Extending Your Visitor Visa Status in the U.S.
June 20, 2003

One of the most common requests the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services or CIS (formerly INS) receives is that of the B-1/B-2 visitor visa holder seeking to extend his/her stay in the U.S. The procedure is not a complicated one in theory, however in the post September 11 environment we live in, much closer scrutiny is being applied to such filings by CIS examiners.

The scenario starts with the visitor visa holder entering the U.S. and being granted a period of stay by an immigration inspector at a port of entry, such as an airport. Assuming the inspector is satisfied that the visa holder is a bona fide visitor, and does not intend to live or work in the U.S., the visa holder is typically granted a period of 6 months to stay in the U.S. This period of stay is noted on Form I-94, the CIS document that gets attached to the foreign national’s passport after completing the inspection process.

The date stamped on the I-94 is the date by which the foreign national must depart the U.S. or if applicable, seek an extension or change of their status. And the date provided on the I-94 is to be differentiated from the validity date provided by the U.S. Department of State on the foreign national’s visa itself. For instance, the visa holder may have been granted a 10 year multiple entry visa by the U.S. Embassy in his/her home country, but that does not mean the visa holder can remain in the U.S. for 10 years after entering. Instead, the foreign national has been giving a key to be considered for entry into the U.S. that will be effective for 10 years, although the allowed period of stay provided to the foreign national each time they attempt to enter, is ultimately determined by the immigration inspector at the port of entry.

In order to extend their visitor visa status, the foreign national must file form I-539. Easy enough, except that other important documentation must be included, along with the right answers to the questions on the form.

Essentially, 6 month extensions are granted to individuals who demonstrate that they have the financial ability to support themselves throughout their extended stay and have an intention to depart the U.S. within the requested extension period. That means, applicants must include a copy of their own recent bank account statement (preferably from overseas) reflecting sufficient funds available to finance their living expenses during their extended stay. Alternatively, an affidavit of support, Form I-134, can be provided by a U.S. permanent resident or citizen friend or family member.

As far as an intention to depart is concerned, the applicant should include in their filing a copy of a return plane ticket reflecting a set departure date within the extended period being requested.

And in answering the question on the form regarding the reason for the extension request, applicants should be aware of what is considered a valid reason under governing regulations. Reasons such as an interest in continuing to visit with family or friends, visiting specific tourist attractions, or to attend an important family occasion are good ones.

On the other hand, those who state that they wish to remain in the U.S. in order to find work, marry their love interest, or to study will definitely find themselves denied. (Those seeking to study in the U.S. may however be eligible to change their status to F-1 student status). Again, that is because at the time of the application, the foreign national must demonstrate, among other things, their unequivocal intention to return to an un-abandoned residence abroad.

As far as the timing of an extension request, applicants should make sure their filings are received by the appropriate CIS office (the Nebraska Service Center has jurisdiction for those staying in the Chicago area) no later than the day their I-94 expires. Ideally, however, filings should be submitted at least 30 days before their status expires, and in order to verify CIS receipt, the use of certified mail or an overnight courier is recommended.

As to how many extension requests a visitor may be granted, usually no more than 1 or 2 are possible, although there is no set rule. In rare cases though, an applicant’s circumstances may justify the grant of more than 2 requests.

Copyright © 2003-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois