigrants to extend their stay or change their visa type. But before applying, you must understand who can and cannot use this form.

Who Can File Form I-539?

Extending your stay or changing your status is the most common scenario for Form I-539. Many temporary visitors, like students, tourists, and temporary workers already in the U.S., can use this form to request an extension of their current visa or switch to a different visa category that better suits their current needs. 

Other groups that can use the I-539 application include:

  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands residents seeking their first U.S. visa status. 
  • Sometimes, students with F or M visas might violate their visa status unintentionally. If that happens, they might be eligible to use Form I-539 to apply for reinstatement, essentially getting back into good standing with U.S. immigration.
  • People seeking a V visa (issued to certain family members of lawful permanent residents) or an extension of their existing V visa can also use this form.

Who Cannot File Form I-539?

As you know, USCIS has specific forms for different immigration processes. Choosing the wrong form can lead to delays and even rejection of your application. In the worst-case scenario, you might lose your filing fee as well. This is why it’s crucial to understand who cannot use Form I-539.

IMPORTANT! To extend your stay or switch to specific employment-related classifications, you must submit Form I-129 instead of Form I-539.

Do not use Form I-539 if you need to extend your stay or change your status for the following categories:

  • E-1 treaty traders and their primary employees
  • E-2 treaty investors and their primary employees
  • E-2 CNMI investors
  • E-3 specialty occupation professionals from Australia
  • H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, and H-3 visa holders
  • L-1 intra-company transferees
  • O-1 and O-2 individuals with extraordinary abilities and their assistants
  • P-1, P-2, P-3 athletes, artists, and entertainers, and their support personnel (P-1S, P-2S, P-3S)
  • Q-1 participants in cultural exchange programs
  • R-1 religious workers
  • TN-1 and TN-2 NAFTA professionals from Canada and Mexico

IMPORTANT! Family members who depend on E visa holders can use Form I-539 to extend their stay or change their status unless they wish to change to the abovementioned category. In such cases, Form I-539 is not applicable.

You might also not be allowed to extend your stay or change your visa status if you entered the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program or if your current visa category is:

  1. An alien traveling through the U.S. (C visa) or traveling without a visa (TWOV);
  2. A crew member working on ships or airplanes (D visa) or
  3. Engaged to a U.S. citizen or the dependent of such a fiancé(e) (K-1 or K-2 visa).

If you are a spouse (K-3 visa) of a U.S. citizen or their children (K-4 visa) as defined by the LIFE Act, you cannot switch to another nonimmigrant visa category.

However, if you hold a K-3 or K-4 visa, you can request a stay extension. You should do this while your Form I-130, filed by your U.S. citizen spouse, is being processed or until you complete your application to adjust your status.

IMPORTANT! Anyone holding a nonimmigrant visa from categories A to V cannot switch their visa status to K-3 or K-4!

General Eligibility Criteria for Filing Form I-539

  • You must have been legally admitted to the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa.
  • You cannot have done anything that would make you ineligible for other immigration benefits.
  • There shouldn’t be any reason you need to leave the U.S. before applying for a different visa category.
  • You must file Form I-539 before your visa expires (exceptions may apply in rare cases).

When Should You File For An Extension Of Stay Or A Change Of Your Current Visa Type With Form I-539?

If you’re eligible to use Form I-539 to extend your stay or change your visa type, applying before your current visa expires is essential. Even if your application for a new visa is approved later, you might still need to use Form I-539 to “bridge the gap” between the end of your current visa and the start of your new one.

Here’s why applying early is important:

  • Filing at least 45 days before your visa expires helps ensure there’s no gap in your legal status
  • Early application gives you time to address unexpected delays and avoid unnecessary stress.

What Happens if I Miss the I-539 Visa Extension Deadline?

In some rare situations, USCIS might excuse a late application if you can show:

  • The delay was due to events beyond your control, like a severe illness.
  • The amount of time you overstayed was minimal.
  • You haven’t broken any other visa rules while you were here.
  • You’re still a legitimate visitor with no intention of staying permanently.
  • You’re not facing deportation from the U.S.

IMPORTANT! When you apply to extend your stay or change your visa status, your passport must be valid for your entire requested stay in the U.S.!

What to Do If You Fall Out of Visa Status

If your visa expired before you filed Form I-539, or you violated your visa terms (like working without permission), you’ve fallen “out of status.” Unfortunately, changing your status in this situation is usually impossible, except in minimal circumstances beyond your control.

If you find yourself out of status, it’s generally best to leave the U.S. to minimize the potential impact on your future ability to return, as staying longer than allowed can negatively impact your future regarding other U.S. immigration benefits (like visiting America later).

What I-539 Form Edition Should You Submit to USCIS?

Starting June 3, 2024, only the edition dated 04/01/24 will be accepted. Until that date, editions from 05/31/22 and 12/08/21 are also valid. You can find the edition date and instructions at the bottom of each form.

When printing the I539 form to mail, ensure all pages have the edition date and numbers at the bottom. All pages must be from the same edition of the form. Your I539 may be rejected if the pages are missing or come from different editions. Also, USCIS will reject your application if you don’t sign it properly.

Where Should You File Your I-539 Form with USCIS?

You can submit your request to extend your stay in America or change your visa status online or by sending the I-539 package by mail.

How to File Your I-539 Petition Online

USCIS offers an online option for filing Form I-539. This can be a faster and more convenient way to submit your application to extend your stay or change your visa status in the United States. Here are the benefits of online filing:

  • It can get your application into the processing queue quicker than sending it by mail. This means you might receive a decision on your application sooner.
  • The online system ensures you’re using the most recent and correct version of Form I-539, avoiding any delays due to outdated forms.
  • When you file online, you can communicate directly with USCIS through your online account. This eliminates the need to send or receive paper documents back and forth.

Who Can File I539 Online?

Filing online for Form I-539 has some limitations. Here’s how to use the online system:

  • You can only file for yourself online. Applications with co-applicants (applying together) need to be submitted on paper.
  • You cannot have a lawyer or other accredited representative involved in your application at any point. You’ll have to file a paper application if you need legal help with your case.

The online system allows you to apply for reinstatement, extension, or status change for a specific list of visa categories. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Visitors: B-1 (business) and B-2 (pleasure) visas
  • Dependents: Spouses and children of various visa holders (E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T.D.)
  • Students: F-1 (academic) and M-1 (vocational) visas
  • Exchange visitors: J-1 visas

Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to expect when filing Form I-539 online:

  1. Access the online filing system using a computer, laptop, phone, or tablet. It will guide you through the relevant sections of Form I-539, ensuring you complete all the required information.
  2. You can pay your I-539 filing fee securely using a debit or credit card through the online system.
  3. Once you submit your application, you’ll receive a nearly instant notification in your USCIS online account confirming receipt.

After submitting your application online, you can use your USCIS online account for various purposes:

  • Receive a notification through your account for any required biometrics appointment (fingerprints and photo)
  • Get updates on the progress of your application.
  • Respond to requests, as USCIS might ask for additional documents or evidence during the processing. You can respond to these requests directly through your online account.
  • Update your contact details to ensure you don’t miss any important messages from USCIS.

IMPORTANT! Filing online can make submitting your Form I-539 application quicker and easier. However, ensure you meet the eligibility criteria and understand the limitations before choosing the online option!

How to File Your I-539 Petition on Paper

To view, print, or fill out USCIS I-539, use the latest Adobe Reader version. If you don’t have internet access, you can call the USCIS Contact Center to request that an I-539 form be mailed to you. Always use black ink when filling out the form on paper!

When you file, you must include all supporting evidence and documents. Generally, you should send photocopies of documents unless instructed to send originals. USCIS may request originals at any stage and will return them after reviewing them. However, if you send originals without being asked, USCIS may dispose of them.

You must provide a complete English translation if you include documents in a foreign language. The translator must must prove they are qualified for the job and the translation is accurate. This certification should include the translator’s signature, printed name, date of signature, and contact details. 

When you have the package ready – we will talk about the required documents in a minute – you should send it to one of the USCIS I-539 mail addresses corresponding to your current visa or stay status.

General Instructions for Filing the I-539 Form and Step-by-step Guide

Are you ready to file an I-539 to extend your stay in the U.S. or change your current visa status to an eligible one? Let’s get started!

Step 1: Gather the Required Initial Evidence to Submit with I-539

The following table outlines the initial evidence required to submit your Form I-539 application. It may seem extensive, but understanding what documents you need is crucial for a stress-free application process. Pay close attention to the specific category that applies to your situation. The table details the documents required for each visa category seeking an extension or status change. Reviewing this table carefully will ensure you gather all the necessary paperwork upfront, saving time and avoiding delays in processing your application.

Nonimmigrant Category Required Documents
General Requirements
Ambassador, Public Minister, etc., and Immediate Family
  • Form I-566, certified by the U.S. DOS
A-3 Attendant or Servant and Immediate Family
  • Employer's Form I-94 or approval notice
  • Original employer letter
  • Form I-566, certified by DOS
B-1/B-2 Visitor
  • Written statement
CW-2 Dependents of CW-1 Worker
  • Proof of lawful presence in CNMI
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129CW, or related I-797 Approval Notice, or CW-1's Form I-94
Dependents of Principal E Nonimmigrant
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797, or E nonimmigrant's Form I-94
F-1 Academic Student
  • Form I-20
  • Financial support evidence
F-1 Reinstatement
  • Form I-20
  • Financial support evidence
  • Proof of mitigating circumstances
  • If  you are more than five months out of status, provide evidence of exceptional circumstances
G Resident Representative and Immediate Family
  • Form I-566
G-5 Attendant or Servant and Immediate Family
  • Employer's Form I-94 or approval notice
  • Original employer letter
  • Form I-566, certified by DOS
H-4 Dependents of H Worker
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797, or H worker's Form I-94
I am a Representative of Foreign Media and Dependents
  • Employer verification letter
  • Relationship evidence (if applicable)
J-1 Exchange Visitor
  • DS-2019
L-2 Dependents of L Transferee
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797 notice, or L transferee's Form I-94
M-1 Vocational/Non-Academic Student
  • Form I-20
  • Financial support evidence
M-1 Reinstatement
  • Form I-20
  • Financial support evidence
  • Proof of mitigating circumstances
  • If you're more than five months out of status, offer evidence of exceptional circumstances
M-1 Extension
  • Form I-20
  • Financial support evidence
  • Evidence of compelling reasons for school transfer or practical training application
O-3 Dependents of O Alien
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797, or O worker's Form I-94
P-4 Dependents of P Artist, Athlete, or Entertainer
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797, or P worker's Form I-94
R-2 Dependents of R Religious Worker
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or I-797 Approval Notice, or R worker's Form I-94
TD Dependents of T.N. Worker
  • Relationship evidence
  • Form I-129, or related I-797 receipt, or TN worker's Form I-94
Extension of T Nonimmigrant Status
  • Form I-94 or I-797 Approval Notice
  • Law enforcement needs evidence or exceptional circumstances proof
Extension of T Derivative Status
  • Written extension request
  • List on Form I-539 Supplement A
  • Form I-94 or I-797 Approval Notice or visa
Extension of U Nonimmigrant Status
  • Form I-94 or I-797 Approval Notice
  • Law enforcement needs evidence or exceptional circumstances proof
Extension of U Derivative Status
  • Written extension request
  • Form I-94 or I-797 Approval Notice or visa
  • Relationship evidence
V Nonimmigrant Status (Spouse/Child of Resident)
  • Evidence of Form I-130 filing
  • Relationship evidence
  • To extend V status as an unmarried child over 21, provide proof of prior V status, an I-130 petition filed by the lawful permanent resident parent before May 1, 2001, and your unmarried child status.

Step 2: Follow USCIS's Specific I-539 Filing Instructions and Tips

Each Form I-539 requires your handwritten signature, as USCIS does not accept stamped or typewritten names as signatures. If your application is unsigned or the signature is invalid, USCIS will reject it.

If you need more space to answer a question in the I-539 application, use the space in Part 8 labeled “Additional Information” or attach a separate sheet. On each extra sheet, print your name and Alien Registration Number (if you have one) at the top. Specify the page number, part number, and item number to which your answer corresponds. Remember to sign and date each additional sheet.

Answer all questions completely and truthfully. If a question does not apply to you (like if you’re not married and are asked for a spouse’s name), write “N/A” unless the instructions say otherwise. For questions expecting a numeric answer, if the answer is zero, write “None” unless instructed differently.

USCIS will reject your application if any mandatory fields are missing information. This includes basic details about yourself in Part 1, such as your full name, mailing address, date of birth, and current visa status.

Part 2 of the form focuses on the type of application you’re submitting. Clearly state whether you’re applying for an extension of your current status (option 1), a change to a different visa category (option 2), or reinstatement of a previous visa status (option 3a). Additionally, in Section 3b or 3c of Part 2, specify the exact visa status you’re seeking.

If your application includes dependents (spouse, children), enter the total number of people included in your application on Form I-539.

If you’re required to submit Form I-539A along with your main application (Form I-539), the same principle applies. Part 1 of Form I-539A requires your complete name to ensure proper association with the main application.

Step 3: Pay the I-539 Filing Fee

Submitting Form I-539 comes with a filing fee, but there are some exceptions and details to understand before you pay.

The typical cost for filing Form I-539 depends on how you submit your application. If you choose to mail in your application, the fee is $470. Online filing offers a discounted fee of $420.

There are a few situations where you don’t need to pay a filing fee for Form I-539:

  • A, G, or NATO nonimmigrant status: If your visa falls under these specific categories (diplomatic or military personnel), you are exempt from the filing fee when entering or leaving the U.S.
  • Victims of trafficking or crime: If you have been a victim of severe human trafficking (T nonimmigrant) or a qualifying criminal act (U nonimmigrant), you might be eligible for a fee waiver.  

You can find more information and details on who qualifies for a waiver by reviewing the instructions for Form I-912.

Once you’ve determined the fee amount (if any), you can pay by money order, cashier’s check, personal check, debit, or credit card. 

Keep in mind that the I-539 filing fee is non-refundable, regardless of the result. This means you won’t get your money back even if your application is denied or withdrawn.

IMPORTANT! When submitting multiple forms with your I-539 application, remember to pay a separate filing fee for each form. Combining payments for multiple forms can lead to the rejection of your application!

Step 4: Attend a Biometrics Appointment and Background Check

After submitting your Form I-539 application and paying the fee, you might be required to attend a biometrics appointment. USCIS will typically schedule your biometrics appointment at a nearby Application Support Center. You’ll receive a notification in the mail with the date, time, and location. Getting ready for the biometrics check starts with gathering the required documents. Ensure you have the appointment notice and any necessary identification documents listed in the notice. 

A USCIS officer will collect your fingerprints, photograph, and signature during this appointment. This information is used for two essential purposes:

  • Conduct a background check on you, ensuring your safety and eligibility to remain in the U.S.
  • Confirm your identity and ensure you’re the person who applied.

Following the appointment, USCIS will use your biometrics to continue processing your application for an extension or change of status.

Have you done everything that was required of you? Good! Now, the waiting game begins!

Form I539 Processing Time: How Long Do You Have to Wait to Change Your Visa Status or Extend Your Stay?

Remember when we said you should submit form I-539 as early as possible? We said that because the I-539 processing times and timeline are lengthy and might ruin your plans in the U.S. 

The processing time for Form I-539 varies depending on your specific situation, visa status, reasons for extending your stay, the workload of the USCIS office handling your application, and more. 

The USCIS website offers estimated processing times for Form I-539 applications. These estimates can range anywhere from 5 months to 14 months, depending on the specific type of nonimmigrant visa you’re seeking to extend or change.

Can USCIS Deny Your I-539 Petition, and What Should You Do Then?

Receiving a denial for your Form I-539 application can be frustrating, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road. Here’s a breakdown of what you can do next, depending on the reason for the denial and your situation.

Consider Reapplying

If a minor mistake or missing information led to the denial, you might be able to reapply for the same or even a different nonimmigrant visa category. Carefully address the reason for the previous denial before resubmitting your application.

Explore Appealing the Decision

If you believe USCIS made a mistake in applying the law or regulations to your case, you might have the option to appeal the denial. However, not all applications qualify for appeals, so hire an immigration lawyer or consulting firm to get to the bottom of things.

File a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider

In some cases, if new evidence becomes available that strengthens your case or you believe USCIS overlooked important information, you could file a motion to reopen or reconsider your application.

Look at Other Options

If reapplying, appealing, or filing a motion aren’t possible, other nonimmigrant visa options might be available. You could apply for a different visa category or pursue permanent residency through family sponsorship or employment-based programs.

What Do You Do While Your I-539 Is Pending Approval? Can You Stay in the United States?

Suppose you filed your Form I-539 application on time before your current visa (indicated by your I-94 expiration date) expires. In that case, you might be able to stay in the U.S. for up to 240 days while USCIS processes your application for an extension or change of status

In other words, as long as your I-539 application is pending, you’re considered legally present in the U.S., even though your initial visa might have expired.

However, don’t forget to follow the rules associated with your current visa type while your application is being reviewed. For example, if your current visa doesn’t allow you to work, you cannot start working legally just because you submitted an I-539 application.

If your I-539 application is approved, you’ll receive a new I-94 document with an updated expiration date reflecting your new authorized stay. However, if your application is denied, you must depart the U.S. by the expiration date on your original I-94. If the denial happens before your I-94 expires, you have a grace period until that expiration date to leave the country.

Can You Travel While Your I-539 Petition Is Pending?

Whether you can travel depends on your specific circumstances, the type of visa you currently hold (like B-1/B-2 visitor visa or F-1 student visa), and the type of visa you’re applying for with your I-539.

For example, traveling outside the country might lead to your application being abandoned if you’re currently in the U.S. with a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa and have submitted an I-539 to change to a different visa category. If you still want to pursue the new visa, you’d need to start over, reapply, and pay the filing fees again.

Generally, for most nonimmigrant visas, we recommend you avoid leaving the U.S. while your I-539 application for extension or status change is pending. If you travel and leave the country, your application could be considered abandoned.

Do You Need Help Extending Your Stay in America or Changing Your Visa?

We’re here to help! Extending your stay or changing your visa status can seem complex, especially regarding form I-539 and its required documents. However, at ImmigrationDirect, we have experienced immigration consultants and lawyers who can lend a hand. We can guide you through the process, ensuring your application is complete and filed correctly. Don’t risk delays or misunderstandings! Contact us now for a consultation!

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