USCIS Form I-539

Form I-539 is a critical document for nonimmigrants in the United States seeking to extend their stay or change their status without leaving the country. This application is relevant for individuals who are on a valid nonimmigrant visa and require an adjustment to their immigration status. The form allows applicants to request an extension of their current nonimmigrant visa or to change to a different nonimmigrant category, as long as they meet specific eligibility criteria set forth by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The process of filling out and submitting Form I-539 requires detailed personal information, documentation of current status, and alignment with the visa requirements for the status the applicant desires to obtain. Fees associated with this form vary, and there are specific filing instructions that an applicant must follow, including whether to file online, by mail, or in person. In some instances, supplemental forms and documents such as proof of financial support and a valid passport are also necessary.

Overview of Form I-539

Form I-539 is a document utilized by individuals in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa who seek to extend their stay or change their visa status. The form is processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Purpose of Form I-539

Form I-539, officially titled “Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status,” serves two main functions:

  • Extension of Stay: For nonimmigrants who wish to prolong their duration in the U.S. beyond the expiration date of their current visa.
  • Change of Status: For nonimmigrants desiring to change their visa category while remaining in the U.S.

To illustrate, an individual on a tourist visa wanting more time for exploration can file for an extension, while a student who has recently gained employment might change status to a work visa.

Eligibility Criteria

The eligibility to file Form I-539 is not universal to all nonimmigrant classifications. Applicants must fall within specific nonimmigrant categories, such as:

  • Tourists on a B-2 visa
  • Students with an F-1 status
  • Exchange visitors holding a J-1 classification

For comprehensive eligibility, the form’s instructions offer a detailed list. It’s paramount that applicants sustain the terms of their admission to the U.S., demonstrate a valid reason for their request, and file before the expiration of their current status. Notably, certain nonimmigrants, such as those on a Visa Waiver Program, cannot utilize Form I-539.

Application Process

The application process for Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, is a structured procedure broadly consisting of accurate form completion and submission of necessary evidence.

Step-by-Step Filing Instructions

  1. Review Eligibility: Applicants should first ensure they meet the eligibility criteria to apply for a nonimmigrant status extension or change.
  2. Complete Form I-539: The form must be filled out with precise and current information.
    • Online Submission: Applicants can file Form I-539 online through the USCIS website, a method recommended for faster processing.
    • Mail Submission: If submitting by mail, applicants should follow the instructions for the correct mailing address, which can vary based on the nonimmigrant status.

Required Evidence and Documentation

Completing Form I-539 demands the inclusion of several pieces of evidence:

  • Proof of Current Status: Copies of documents that confirm the applicant’s current nonimmigrant status.
  • Passport and Visa: Clear and readable copies of the applicant’s valid passport and current visa.
  • Supporting Documentation: Additional documentation based on the applicant’s specific situation, such as proof of financial support or a letter explaining the reason for the extension or change of status.

Applicants are advised to arrange the evidence methodically and according to the instruction guide to avoid processing delays.

Fees and Payment

When applying for an extension or change in nonimmigrant status through USCIS Form I-539, applicants must be aware of the specific fees required and the acceptable payment methods to ensure successful processing of their application.

Fee Structure

As of October 1, 2023, USCIS has exempted the $85 biometric services fee that was traditionally required for Form I-539 applications. The standard filing fee for Form I-539 is set at $370. Applicants should check the USCIS website or their notice instructions to confirm this amount at the time of filing, as fees may change.

Payment Methods

USCIS accepts various forms of payment. Applicants can pay the filing fee using:

  • Money orders
  • Personal checks
  • Cashier’s checks

All payments must be made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s important to note that USCIS does not accept cash. Further, when paying by check, the applicant’s name and address must be pre-printed on the check, and they should include the Form I-539 receipt number on the memo line.

Processing Timeframes

Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, has specific processing times that vary depending on several factors, including form category and the workload at the service center processing the application.

Estimated Processing Times

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines processing time as the period from when they receive an application to when they make a decision on the case. Applicants can find the estimated processing times for Form I-539 by selecting the form category and the office handling the case on the USCIS website. It is crucial for applicants to refer to their receipt notice for accurate information on their form, category, and processing office.

  • Current Estimated Time Range: The estimated processing time range indicates how long it takes USCIS to process your case. This range can update due to changes in workload and staffing at processing centers.
  • Receipt Notice: Essential for accurate estimation, the receipt notice informs the applicant of the service center location, which is necessary to determine the processing times applicable to their case.

Expedite Requests

In some instances, applicants may request expedited processing of Form I-539. However, expedite requests are granted only under certain circumstances, such as severe financial loss to a company or person, emergencies, humanitarian reasons, or if the request is in the interest of the government.

  • Criteria for Expedite Requests: USCIS has a clear set of criteria that must be met for an expedite request to be considered, all detailed on their official website.
  • Documentation Required: Providing solid evidence to support the expedite request is imperative for consideration.

After Submission

After submitting Form I-539 for an extension or change of nonimmigrant status, applicants will undergo a series of steps to process their request with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Receipt Notice

Once USCIS receives the Form I-539, they issue a Receipt Notice to the applicant. This notice confirms that the application has been accepted for processing. The Receipt Notice will contain a tracking number known as the receipt number, which is critical for subsequent case tracking.

Biometrics Appointment

Depending on the case type and applicant’s status, a Biometrics Appointment may be scheduled where the applicant’s fingerprints, photograph, and signature will be collected. As of October 1, 2023, USCIS has exempted the $85 biometric services fee for this form.

Case Status Tracking

Applicants can track the status of their case by using the receipt number on the Receipt Notice. Case status updates are available through the USCIS website’s ‘Check Case Status’ tool. By entering the receipt number, applicants receive real-time updates on their case processing stages.

Common Issues and Solutions

Navigating the I-539 application process can be complex, with potential hurdles like delays, requests for additional evidence, and the daunting prospect of a denial. This section aims to demystify these challenges and offer practical solutions.

Application Delays

Challenge: Applicants often face extended processing times which can disrupt their plans. Solution: To mitigate delays, applicants should ensure all sections of Form I-539 are completed accurately and submit the application well in advance of their status expiration. Tracking the application status online through the USCIS website provides timely updates.

Request for Evidence

Challenge: USCIS may issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) if certain information is lacking or needs further clarification. Solution: Applicants should respond promptly and provide all requested documentation in a complete and well-organized manner. It’s advisable to include a cover letter detailing the contents of the response packet.

Denial and Appeals

Challenge: In the event of a denial, applicants may be uncertain about the next steps. Solution: Applicants have the option to file a motion to reopen or reconsider the decision. Another route is to appeal the decision with the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), keeping close attention to deadlines and proper procedures. Legal advice is often beneficial.