On Feb 13 2019 by William A. Stock

CLIENT ALERT: USCIS to Issue New Version of Form I-539 and a New Form I-539A: Effective Date is March 11

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced yesterday that it has revised form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. The new version of the form will be required for filings on and after March 11, 2019.

Form I-539 is used for a variety of application types, including the following common filings:

  • Certain nonimmigrant applications for an extension of stay,
  • Certain nonimmigrant applications for a change to another status, and
  • Reinstatement for F-1 and M-1 students.

Based on prior drafts of the form and the Information Collection Review for the form, USCIS has expanded the scope of information to be gathered and will change the filing and adjudication requirements significantly.

Biometrics and Personal Appearance Requirement
The first major change involves in-person collection of biometrics (fingerprints, photograph and signature).  Generally, biometrics have only been collected for permanent status applications, and not for the temporary status applications processed on Form I-539. As of March 11, 2019, all new I-539 and I-539A applicants will be required to be photographed and fingerprinted at the nearest USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). After filing, every applicant and co-applicant, “regardless of age,” will receive a biometric services appointment notice in the mail.

New Form I-539A Created for Co-Applicants
The second major change is the procedure to be followed when there are multiple people filing together such as a parent (“primary applicant”) and one or more children (“co-applicants”).  Currently, the primary applicant completes and signs Form I-539 and identifies each co-applicant on the form’s Supplement A. The form only requires the signature of the primary applicant and there is one filing fee (currently $370).

Starting March 11, a newly created form, Form I-539A, must be completed for each individual co-applicant and submitted with the primary applicant’s I-539. Each co-applicant will be required to sign his or her respective Form I-539A. (Parents can continue to sign the forms for children under 14 years of age.)

Fee Increase for Biometrics
Because biometrics will be collected with the application, an additional $85 biometrics fee will be charged per I-539 and I-539A applicant.  A typical family of H-4 spouse and two minor H-4 children will now have to pay $625 ($370 filing fee plus three $85 biometrics fees) to extend nonimmigrant status.

(Certain nonimmigrant applications already do require biometrics and pay the fee when filing Form I-539, i.e. V nonimmigrants and CNMI applications. Those procedures and costs will remain unchanged.)

Premium Processing
The USCIS did not address their proposed handling of I-539/I-539A applications accompanying principal applications which can be premium processed (such as H-4 applications filed with a premium processed H-1B petition). In the past, the USCIS generally processed such dependent I-539 applications on an expedited basis so the family’s status would be adjudicated and updated together. However, we anticipate that the new biometrics requirement will mean that dependent I-539 and I-539A applications will no longer be kept in lock-step with a principal’s premium processed nonimmigrant petition.

Identifying the Form Edition
How can you tell which form you have? The form edition is in the bottom left corner of the form.  The current edition of Form I-539 available on the USCIS website is the 12/23/16 edition. This is identified by the following notation in the bottom left corner of each page of the form: Form I-539 12/23/16 N

The new edition of Form I-539, the new Form I-539A, and their respective instructions will be identified by the date 02/04/19 in the bottom left corner of each page.

Effective Date: March 11, 2019
Applicants must use the 02/04/19 edition of Form I-539 and must begin using form I-539A for co-applicants on March 11, 2019, although the agency currently states that it will not release the form to the public until that date. We are currently exploring options to have USCIS delay the effective date to avoid the disruption that would result from such an accelerated implementation date.

We expect to provide further information as it becomes available.