Previously on the immigration blog we have covered the consequences of overstaying ones visa in the United States. The issue brings to mind two important problems with U.S. immigration in general. Firstly, if you are caught in the U.S. illegally, it could mean separation from your family and being put into removal proceedings. And secondly, even if you aren’t caught, having overstayed your visa in the U.S. will make it tough to be approved for an adjustment of status in the future (if this is the case), or applying for U.S. citizenship, or applying for any other type of immigration benefit.
This is because most USCIS forms ask applicants to clearly state their I-94 Entry/Exit record, which can be problematic if the applicant is unable to or is fearful or providing their information because they know they have violated an immigration policy.
This is where the I-539 form comes into play. The I-539 is a USCIS form that acts as an extension of stay if granted by the USCIS. This blog will be dedicated to better understanding the I-539 process, how much time an immigrant will have if they are granted an extension, and the eligibility requirements for filing this form.
There has been some confusion about who is able to apply for an extension of stay if they are a non U.S. citizen and are present in the country. Please keep in mind that the I-539 Form is for temporary residents in the United States. This means immigrants who are on temporary working visas, or students who need an extension of stay (which might usually be due to a logistical issue or graduating a semester late).
The I-539 is also not meant for any applicant who is here in the United States to try and pursue a green card and buy more time before they need to depart from the U.S. The I-539 asks every applicant very clearly if they have are filing for an I-485 adjustment of status or if they have immigrant intent. Clearly, applicants who are applying for an extension of stay need to make a case to the USCIS that they are simply looking for an extension on their existing visa instead of trying to circumvent their temporary status.
Fees and Extension Period
The I-539 has a filing fee of $370 USD. Applicants will be expected to also pay an $85 Biometrics fee and will have their fingerprints scanned again. In this event, an applicant could also be found ineligible or have their I-539 rejected if their Biometrics scan shows that the applicant is inadmissible to the United States based on a conviction.
The extension of stay is almost always guaranteed for an additional 6 month period. Nolo, a legal encyclopedia also recommends that the applicant who is thinking about extending their stay in the U.S. do so at least 45 days before your permitted stay expires. Otherwise, you are still violating immigration law. Applicants are allowed to stay in the U.S. after filing their I-539 while it is being processed by the USCIS.
The most important supporting documents that I-539 applicants need to attach to their application are ones that prove they will be returning to their home country, and simultaneously, that they have enough money/resources to stay in the U.S. for a given 6 month extension period (Nolo, 2021). These documents generally include the following, although the list is not exhaustive, and should be attached to ones application package:
- Any document showing the initial reason you would like to extend your stay in the U.S. These include letters from family relatives who would like you to stay longer at their residence, a doctors note citing a medical emergency, or police reports citing another emergency.
- A planned arrangement for departing the U.S. once the extension period is over.
- Bank account (checking or savings) showing that you have enough money to stay in the U.S. for the full extension period.
- A letter from a foreign employer that is giving permission to the principal I-539 applicant to stay in the U.S. for an extended period of time.
Overall, the I-539 form is a way for immigrants or other non-citizens to access an extension of stay in the U.S. for a limited period. It helps immigrants prevent problems if they would have overstayed their visa, and gives them a cushion period to remain in the U.S. lawfully. It should also not be confuses with a way to pursue a green card.