If you were lawfully admitted into the United States with a temporary visa, and you have not committed any crimes, you may be able to request permission to extend your stay. A temporary visa, or visitor visa, is issued to non-immigrant (not applying for permanent residence or citizenship) visitors the U.S. Foreign nationals get temporary visas to the U.S. for trips for business, school, and medical treatment, among other reasons.

It should be noted that your application should be sent into the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) before your current temporary visa expires. It is generally recommended by USCIS that you apply for an extension at least 45 days before the expiration of your current visa.

Foreign nationals are generally approved for temporary visa extensions if they can provide adequate justification as to why they need to do so. However, be aware that a temporary visa will not issue for a period of more than one year, including the extension (extension requests may be for up to six months).

Extensions may not be applied for by those traveling on the visa waiver program.

Who May Apply for a U.S. Visa Extension?

If you fall into one of the following categories, you may apply for an extension of your temporary visa to the United States:

  • You were lawfully admitted into the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa;
  • Your nonimmigrant visa must not yet have expired;
  • You cannot have committed any crimes that would make you ineligible for a visa;
  • You have to apply for the extension before the expiration of your current visa; and
    • The expiration date is listed on your Arrival/Departure Forms (I-94 forms, which can be found by visiting the USCIS website if you do not have a copy).
  • Your passport is valid and will remain valid for the duration of your visit to the U.S.

Crimes like drug violations or criminal convictions that (in total) resulted in 5 years of prison or more can result in being declared ineligible for a visa and/or extension. U.S. immigration law also includes “crimes of moral turpitude” which is purposefully vague in order to be a catch-all. Typically, crimes like murder, rape, spousal abuse, kidnapping, or attempting/conspiracy/accessory to one of those crimes would be disqualifying under immigration laws.

Who May Cannot Apply for a U.S. Visa Extension?

If your visitor status falls into one of the following categories, you are not eligible for an extension of your temporary visa:

  • Visa waiver program. As mentioned above, those visiting the U.S. through the visa waiver program are not on a temporary visa, and may not apply for an extension of one.
  • Crew member. A crew member has a class “D,” nonimmigrant visa and is not eligible to apply for an extension.
    • For example, an international flight attendant.
  • Those who are only in transit through the U.S.
  • Fiancé of a U.S. citizen or a dependent of a fiancé; and
  • Informant (and accompanying family) on terrorism or organized crime.

What is the Application Process for a Visa Extension in the U.S.?

This depends on the specific visa you hold, which depends on your purpose in visiting the United States for an extended period of time.

Those who visit the U.S. to work must file Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) with the USCIS, and include any necessary documentation. The following are classes of worker visas:

  • 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; and
  • TN: Canadians and Mexicans under NAFTA.

The application should be sent to the USCIS Service Center nearest to your place of employment.

Other people may visit  the U.S. in order to go to school or for a variety of other reasons. They would file Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status), along with any necessary documentation:

  • A: Diplomatic and other government officials;
  • B: Temporary visitors for business or pleasure;
  • F: Academic students and their families;
  • G: Representatives to international organizations;
  • I: Representatives of foreign media;
  • J: Exchange visitors;
  • M: Vocational students; and
  • 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.

There are also accompanying fees with the applications. Both should be sent to you nearest USCIS Service Center.

What if My Visa for My Authorized Stay Has Already Expired?

As mentioned above, it is prudent to file for the extension at least 45 days before your current visa expires, in order to allow plenty of time. Once your visa expires, you are in the country unlawfully.

If you do not file your extension in a timely manner, and your visa expires, you must prove that:

  • The circumstances which prevented your timely filing were beyond your control;The length of the delay was reasonable;
  • The terms of your visa have not been violated in any other way;
  • You still maintain nonimmigrant status; and
  • You are not involved in proceedings for your removal from the United States (otherwise known as deportation).

Do I Need a Lawyer to Extend My Nonimmigrant Status?

If you are interested in changing your temporary visa status, an experienced immigration attorney can advise you on the necessary forms and deadlines required. In addition, a skilled immigration attorney can assist in completing your application with the correct documentation and explain to you your options if you are denied a change.