Foreign nationals who are residing in the U.S. and want to change, extend, initiate, or reinstate their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. without having to leave and apply for a new visa normally do so by filing Form I-539 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
This form is commonly used for dependents of people on work visas, students, and visitors in the United States. For example, a visitor or a spouse of someone on a work visa who wishes to extend his or her time in the U.S. or a student who needs to reinstate his or her F-1 status would submit Form I-539.
This form is not used for all nonimmigrant visa categories, and it is not always clear, even in the instructions for the form, as to when it is specifically required. Therefore, it is important to consult an attorney regarding whether you need to use this form for the purposes you have in mind.
For most situations, the fee for Form I-539 is $370 (as of 2019).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. The biometrics fee is of $85 (2019 figure).
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, and some can ask that the fees be waived.
If you hire an attorney to handle the application, you'll need to separately pay for that. Read on to get details.
It is critically important that you use the most up-to-date I-539 form and pay the latest fee. If one or the other is incorrect, USCIS will reject the application, which could affect your status and ability to remain in the United States.
While most applicants filing Form I-539 will pay the regular amount ($370 plus $85 for biometrics per person in 2019), you will need to double-check the exact amount, depending on what 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 Supplement A to Form I-539, which is an informational form which includes additional instructions about the V visa application and 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.”
If sending your application to a “Lockbox Facility,” you have the option to pay by credit card, using Form G-1450. Place that form on top of your application package. 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 can't (yet) pay by credit card.
USCIS permits Form I-539 to be filed online (sometimes called e-filing) for some 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.
In May 2019, USCIS announced that it would offer online filing for additional visa categories “in the near future.” Based upon USCIS’s sporadic and inconsistent efforts with online filing for over a decade, however, it’s anyone’s guess as to when that will happen. Moreover, the agency's overview of online filing does not make clear when and how to send supporting documents.
When USCIS first made online filing available for the I-539, you had to submit the electronic application and pay the fee online and then print and send it by mail to USCIS with supporting documents. Thus, preliminary assessments suggest online filing has growing pains to resolve before it’s practical and user friendly.
Nonetheless, 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 a useful option.
When applying for certain benefits, USCIS allows applicants to request a waiver of some fees (per 8 C.F.R. 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. Issues you didn't even consider can cause long-term problems and delays. 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 $1,500 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. Most likely the attorney will ask you to bring in the checks or money orders, and will take care of including these with your application.