Mar 08 2019

Starting March 22, New Form and Biometrics for Some Seeking a Change or Extension of Status

United States

At a glance

  • The new version of Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status became available on the USCIS website today, and will become mandatory starting March 22.
  • The new form requires applicants and co-applicants to pay a biometrics fee and appear in person for biometrics collection.
  • Spouses and children seeking a change of status to H-4 in the FY 2020 H-1B cap must submit the new version of Form I-539 and comply with the biometrics requirement.

The situation

Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a revised version of Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status and the new Form I-539A Supplement. The forms will become mandatory on March 22 and will require I-539 applicants and co-applicants to appear in person to have their biometrics collected and undergo background screening. 

Changes to the I-539 form and process will impact foreign nationals in a range of nonimmigrant categories seeking to change or extend status, including dependents of H-1B cap beneficiaries requesting a change of status to H-4 in the upcoming FY 2020 cap season. The changes will also affect dependents of L-1, E, O and other employment-based nonimmigrant beneficiaries, as well as B-1/B-2 visitors and certain F and J nonimmigrants.

New I-539 process

In a departure from existing policy, the new Form I-539 (edition date 02/04/19) will require each applicant and co-applicant to:

  • Appear in person at a USCIS Application Support Center to have their biometrics taken (fingerprints and digital photo), regardless of age. A biometrics fee of $85 will be required for each person;
  • Undergo background screening, if age 14 or older. Applicants age 14 and older will be subject to a law enforcement background check as part of the biometrics process.  Biometrics collection for those under 14 will serve only as an identity verification tool; and
  • Sign the application to change or extend their status. Parents and guardians will be permitted to sign on behalf of children under 14 or those incompetent to sign. The new form permits submission of a scanned or photocopied signature, but only if derived from a form signed with an original, “wet” signature.

What it means

Longer processing times: Biometrics collection and related background checks under the new I-539 process will mean that affected foreign nationals will wait longer for USCIS adjudication of their I-539 applications, as well as applications for employment authorization documents (EADs) filed with Forms I-539.

In addition, due to the delays inherent in the biometrics process, courtesy expedited processing will no longer be granted to Forms I-539 filed concurrently with employment-based Form I-129 petitions for which premium processing service is requested, as had been common for H-1B/H-4 change of status filings. Under the new process, dependent applications will be adjudicated after the corresponding principal beneficiary’s petition.

Background checks and enforcement: Applicants age 14 and older who will undergo background checks as part of the I-539 process could be subject to immigration enforcement action if they have a history of criminal or fraudulent activity. Foreign nationals also risk immigration enforcement action if their I-539 application is denied and their immigration status has expired.

Brief grace period: USCIS will accept the prior version of Form I-539 (edition date 12/23/16) until the close of business on March 21, 2019. Applicants using the older form are not subject to a biometrics requirement.

Fragomen is closely monitoring the implementation of the revised Form I-539 and new biometrics requirement, and will provide updates as developments occur.

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen.