The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes and uncertainty to most areas of life over the past several weeks. For individuals without secure immigration statuses, this is an exceptionally difficult and confusing time.
USCIS field offices have closed their doors to in-person appointments, US embassies and consulates abroad have been shut down, and thousands of people have found themselves unable to return home to the US or leave the US to return to their home country.
With all of these changes, it is hard to know when things will return to normal and how your immigration status or pending application will be affected. It is more important than ever to stay informed and to take the necessary steps to maintain legal status.
Certain nonimmigrants with temporary statuses in the US should strongly consider filing to extend or change their nonimmigrant status to avoid going out of status and accruing unlawful presence. Overstaying a nonimmigrant visa can lead to a ban on entry to the US in the future. To avoid this, nonimmigrant workers, students, and visitors who have been affected by COVID-19 should consider filing Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status with USCIS.
Form I-539 can be filed by the following individuals:
- Certain nonimmigrants extending their stay or changing to another nonimmigrant status;
- CNMI residents applying for an initial grant of status;
- F and M nonimmigrants applying for reinstatement; and,
- Persons seeking V nonimmigrant status or an extension of stay as a V nonimmigrant.
All I-539 applicants must include a copy of their Form I-94 Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record as evidence of their most recent entry and visa class. All other requirements depend on what type of nonimmigrant status you currently have (if extending your status) and what status you are hoping to change to (if changing status).
The I-94 form indicates how long a period of stay is authorized. You may apply to extend your stay beyond this date as long as:
- You were lawfully admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa;
- Your nonimmigrant visa status remains valid;
- You have not committed any crimes that make you ineligible for a visa;
- You have not violated the conditions of your admission; and
- Your passport is valid and will remain valid for the duration of your stay.
Those eligible should file this application 45 days before their status expires and should request the maximum period of authorized stay. If applying late, applicants should specify and explain the extraordinary circumstances that caused the delay in filing. Specifically, this would include challenges created due to the Coronavirus in the US, as well as travel restrictions for returning to the home country as a result of the widespread outbreak.
Depending on your visa classification, changing or extending your status may or may not be an option. The most important thing to keep in mind is that USCIS still has the right to penalize those who overstay or violate the conditions of their visa, despite the ongoing health crisis. In order to avoid big issues later on, it is extremely important to consider all of your options and speak with your immigration attorney if you are at risk of losing status due to COVID-19.