Are you in the U.S. on a temporary visa, but you need to extend your stay? Many visas give you this option, but you must take great care to extend or otherwise change your status before your authorized stay expires. If you miss this window, you may accumulate unlawful presence, which could prevent you from obtaining a visa in the future absent a waiver.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to extend your status if:
- You committed a crime that makes you ineligible for an extension
- You have violated the terms/conditions of your status
- You are here on a K, C, D, or S nonimmigrant visa
- You are in transit in the U.S. without a visa
The above scenarios could, but may not necessarily, affect your case and is in no way an exhaustive list. Fortunately, the President’s immigration ban won’t keep you from extending your stay. The ban generally pertains to those applying for visas from abroad. If you are already in the U.S. lawfully and meet all other qualifications, you should, in theory, be able to extend or change your status without a problem.
Generally, USCIS recommends applying to extend your stay no later than 45 days before your current status expires. To extend your status, you’ll may be able to use Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. Please note we usually recommend having an attorney help with this extension request and such attorney representation may include legal arguments in a cover letter, assisting you with a checklist of documents, preparing forms and packeting, and submitting the full application with exhibits depending on your circumstances. Keep in mind that “change nonimmigrant status” is not the same as “adjustment of status,” which is the process you use to become a lawful permanent resident.
Challenges Related to COVID-19
Since March of this year, USCIS has released several memos addressing the unique obstacles immigrants and nonimmigrants may face because of the pandemic. Updated on August 13th, their latest memo discusses options for nonimmigrants who are having trouble leaving the U.S. before their authorized stay expires.
According to USCIS, many nonimmigrants should be able to avoid accruing unlawful presence simply by extending their stay or changing their status, as described above. Despite office closures and other related disruptions, USCIS is continuing to process these applications, and most (if not all) of the process can be completed online.
USCIS also emphasizes that nonimmigrants generally won’t accrue unlawful presence if they file their extension of stay application on time (i.e. 45 days before their authorized stay expires). In other words, you won’t be considered unlawfully present if your application is still pending after your authorized stay has ended.
If you aren’t able to file your extension of stay request on time, you might still be able to avoid consequences, as USCIS has implemented a certain degree of flexibility in response to the pandemic. You will need to submit credible evidence, however, that COVID-19-related circumstances caused you to miss your deadline. USCIS also mentions other special situations (i.e. medical crises, natural disasters, unexpected financial hardship, etc.) that may excuse a late request.
Another aspect of this flexibility applies to those admitted to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. Typically, these individuals are not allowed to extend their status. However, due to complications resulting from COVID-19, they may be eligible for an additional 30 days to allow for satisfactory departure. You will need to get in touch with the USCIS Contact Center to request satisfactory departure.
Obtain Personalized Information from Our Firm
These updates are intended as general information only and do not constitute legal advice, and they may not address the factors or complications you’re currently experiencing. For high-quality counsel that fully considers your unique circumstances, get in touch with The Modi Law Firm, PLLC.
Our Houston immigration attorneys have extensive experience helping clients from all around the world navigate the U.S. immigration system with efficiency and precision. We understand that you may be facing extraordinary challenges, and we are ready to stand by your side every step of the way.