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Updated on 18.03.2024

Extension and change of status in the USA

Generally, US visa holders or ESTA travelers receive a temporary residence status when entering the USA. We explain the basics of extending and changing status.

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USA Statusverlängerung und Statuswechsel

What is the status for the USA?

The status refers to a temporary residence permit in the United States for a specific purpose. The status thus forms the legal basis for a foreign person's stay in the USA and determines the details of the stay. The following information can be found on the entry stamp or form I-94:

  1. Length of stay
    Date indicating how long the person may actually stay physically in the USA with the US visa or ESTA. In other words, for what maximum period or until what date is the legal (physical) stay in the United States granted with the visa or ESTA?

  2. Status
    Under what status (class of admission) is the person allowed to stay in the USA? In other words, what is the purpose of the stay in the United States?
    Example when entering the US with a US visa: B-1 (Temporary Visitor for Business) status
    Example when entering the US with ESTA: WB (= Business Visa Waiver) or WT (= Tourist Visa Waiver) staus

Foreign travelers receive residence status each time they enter the USA upon presentation of a valid US visa or a valid ESTA travel authorization. The status is documented at the border by means of an I-94 entry stamp in the passport and at the same time electronically under the I-94 website. In future, entry stamps will no longer be required at border controls.

This means that CBP officers use the corresponding US visa (travel document) or ESTA authorization to decide for each entry whether the person may enter the United States and, if so, for how long.

Sometimes the technically incorrect term US visa status is also used. This always refers to the residence status or status for the USA.

Accordingly, a distinction is made by the US authorities between the approved US visa (as a travel document in your passport) or the ESTA authorization with which you "request entry" at the border and the (residence) status. The US border officers determines your status when you enter the country. The status describes the period of time during which you are actually physically allowed to stay in the United States and when you must leave the USA at the latest. This status often differs from the US visa in the passport – can therefore be issued for a shorter or longer period depending on the visa category and purpose of stay.

Please note:

Do not confuse the validity of your status with the validity of your visa. Nonimmigrant visas allow entry into the US for a limited time and for a specific purpose, e.g. employment or study, and are valid for a limited period of time (see expiration date on the visa). Within this period, visa holders can request entry to the United States.

Class of Admission (COA) codes

In order to clarify the status under which a foreign individual is staying in the USA, the respective category (Nonimmigrant Class of Admission) is stored in the I-94 when entering the USA.
These Class of Admission (COA) codes consist of a combination of letters and numbers and largely correspond to the respective nonimmigrant visa category.

Status for US visas
  • B-1, B-2
  • F-1, F-2
  • J-1, J-2
  • M-1, M-2
  • C-1/D
  • E-1, E-2
  • H-1B
  • L-1, L-2

There are the following two distinctions in ESTA status:

  • WT
  • WB

Examples of specific COA codes for status

In some cases, however, the designations are more detailed and contain additional information on the purpose of the stay.

US visitor visas

Persons traveling to the United States for business purposes are generally granted B-1 status. However, USCIS form I-539 for extensions or changes of status within the United States requires more detailed information on the purpose of the business stay in the USA. The following distinctions are made:

  • B-1A: nonimmigrant who is the personal or domestic servant of a nonimmigrant employer
  • B-1B: nonimmigrant domestic servant of a US citizen
  • B-1C: nonimmigrant who is employed by a foreign airline
  • B-1D: nonimmigrant who is a missionary
  • B-1: all those who do not fall under the visa categories mentioned above

US work visas

The USCIS / CBP have been using new COA codes for several years to distinguish between spouse and child(ren). The suffix "S" (for spouse) makes it clear that the person traveling is the spouse:

  • E-1S, E-2S, E-3S (spouse of E-1, E-2, E-3)
  • L-2S (spouse of L-1)

A valid form I-94 with one of these new codes is considered proof of employment authorization for spouses and replaces the separate application for a general work permit (Employment Authorization Document).

Accompanying children in the above categories receive the suffix "Y" in their respective status upon entry into the United States.

What to do when the granted period of stay expires

Typically, the residence status of visa holders granted by CBP is extended upon exit and re-entry to the United States – provided the US visa is still valid and in compliance with all possible travel regulations.

If the granted period of stay threatens to expire soon, holders of a nonimmigrant visa must either leave the country or, alternatively, can check the possibility of extending their residence status on site or – if an extension of status is not possible – change to another status so that they do not stay in the USA unlawfully or illegally (= overstay).

In the event of an extension of status or a change of status, it may be possible to extend your stay in the United States without having to leave the country.

The two most common reasons for applying for an extension of status in the USA are:

  1. It is not possible to leave the USA
    Example: If employees on B-1after sales service projects have to stay on site in the USA for a longer period of time and cannot leave the country because there must be no interruption (implementation of machine, etc.).
  2. The petition (I-797) within the USA must be extended
    Typically for L-1 extensions (I-129 form) or other petition-based work visa categories (H-1B, O-1, etc.).

In the case of a change of status, the focus is usually on a change in the purpose of residence. This means that the reason for the stay in the USA has changed and must be legalized by changing to a different status that enables this purpose. An example would be entry under B-2 status as a tourist and the change to F-1 due to a study place offer.

Tip:

It is worth checking carefully whether the option of extending your status locally in the USA makes sense when your residence status expires, and whether it is likely to be successful. This is because as soon as you leave the USA, the status becomes invalid and you will need a valid US visa to re-enter the country, which you may have to apply for at the US consulate / US embassy in your home country with the relevant application documentation (if your previous US visa has expired or does not cover the intended purpose of your stay).

Requirements for extension / change of status in the USA

Whether an extension of status or a change of status can be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the United States depends primarily on the visa category with which you are currently residing in the United States.

Holders of almost all nonimmigrant visas are eligible to apply for an extension of their authorized period of stay or change of their nonimmigrant status.

However, a few basic requirements must first be met:

  1. You have entered the USA with a valid nonimmigrant visa.
  2. Their nonimmigrant status is still valid ("I-94 status valid").
  3. Your passport is currently valid and will remain valid for the duration of your stay or the requested extension period.
  4. You have not committed any crimes that would cause you to lose qualification for a US visa.
  5. You have not violated the US entry requirements.

In addition, depending on the category, further requirements must be fulfilled or proof must be provided.

The following nonimmigrant categories generally entitle you to an extension of status and / or a change of status:

  • A visa
  • B visa
  • CW visa
  • E visa
  • F visa
  • G visa
  • H visa
  • I visa
  • J visa
  • K-3 / K-4 visa
  • L visa
  • M visa
  • N visa
  • NATO-7 visa
  • O visa
  • P visa
  • R visa
  • T visa
  • TN / TD visa
  • U visa
  • V visa

Please note that there are nonimmigrant visa categories that entitle you to an extension of your stay in the US, but do not allow you to change to another nonimmigrant category.

Bild von zwei USA-Flaggen an Wolkenkratzern

Who is excluded from extension of stay / change of status in the USA

There are certain US travelers who cannot apply for an extension of stay and / or change of status. These individuals are required to leave the United States in a timely manner prior to the date indicated on the I-94, i.e. the maximum permitted duration of stay. This concerns the following individuals:

  1. Persons who have violated the conditions of their US visa or committed a criminal offense.
  2. Travelers who are in the USA under the Visa Waiver Program with ESTA. This means that ESTA holders must leave the United States after a maximum of 90 days.
  3. C-1/D visa holders
  4. Holders of a K-1, K-2, K-3 or K-4 visa
    Attention: Under certain conditions a status extension is possible for the K-3 or K-4 visa.

In addition, there are other cases in which the stay in the United States cannot be extended. It must therefore always be checked on a case-by-case basis whether an application procedure is possible and reasonable.

Particularities of a status extension

Persons who have exhausted the maximum residence status of a particular visa category cannot obtain a further status extension (e.g. L-1 or H-1B).

Particularities of a change of status

  1. J-1 visa holders cannot change status to certain categories if they are subject to the so-called 2-Year Foreign Residence Requirement. Whether this is the case and whether there are further restrictions on the part of the J-1 visa sponsor, should be checked in advance with the respective visa sponsor.
  2. M-1 visa holders cannot change to F-1 status.
  3. M-1 visa holders cannot change to an H category if their stay in the USA on an M-1 visa has contributed to meeting the requirements for an H visa.
  4. Nonimmigrant visa holders (categories A through V) cannot change their status to K-3 or K-4 under any circumstances.

Applying for an extension of stay or change of status in the USA

The application for extension of status or change of status must be submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before expiration of the I-94 – i.e. before the expiration of the legal residence status and thus within the United States. The application is filed either

  • in paper form by postal submission or
  • online (under certain conditions).

How to apply for a status extension / status change?

Two main forms are important in the application process: the I-129 and the I-539. Which form is relevant or whether both forms are required depends on the respective nonimmigrant category. Whether or which additional application documents must be submitted must be individually inquired with the USCIS.

I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker

Using the I-129 form, nonimmigrant workers apply for an extension of their residence status and, at the same time, an extension of their work permit or a change of status to a (different) work visa category. This includes the following visa categories:

  • E-1 / E-2 / E-3
  • H-1B / H-1B1 / H-2A / H-2B / H-3
  • L-1A / L-1B
  • O-1 / O-2
  • P-1 / P-2 / P-3
  • Q-1
  • R-1
  • TN (TN-1 and TN-2)

I-539 Application to Extend / Change Nonimmigrant Status

The I-539 is used for extension or change of status for the following visa categories:

  • A / A-3
  • B-1 / B-2
  • E-1 / E-2 family members (spouse / children)
  • F-1 / F-2
  • G / G-5
  • H-4 family members (spouse / children)
  • I
  • J-1 / J-2
  • M-1 / M-2
  • N, NATO-7
  • O-3 family members (spouse / children)
  • P-4 family members (spouse / children)
  • R-2 family members (spouse / children)
  • T-1 / T-2 / T-3 / T-4 / T-5 / T-6
  • U-1 / U-2 / U-3 / U-4 / U-5
  • V

Forms I-129 + I-539

If an individual is in a status in the United States that authorizes employment and is to be extended, form I-129 must be filed with the USCIS by the US employer. If this person is currently accompanied by family members (spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21) in the derived categories in the United States, a joint application can be filed. For this purpose, the I-539 form is submitted together with the I-129 form for the family and processed at the same time by the US immigration authority USCIS.

For example: If the status and thus the work permit of an L-1 person is to be extended, the L-2 status extension procedure for the accompanying family members can be submitted directly in parallel to the relevant US authority (I-129 + I-539).
However, it is also possible to submit the applications separately. The same applies to possible change of status procedures in the area of employment.

I-539A Supplemental Information for Application to Extend / Change Nonimmigrant Status

The I-539A is part of form I-539. If you want to apply for an extension of status or a change of status for more than one person, you need to sign and submit a separate form I-539A for each additional applicant listed.

The I-539A is used, for example, when spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 are included as co-applicants in the main applicant's application for the same extension or change of status. This is only possible if they all have the same status or a derived status.

How to apply online for status extension / change

Under certain circumstances, the I-539 form can be filed electronically with the USCIS. To qualify, applicants must be individual applicants (without co-applicants, legal or accredited representation) in the United States with the following status:

  • B-1 Business Visitor
  • B-2 Tourist
  • F-1 Student with special status expiration date
  • F-2 Dependents / relatives (spouse, child) of students with a special status expiration date
  • M-1 Vocational Student
  • M-2 Dependents / relatives (spouse, child) of vocational students

Particularity: F-2 or M-2 holders must compare the expiration date of their residence status with that of their spouse or parent who holds F-1 or M-1 status. If the expiration dates are

  1. different, F-2 or M-2 holders can submit an online application as an independent person.
  2. identical, the application of the F-2 or M-2 holders as co-applicants must be submitted in paper form.
Bild von Online-Statusänderung

The procedure for an online application is as follows:

  1. First you must create a online account with the USCIS.
  2. Then you can fill out the web-based form I-539.
  3. You can now upload a copy of your I-94 Arrival / Departure record.
  4. Additional documents and a written declaration can also be submitted.
  5. You pay the fee electronically.

If you would like to know whether you can use the online application form for an exentsion of stay or a change of status, please visit the website of the USCIS.

Tip:

Multiple applicants (e.g., family) may, of course, submit their respective applications for status renewal individually online, but they will incur higher fees than if they use the "joint application submission" method by mail.

When should the application for extension / change of status be submitted?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recommends submitting the application at least 45 days before the I-94 expires. Theoretically, however, the application can still be submitted on the last day of the I-94 validity. The decisive factor is the receipt date of the USCIS (= official receipt of the application), not the postmark.

I-539 procedures tend to be relatively lengthy and the average processing times are around 3 to 6 months (depending on category and USCIS Service Center); in some cases even longer.

An accelerated procedure (Premium Processing) is only possible for status extensions using the I-129 form (e.g. as part of L-1 or H-1B applications) and for I-539 applications in categories F-1, F-2, M-1, M-2, J-1, J-2. The USCIS will then process the status extension or change of status application within 15, 30 or 45 business days, depending on the category (provided there are no queries).

What does an extension of stay or change of status cost?

The fees for an application for extension of status or change of status via I-539 form vary depending on whether the I-539 application is filed by mail or online and depending on the status. Generally, paper filing costs 470 $ and online filing 420 $.

The following applicants are exempt from the I-539 application fee and therefore pay $0:

  • extension / change to or from A, G or NATO status
  • victims of severe forms of human trafficking (T status)
  • victims of a qualifying crime (U status)

The application fees for an I-129 change of status or extension procedure are considerably more cost-intensive and are not regulated uniformly. The costs vary depending on the category or, for example, the size of the company, but can easily amount to several thousand US dollars. You can find more information on this on the USCIS website.

You may pay the processing fee for forms I-539 and I-129 by money order, personal check, cashier's check, or with a credit card or debit card using Form G-1450 (Authorization for Credit Card Transactions).

Furthermore, additional costs may be incurred for certain applicants if the Premium Processing service is booked as an option. For an additional fee of 2,805 $ with the I-129 or 1,965 $ for I-539 applications in the F-1, F-2, M-1, M-2, J-1 and J-2 categories, USCIS agrees to process the application more quickly (within 15, 30 or 45 business days, depending on the category).

Bild von einer USA Kreditkarte für Visa-Gebühren

You can find more information about the different visa fees, other possible costs and the current payment methods on our fees page.

Go to the cost overview

Particularities of ongoing applications for extension / change of status

Tolerated status exemption

Normally, visa holders lose their legal resident status if they continue to stay in the US after the I-94 expires. However, if the I-94 expires while the application process for extension of stay or change of status is ongoing and the USCIS has therefore not yet made a decision, you can continue to reside legally in the United States on the basis of an exception (until the final decision is made) – in a kind of "tolerated status".

However, the basic requirement is that you have submitted the application on time, i.e. before the old status expires. Please also note that although you will continue to be tolerated during the processing phase, you will be subject to further conditions.

For example: If your employer files an I-129 extension application for your work permit and your residence status in the USA on time, you can stay in the USA legally tolerated until the USCIS has made a decision. However, you may only continue to work for your previous employer for a maximum of 240 days after your I-94 status is terminated.

Another example: If you apply for a change of status in the USA with I-539 from B-2 tourist to F-1 student, you are generally not allowed to start studying until the US immigration authority USCIS has officially changed your status.

Do not leave the country

As long as your application for extension of status or change of status in the USA is still pending and no final decision has been made, you may not leave the United States. This also includes short trips to Canada or Mexico. If you nevertheless leave the United States, you officially give up your status. Your current application procedure will lapse at that moment and you will automatically withdraw your application when you leave the US. As a result, you will receive an official rejection from the US authorities.

Exceptions are possible in the area of US work visas. These must be checked carefully in advance.

Note:

An application for extension or change of status does not automatically guarantee that the extension or change will be approved. The USCIS reviews each application very carefully and reserves the right to deny applications.

If the application for extension of stay or change of status is rejected, you must leave the United States immediately. This is often accompanied by the US visa (on the basis of which you entered the country) being declared invalid.

Current regulation for Biometrics Appointments

Now it's official: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is suspending the mandatory biometrics appointments for certain I-539 applicants as of October 1, 2023.

The biometrics appointment is an in-person appointment at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC) in the United States, where the applicant will be photographed and fingerprinted.

In the past, the biometrics appointment was mandatory for applications for change of status as well as for certain status extension procedures and was subject to a fee of $85 (Biometrics Service Fee).

Nonetheless, USCIS may ask applicants to appear for an in-person interview or provide biometrics (fingerprints, photograph, and / or signature) at any time to verify identity, obtain additional information, and conduct background and security checks, including a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history record check, before making a decision on your application or petition.

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Date:

Updated on 18.03.2024