Sep 28, 2023
USCIS Policy Update: No More Biometrics Fee for I-539
From October 1, 2023, USCIS will eliminate biometrics fees and routine collection for Form I-539 filers changing or extending nonimmigrant status.
Key HighlightsStarting on October 1, 2023, applicants submitting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I 539 for nonimmigrant status changes or extensions will no longer be required to pay a USCIS biometrics fee. In most cases, routine biometrics collection will no longer be a part of the process. USCIS is transitioning towards making biometrics collection an exception rather than the rule for Form I 539 applications. It is important to note that while USCIS is moving away from routine biometrics collection, there may still be instances where they deem biometrics necessary. In such cases, applicants will be required to attend any scheduled biometrics appointments.
What is USCIS Form I 539?USCIS Form I 539, known as the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status, serves as a request tool for individuals currently residing in the United States under nonimmigrant status. It enables them to seek an extension of their stay or a transition to a different nonimmigrant status category. Nonimmigrants residing in the U.S. temporarily, such as students, visitors, or temporary workers, can use this form to pursue either an extension of their permitted stay within the same nonimmigrant category or a switch to an alternative nonimmigrant category. For instance, an individual initially admitted as a visitor (B-2) may submit an application to change their status to that of a student (F-1). Form I 539 filing fee is $370. I539 premium processing is also available for applicants.
Eligibility for USCIS Form I 539Individuals presently residing in the United States under a valid nonimmigrant visa, such as students, visitors, or temporary workers, may qualify to submit USCIS Form I 539 to apply for an extension of their approved stay or a change to an alternate nonimmigrant status. Specifically, the following groups of individuals may meet the eligibility criteria for filing USCIS Form I 539:
- Nonimmigrants who were lawfully admitted to the United States on a nonimmigrant visa.
- Nonimmigrants whose current status has not expired prior to submitting USCIS Form I 539.
- Nonimmigrants who have not engaged in any criminal activities or violated any immigration laws would render them ineligible for the requested status.
- Nonimmigrant workers (e.g., H-1B visa holders) who have lost their employment and are actively seeking new job opportunities within the United States.
Form I 539 Biometrics PolicyThe journey towards this policy change began in March 2019 when USCIS initiated the collection of biometrics from USCIS Form I 539 applicants during the Trump administration. The inclusion of biometrics resulted in prolonged processing times for these applications and related H-4, L-2, and E spousal work authorization requests. Recognizing the challenges faced by affected applicants, negotiations took place in a lawsuit challenging these delays (Edakunni, et al. v. Mayorkas). As a result, USCIS temporarily suspended biometrics collection for H, L, and E derivatives from May 17, 2021, through September 30, 2023. During this period, I-539 applications were adjudicated based on biographic information and background checks, aligning with the agency's pre-March 2019 policy. USCIS has consistently voiced its commitment to permanently eliminating the biometrics requirement for all Form USCIS I 539 applicants in several public statements over the past year. This policy change was first announced in the USCIS Fiscal Year 2022 Progress Report in December 2022. Furthermore, in April 2023, USCIS extended the H-4/L-2/E dependent biometrics suspension until September 30, 2023, paving the way for the policy change that will go into effect on October 1.
The New Biometric PolicyFor USCIS Form I 539 applications postmarked on or after October 1, 2023, applicants should only include the Form I 539 filing fee. USCIS has provided guidance on how they will handle errors in USCIS biometrics fee payment after this date:
- If an applicant erroneously submits the biometric services fee separately from the Form I 539 fee, USCIS will refund the biometric services fee and accept the Form I 539.
- If an applicant mistakenly combines the biometric services fee with the paper-based Form I 539 filing fee, USCIS will consider this an incorrect filing and reject the Form I 539.
- If an applicant unintentionally authorizes a credit card payment that includes both the biometric services fee and the application fee, USCIS will accept the application and charge only the application fee.
How This May Impact You?Removing the biometrics requirement in USCIS Form I 539 applications will alleviate the processing backlog for a wide range of applicants, including B, TD, O, and P dependents. This change will also continue to expedite the adjudication process for applicants benefiting from the temporary biometrics suspension. Specifically, individuals seeking H-4, L-2, and E derivative status changes and stay extensions will experience faster USCIS Form I 539 adjudication, positively affecting any associated work authorization applications dependent on their spousal nonimmigrant status. It is essential to underscore that USCIS Form I 539 applicants who receive a USCIS biometrics appointment notice, even after the policy change, must attend their scheduled appointment. USCIS retains the discretion to require biometrics for individual applications, and non-compliance with a biometrics appointment may result in the application being deemed abandoned. This policy change signifies a substantial step towards a more streamlined and efficient application process for USCIS Form I 539 applicants and underscores USCIS's commitment to enhancing the immigration experience. We will continue to monitor developments in immigration policy and provide you with updates to navigate these changes effectively. Follow us on social media for more exciting updates coming your way.
U.S. Immigration CounselRobert Wees