Foreign nationals who are residing in the U.S. and want to change, extend, initiate, or reinstate their nonimmigrant status without having to leave the country and apply for a new visa abroad normally do so by filing Form I-539 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). As with most USCIS applications, there's a basic filing fee, plus additional fees for particular forms or situations. In addition, you might have to pay related costs, such as for an attorney, as discussed in this article.
In most types of immigration cases, the Form I-539 fee is $370 (2022 figure; doublecheck all fees, as USCIS regularly raises them).
Each applicant and co-applicant (who must submit Form I-539A) must also pay a biometrics fee, so as to have the required fingerprints and photograph taken at a local USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). The biometrics fee is $85 (2022 figure).
In May 2021, USCIS suspended for two years the biometrics fee for persons applying for extensions of E-1, E-2, E-3, H-4, or L-2 status. The temporary suspension is to allow USCIS to address backlogs and delays that the COVID-19 pandemic created. Be sure to check and double-check all filing and biometrics fees to avoid having USCIS reject your application.
Moreover, as described below, USCIS requires additional fees of some applicants (usually in cases where you have to submit additional forms.)
Some applicants do not have to pay a fee, however. Also, applicants who are low income can ask that the USCIS fees be waived.
This form is commonly used for family dependents of people on work visas, as well as students and visitors in the United States. For example, a visitor or a spouse of someone on a work visa who wishes to extend their permitted time in the U.S., or a student who needs to reinstate their F-1 status, would submit Form I-539.
This form is not used for all nonimmigrant visa categories. What's more, it's not always clear, even in the instructions for the form, as to when its use is specifically required. Therefore, it is important to consult an attorney regarding whether you need to use Form I-539 for the purposes you have in mind.
It is critically important that you use the most up-to-date I-539 form and pay the latest USCIS filing fee. If one or the other is incorrect, USCIS will reject the application, which could affect your status and ability to remain legally in the United States.
While most applicants filing Form I-539 will pay the regular amount (the 2022 figure being $370 plus $85 for biometrics per person; unless you fall into the biometrics exception above), you will need to double-check the exact amount, depending on what immigration benefit you are requesting. You might also need to use different or supplemental USCIS forms.
People requesting diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2, G-1 through G-4, and NATO) need not pay the $370 fee. However, they must include a Form I-566 (Interagency Record of Request—A, G or NATO Dependent Employment Authorization or Change/Adjustment to/from A, G or NATO Status) with their application.
People applying for V visas must pay the biometrics fee in addition to the basic I-539 fee. V visa applicants should also read Form I-539A, which is an informational form that includes additional instructions about the V visa application and is also available on USCIS's I-539 page.
Where and how you'll pay your fees depends in part on your own choice, and on whether you'll file by mail or online.
If submitting your I-539 by mail, you can pay by check or money order or in some cases, by credit card.
Be careful when paying by check or money order: If the amount is not exactly correct, the application will be rejected, thus impacting your ability to stay in the United States. When filing multiple applications, you can include all the fees in one check. However, it's best to send separate checks, because if one or more applications are rejected, all will be rejected if all the fees are included in one check. USCIS will not accept overpayments, nor will it refund partial payments.
Fees paid by check or money order must be drawn on a bank or other financial institution located in the U.S., and must be payable in U.S. currency. Make it out to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security." Spell this out as opposed to using initials such as "USDHS."
Be sure to check the filing address before submitting your application: You need to see the word "Lockbox," because if you're mailing to one of the regular USCIS Service Centers, you might not be able (yet) to pay by credit card. USCIS began expanding the acceptance of credit card payments at the regular service centers, but as of early 2022, the implementation has been haphazard. Also, be aware that if you're submitting multiple applications, or if you're submitting your I-539 application with the I-129 petition of your spouse's or parent's employer, all filing fees must be in the same form. You must pay all filing fees by check or all filing fees by credit card and not one by credit card and another by check.
USCIS permits Form I-539 to be filed online (sometimes called e-filing) for some, but not all, visa classifications. When e-filing Form I-539, you can make payment via credit card, debit card, or electronic transfer of funds from a checking or savings account from a U.S. bank.
USCIS now offers online filing for most visa categories. Also, unlike the early days of online filing of Form I-539, when people had to submit the electronic application and pay the fee online and then print and send it by mail to USCIS with supporting documents, you now can upload supporting documents from within your online account.
If you find yourself up against a deadline, such as your status expiring today, such that not even sending your application by overnight courier would get it to USCIS on time (until after your status has expired), online filing can be an especially useful option.
When applying for certain benefits, USCIS allows applicants to request a waiver of some fees (per 8 C.F.R. Section 103.7(c)(3)). In particular, anyone required to pay the biometrics fee can request a waiver. Dependents of the E-2 CNMI Investor Visa are also eligible to request a waiver of the Form I-539 filing fee.
See USCIS's website for more information on fee waivers.
You don't necessarily need to pay a lawyer to help you, if you have a simple situation, you understand the laws, and you easily qualify to extend or change your visa status.
However, if you are unsure about any aspect of the rules, have any special circumstances, or just want to make sure it's done right the first time, it's a good idea to hire a lawyer. As with many USCIS applications, the documentation needed to obtain the benefit can be confusing and complex. Having an attorney handle the application can help ensure everything is done right, and avoid potential pitfalls.
If you hire an attorney to help with the application, the fee for services will probably be a flat fee, rather than an hourly one. This type of case is relatively standard, so you shouldn't have to worry about billing hours and your bill becoming more than you expected. You can expect a lawyer to charge anywhere between $500 and $1,700 to handle your extension or change of status.
Note, however, that the quoted fee will be separate from the Form I-539 filing and biometrics fees, which you will be responsible for paying. The attorney might ask you to bring in the checks or money orders, and will take care of including these with your application.