Especially in times of the Corona Pandemic in connection with travel restrictions, questions arise concerning the extension of the residence status in the USA.
The Arrival and Departure Card (I-94) is used to record the temporary residence permit of a person entering the United States. However, since the requirements for a status extension have changed due to the pandemic, we would like to show here which options are nevertheless available for an authorization for extension. The basic prerequisite for a temporary residence permit is always an entry for a specific purpose (e.g. taking up employment, studying).
At the moment, leaving the U.S. is not a problem, but re-entering the country is complicated because the current regulations make it much more difficult. This leads to many people staying in the country’s inner regions for longer periods at a time.
But what can be done when the residence status definitely expires?
Nonimmigrant visa holders should first consider the possibility of extending their status (Extension of Status). However, if an extension is excluded, then consideration should be given to what other status could be changed to in order to avoid being in the country illegally (Change of Status).
But what are the requirements for status renewal?
A status extension can only be applied for by holders of a non-immigrant visa. It is essential that the application is filed before the final deadline. If the non-immigrant status is no longer valid (I-94 status invalid), an extension will not be possible. The consequence of this would be a departure and a complete reapplication for a visa. The second requirement is that the passport must be valid for the entire period, including the period for the entire extension.
However, there are also exceptional cases in which an extension of status is generally not possible. This is the case, for example, if U.S. travelers have violated visa requirements or committed criminal offenses in the country. Also, travelers under the Visa Waiver Program* can only extend their stay for a maximum of 30 days under a goodwill arrangement due to pandemic-related circumstances. In addition, holders of a C-1/D, K-1 or K-2 visa and persons who have exhausted their maximum stay status of a visa category are excluded from a potential extension.
If a petition to extend residency status is filed, it must be filed with the USCIS immigration office prior to the expiration of the I-94. Depending on the visa category, an extension is done using the I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker and/or I-539 Application To Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status forms (https://www.uscis.gov/forms/all-forms). While the process of extension is ongoing, one should not leave the country or the official status will be forfeited.
The USCIS recommends that the application should be filed no later than 45 days prior to the expiration of the I-94. For the I-129 process, the option of an expedited process is also provided by USCIS for an additional fee. In contrast, the I-539 procedures are more time consuming (approximately 3-6 months) and no expedited process option is available.
While a process for renewal is in progress, the individual may continue to be in the country in the form of “tolerated status” after the I-94 expires. If it‘s subsequently denied, the person must leave the country immediately.
*(The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries * to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism stays of up to 90 days without a visa. https://www.dhs.gov/visa-waiver-program-requirements)