United States: USCIS To Issue New Version Of Form I-539 And New I-539A, Effective March 11

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on February 11, 2019, that it has revised Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, and is introducing a new Form I-539A. The revised and new forms will be required for filings on and after March 11, 2019.

Form I-539 is used for a variety of application types, including:

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

Based on prior drafts of the form and its information collection review, it appears that USCIS has expanded the scope of information to be gathered and will change the filing and adjudication requirements significantly. Below are highlights:

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 (more about the I-539A below) applicants must 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 the 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, the I-539A, must be completed for each individual co-applicant and submitted with the primary applicant's I-539. Each co-applicant must sign his or her respective 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 consisting of an H-4 spouse and two minor H-4 children will have to pay $625 ($370 filing fee plus three $85 biometrics fees) to extend nonimmigrant status.

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

Premium processing. USCIS did not address premium processing with respect to the agency's proposed handling of I-539/I-539A applications accompanying principal applications (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 members' status would be adjudicated and updated together. The new biometrics requirement likely will mean that dependent I-539 and I-539A applications will no longer be moved along in lockstep with a principal's premium-processed nonimmigrant petition.

Identifying the form edition. How can you tell which form you have? The form edition information is in the bottom left corner of the form. The current edition of the 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 the I-539, the new I-539A, and their respective instructions will be identified by "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 the I-539 and must begin using the 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. It is hoped that USCIS might delay the effective date to avoid the disruption that would result from such an accelerated implementation date.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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