USCIS changed the Form I-539 and added new requirements in March 2019. As part of the change, USCIS collects Biometrics and done updates to the form and how the applications are processed for anyone using I-539. This change impacts H4, F1, L2 and many other visa holders that use I-539 form with USCIS. We cover the details of the changes, impact to processing times in general since the change.
Why New I-539 form ? Visa Types Impacted ?
One of the fundamental reason for the new I-539 form with Biometrics option is the Executive order EO 13780. As per that EO with title “Protecting the National from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”, they want to protect America from foreign Terrorists and individuals who can cause threat. Wit the New I-539 form, USCIS is planning to collect Biometric information for better screening and vetting for national security.
Impacted Visa Types with New I-539 form
I-539 form is used by many categories of visa holders and it will impact all of them.
- H1B, L1 dependents ( spouse, children) – H4 Holders filing for extension/ change of their status
- L1 Dependents ( spouse, children) – L2 holders filing for extension/ change of their status
- B1 / B2 – Visitor visa holders to extend/ change their status
- F1 for COS, Reinstatements, J1 Holders
- Other visa holders dependents like CW-2, E category dependents, G, G-5 etc.
Changes in the New I-539 Form ?
There are some subtle changes in the I-539 form by pages. The form size is reduced to 7 pages from 9 pages in the past version. Small changes happened to pages 1,2, 4, 6 and 7. See below at the end of article, where we highlighted what changed in every page. One of the major change is removal of the Supplement A section from I-539 form and put it a separate form. Below is how you can identify if you are on the New form or not.
Added New I-539A form for Co-Applicants
The I-539A form is the new form created to have the Supplement section in the previous I-539 form. Every co-applicant, who is filing along with the primary I-539 applicant should submit a separate I-539A form and each of the co-applicant has to sign in their respective form. For children under 14 years of age or who cannot sign to due to health reasons, their parents or guardians can sign.
Biometrics Fee for I-539, How to Pay ?
In addition to standard I-539 form fee of $370 USD, there is an additional $85 biometric fee for every applicant and co-applicant. If you are part of A, G, and NATO categories, you do not need to pay biometric fee. If you do not include this fee, your application will be denied.
Example : If let’s say you have 2 children filing along with one dependent then fee would be like below for all 3 of them.
- Application Fee : $370
- Biometric Fee : $85*3 = $255
If you are giving check, it is recommend to give separate checks for each of the biometric appointments to avoid confusion. You need to give separate checks for each of the biometric appointment to avoid confusion.
Changes in I-539 Processing with Biometrics
In the first step of submitting application, the process with new I-539 form is pretty much same as the past, you complete the I-539 application form, but now you would use the new form. Besides, you would also attach any I-539A forms, as applicable for each of the co-applicants, sign and send it to the respective USCIS center. The change in process happens after you send to the application form.
After you submit the complete application form along with fee with USCIS, each of the applicant and co-applicants will receive a separate Biometric services appointment notice containing individual receipt number. The appointments will be scheduled at the nearest “ Application Support Center (ASC)” closest to the main applicant’s address. If you want to give biometrics to be done at a different location, then you need to file a separate I-539 form. The applicants will receive an advance notice of 7 days for the biometric appointment. They can re-schedule as needed. On an average, they say that it will take about 17 days for the overall biometric process.
How will Biometric delay the overall H4 and H4 EAD processing for Premium Processing ?
Yes, there will be some delay in the processing due the additional overhead of the biometric process. As per USCIS, which is from the conference call they hosted, they typically would take about 17 days on average to complete the I-539 biometric process from the day they receive the I-539 application(assuming no re-schedules). They said that you would get seven days advance notice for biometrics and gets updated immediately. This may not have much impact for regular processing as there is not too much delay. But for premium processing petitions, there will be impact.
USCIS said in their stakeholder call that they will have the 15 day clock and SLA for H1B petitions and have a decision for them as before, but for the H4 and H4 EAD petitions filed together H1B petition, they will wait for the biometric processing to be complete and then adjudicate immediately once that is complete to as a courtesy of the main H1B premium processing application. So, for premium processing petitions, you can expect anywhere from 17 days or so delay for the H4 petitions decisions and H4 EADs to come. Again, this is the guidance, but USCIS is not mandated to process H4 and H4 EADs within the timeframe as H4 and H4 EAD are not subject to the SLA of 15 days of premium or anything as such.
What happens at Application Support Center for Biometrics ?
They will capture your fingerprints, photograph and/or signature and you will need to confirm your application details, stating they are true and correct under penalty of perjury ( basically under US laws oath stating they all are correct). USCIS suggests that you review your application beforehand or have a copy of what you have sent to the USCIS center, so that you know what you have sent to review and confirm the same at the Application Support Center.
What if I am outside of the Country ? How does Biometrics with Travel outside of USA ?
As per USCIS guidance, on their I-539 form instructions (page 12), you should call up the nearest US consulate/ embassy and arrange for the biometrics. It says “If you are currently overseas, instruct you to contact a US Embassy, US Consulate or USCIS Office outside of United States to setup an appointment “, see below screenshot.
No, you do not have to do any separate appointments. USCIS will automatically do all the biometric appointment scheduling and send you the notice for appointment date and time, you can change it as needed after you received it.
Yes, it is mandatory for pretty much all of the applicants using I-539 form for extension/ change of status for many types of visa holder such as H4, F1, etc. except for certain A, G, or NATO Classification categories.
As per USCIS, in their conference call, they indicated that Biometrics are done by contractors and they can increased as needed to handle load, if there is surge in appointments. The overall processing times should not be impacted by a big margin, except additional 17 days.
No, you do not need to go to biometrics. It is only for H4 holders using the form I-539.
New I-539 form Changes by Page Compared with Old I-539 Form
Check latest form info at I-539 form at USCIS website
What do you think of the new form ? Share your experiences with the New form and Biometrics appointments