My Visitor’s Visa Expires Soon: I’m not Ready to Return Home. What are My Options?

| May 7, 2012

Speaking with several people I come in contact with, several of them admit they were or are unaware that they have the option of extending their stay in the United States.

The Law
Africans who arrive in the United States on a visitor’s visa, either as a student, foreign worker or for simple pleasure, must be aware of the immigration laws of the land in order to safeguard their freedom and future traveling privileges. Breaking immigration laws is cause for removal from the US (deportation), and what you don’t know will hurt you.

Regulations outlining the full text of admissions and extensions of all people can be found under the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), INA § 214. It can also be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 8 CFR § 214. If you’re confused by any of this, it is advisable that you seek legal counsel or talk to immigration experts.

Why Should I Get an Extension?
When you arrive on the shores of the United States, an immigration officer examines your passport and visa to ensure their validity. When the inspector has satisfactorily validated your entry, you are given a Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record). This document is usually affixed to your passport and will have your departure date on it.

The problem with many Africans is that they are oblivious of the laws and regulations that govern their stay and travel back and forth, and many attempt to take matters into their own hands thinking they can beat the system to their own detriment. The money you will pay an attorney to fight deportation is nearly four times (if not more) what it will cost you to request an extension of your stay (which is now $300 per application). You are not guaranteed that an extension will be approved just because you asked for it, but you will at least still be legally present in the United States for the duration it takes to review and approve or disapprove your application.

When Should I Apply for an Extended Stay?
The sooner you request an extension, the more time you have between your expired stay and receiving a response from immigration officials. According to the INS, it is better to request an extension at least 45 days before your mandated departure date.

Requesting an extension of stay not only shows that you do not intend on violating U.S. law, but it also shows that you are willing to obey U.S. immigration laws. This is very important if you intend to visit the U.S. again in the future.

Am I Eligible to File An Extended Stay Request?
The general criteria for filing an extension requires that you must have been legally admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa, and your nonimmigrant visa status must remain valid. You must also be clear of any crimes that would make you ineligible. Again, it is very important that you submit your request BEFORE your current authorized stay expires. Your passport must also remain valid for your entire stay in the United States.

Holders of K visas – fiancé of a US citizen or dependant of a fiancé – are not eligible for filing extended stay petitions.

How Do I Apply for an Extended Stay?
You may file either of the following forms, depending on which category you fall into:

Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker):
E – International Traders and Investors
H – Temporary Workers
L – Intracompany Transferees
O – Aliens of Extraordinary Ability
P – Entertainers and Athletes
Q – Participants in International Exchange Programs
R – Religious Workers

The I-129 form must be filed by your employer, not YOU.

Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status):

A – Diplomatic and other government officials, and their families and employees.
B – Temporary visitors for business or pleasure.
F – Academic Students and their families
G – Representatives to international organizations and their families and employees.
I – Representatives of foreign media and their families
J – Exchange Visitors and their families
M – Vocational Students and their families
N – Parents and children of the people who have been granted special immigrant status because their parents were employed by an international organization in the United States.

It is essential that you read and follow the instructions on the forms, and mail the forms to the right address. Remember to include the required fee, then sit tight and wait for a response before you take any further action.

It is also very important that you check with your local USCIS office for further instructions and details, or talk to your legal counsel about what steps to take. Please note that this is not intended to be legal advice and must in no way, and under no circumstance, be relied upon as such. Please consult with your attorney for further advice and guidance.

(The above-article was written by Nelly Sarpong. Nelly is a second year law student and lives in Maryland. She loves to write, offer advice to those who seek it and loves learning about American law.)

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