U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-539 is used by foreign nationals who are already residing in the U.S. and who want to change, extend, initiate, or reinstate their nonimmigrant status in the U.S. – without having to leave and apply for a new visa. The more common uses of this form are for dependents of people on work visas, students, and visitors in the United States. Examples include 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.
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 2017). However, as described below, USCIS requires additional fees of some applicants (usually in cases where you have to submit additional forms.) Also, 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, expect to pay $500 and up for what is commonly a fixed fee service. Read on to get more detail.
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.
The fee amounts and form versions change from time to time. Before filing an application, visit USCIS’s website, www.uscis.gov, to check for the most up-to-date fees and forms.
While most applicants filing Form I-539 will pay the regular amount ($370 in 2017), you will need to double-check on the exact amount for your own situation, depending on what you are requesting. You may 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 biometric fee ($85 in 2017) 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.
When paying the fees, it is critically important to list the fee correctly on your check or money order. If the amounts are not exactly correct, the application will be rejected, which could impact your ability to stay in the United States. When filing multiple applications, you can include all the fees in one check. However, it is best to include the fees in 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.
The fees must be paid by check or money order drawn on a bank or other financial institution located in the U.S., and must be payable in U.S. currency. Make the check or money order out to the “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” You should spell out “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” as opposed to using the initials such as “USDHS.”
USCIS permits Form I-539 to be filed online (E-Filing) for some of the visas 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.
When applying for certain benefits, USCIS allows applicants to request a waiver of some fees. (8 CFR 103.7(c)(3).) In particular, anyone required to pay the biometric fee can request a waiver, and dependents of the E-2 CNMI Investor Visa are also eligible to request a waiver of the Form I-539 filing fee. Please see USCIS’s website for more information on fee waivers.
You don't need to pay a lawyer if you have a simple situation, you understand the laws, and 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 need 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 - and sometimes 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 fees, which you will be responsible for paying. Most likely the attorney will ask you to bring in the checks or money orders, and he or she will take care of including these with your application.