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.
Background : Why Biometrics with I-539 form ? Visa Types ?
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”, DHS want to protect America from foreign Terrorists and individuals who can cause threat. Wit the New I-539 form, DHS 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 very minor changes in the I-539 form. The form size is now 8 pages. There are some minor changes in 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. It was updated second time later in 2019, now the current edition is 10/15/19 and expires 10/31/2021. See below screenshot.
Added New I-539A form for Co-Applicants
The I-539A form is the new form that was created with 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.
How much Biometrics Fee ? How to pay ?
The I-539 Biometrics fee is $85 USD for every applicant and co-applicant. This biometrics fee is in addition to standard I-539 form fee of $370 USD. 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.
I-539 Processing Steps with Biometrics
- Step 1 – Completing, Sending I-539, I-539A Application Forms : The first step of submitting application form I-539 is same as before. You need to complete the latest version of I-539 form and submit the application form to the respective address. If you have any dependents, now you would also attach additional 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.
- Step 2 – Biometrics Notices : 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. But, this varies by the load and situations. with COVID, this has taken months due to less availability of ASCs.
- Step 3 – Giving Biometrics : After the applicants receive the Biometrics notices, they need to go to the respective ASC and give Biometrics. They will stamp on the Biometrics appointment notice confirming the same.
- Step 4 – General Processing of I-539 : After the biometrics are complete, then the standard processing of the Form I-539 starts. Biometrics is considered as a pre-requisite to process the general form. Applicants would get approval, RFE or Denial based on general application processing and documentation.
Delays of H4, H4 EAD, L2 with Biometrics
As per USCIS guidance, typically they 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) form. But, the reality is very different. Based on various H4 & H4 EAD Biometrics Experiences, it is pretty clear that there can be anywhere from few weeks to few months delays with the biometrics process.
During COVID-19 situation, there is less availability of the ASC and there have been significant delays with the Biometrics processing of the I-539 forms. It has taken many months for USCIS to process the Biometrics due to the ASC Closures and limited capacity. Read USCIS Delays with 1.3 million Biometrics appointments to know more.
Premium Processing of H4, H4 EAD, L2 with Biometrics
In the past USCIS would process H4 and H4 EAD along with H1B premium processing within the 15 days premium processing clock as a courtesy. But, with biometrics requirement for H4 extensions or COS in the process, they said they are not going to process H4 and H4 EAD in premium processing.
USCIS said they will process the H4 and H4 EAD only after the Biometrics are complete. Based on historical data from 2019, 2020, they have been taking anywhere from 2 months to 6 months or more for H4 and H4 EAD processing, even if the H1B was filed in premium processing.
There are some misconceptions that, if you upgrade after biometrics are given, they would process H4 and H4 EAD faster, but that is not true. There is no consistent response by USCIS. In some cases, some users are lucky, but many are not lucky and there is no pattern as such. You can check H4 & H4 EAD Biometrics Experiences
Biometrics Process at Application Support Center ?
At Application Support Centers(ASC), 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).
You will need to submit Application Information Worksheet(AIW) that has details about your age, weight, your physical characteristics. Read How to fill Application Information Worksheet(AIW), Sample to get more info
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.
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.
In the past, USCIS said 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. But, the reality is very different with COVID-19 situation. There has been significant amount of delays with Biometrics processing.
No, you do not need to go to biometrics. It is only for H4 holders using the form I-539.
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.
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