US Visitor Visa Extension Guide
US visitor visas are designed for overseas nationals to visit the United States for a period of up to 6 months.
If you find you need to stay in the US for longer than 6 months, you will need to understand the rules on visitor visa extensions to avoid being out of lawful status. Not all visitors can extend their stay beyond 6 months, and you may need to consider alternative immigration options. Remaining in the US beyond your authorized period of stay is illegal and can impact your ability to return to the US in the future.
In this guide we look at options for US visitor visa holders to prolong their time and lawful status in the US; we explain the rules on extending a US visitor visa, or if this is not possible, how to apply to adjust status to another nonimmigrant category from a visitor visa. We also look at the process to apply for a US visitor visa extension or how to adjust nonimmigrant status where the relevant requirements are met.
How long are US visitor visas valid for?
A visitor visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa to travel to the United States for the purposes of unpaid business activities (B-1 visa) or for the purposes of tourism (B-2 visa), or a combination of both, for a period of up to 6 months.
On the initial grant of a US visitor visa from an overseas Embassy or Consulate, this will allow the successful visa-holder to board a carrier to travel to the United States. On arrival at a US port-of-entry, typically an airport, the visitor can then request permission to enter.
A visa does not guarantee entry into the United States, where US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have the authority to permit or deny admission. However, if the visa-holder is permitted to enter the country, a CBP official will provide that individual with an admission stamp or a Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record), typically stamped with the amount of time required for the express purpose(s) of the visit.
Can you extend a US visitor visa?
In some cases, it may be possible to request to extend your period of stay as a visitor beyond the date indicated on the stamp or Form I-94 for a maximum period of up to one year. In order to do this, you must make an application before your period of stay expires.
Can you extend a visit if you traveled under ESTA?
The B visitor visa is required by overseas visitors who are not eligible to visit the United States by obtaining an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). An ESTA will allow eligible visitors to travel to the US visa-free for a period of up to 90 days for the purposes of either business or pleasure. The visitor visa is therefore also for those individuals who are looking to stay for longer than 3 months.
Importantly, anyone who entered the United States using an ESTA obtained under the VWP will not be eligible to apply to extend their stay beyond the maximum period of 90 days. You would need to leave the US before your ESTA permission expires and make an application under a relevant category for permission to remain in the US for longer.
Can you extend a visitor visa while in the US?
A US visitor visa-holder will either be required to leave the US on expiry of their permission to be in the country or to apply for an extension of stay before this runs out.
It is possible to apply for a US visitor visa extension while still in the United States, but this must be done prior to expiry of the visa-holder’s authorized period of stay and only where all of the relevant requirements for a visa extension can be met, including where:
- the applicant was lawfully admitted into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa
- their nonimmigrant visa status remains valid
- they have not committed any crimes that make them ineligible for a visa
- they have not violated the conditions of their admission, and
- their passport is valid and will remain so for the entire duration of the requested extension of stay in the United States.
The visitor should check the date on the admission stamp or the lower right hand corner of their Form I-94 to establish the date that their authorised stay expires. The admission stamp shows the length of time a person can legally remain in the United States, while the visa itself will only show when and how many times a person may seek admission to the United States from abroad based on the classification of that visa. It is recommended by USCIS that an application to extend B nonimmigrant status is submitted at least 45 days before an individual’s authorised stay in the US expires. This should allow for ample processing time and help to minimise any risk of unlawful presence in the United States.
If an extension of stay is not sought, or approved, any failure to depart the United States on time will result in being out of lawful nonimmigrant status. If a visitor remains in the US longer than authorised, they may be deported. Under US law, visas of individuals who are out of status are also automatically voided, which means that any multiple-entry visa that was voided will not be valid for future entries. Additionally, a failure to depart the US on time may result in the visa-holder being ineligible for a visa in the future, including but not limited to a visitor visa, where they may be effectively barred from returning to the US.
How to apply for a visitor visa extension
To apply for a US visitor visa extension, the visa-holder must submit an online or paper application to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) before their authorised stay expires.
When filing for an extension with USCIS, in addition to Form I-539, the applicant must also submit a written statement or cover letter in support, explaining in detail the following:
- the reason(s) for their extension request
- the reasons why their extended stay would be temporary, including what arrangements they have made to depart from the United States, and
- any effect the extended stay may have on foreign employment or residency.
An extension of stay is not automatic. As a visitor visa is a nonimmigrant visa, designed only for temporary stays in the US, the visa-holder must be able to show USCIS that they have a genuine reason permissible under the visitor rules to want to stay longer in the United States. They must also be able to show that they intend to depart the US at the end of their stay and have binding ties overseas to ensure their return home.
What documents are needed for a US visitor visa extension?
To file for a US visitor visa extension, in addition to Form I-539 and a written statement or cover letter in support, the following documents will typically be needed:
- any original Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)
- a photocopy of the applicant’s passport with the CBP admission stamp
- supporting documents demonstrating the temporary nature of the extended stay
- copies of return flight tickets or proof of other arrangements made to leave the US
- documents showing the impact of the extended stay on employment or residency overseas, such as proof that the applicant still has a job and a home to return to
- proof of financial independence and the ability to cover the cost of the extended stay.
How long does it take to extend a US visitor visa?
Once an application for a US visitor visa extension has been submitted to USCIS, the applicant will be provided with a receipt notice containing a 13-digit case number. This number can be used to check the status of the application and its processing time. The current processing times for different types of applications can also be searched at ‘Check Case Processing Times’ on the USCIS website. This provides a useful online tool which requires the user to enter the form type (Form I-539), plus the form category (extension of stay for B nonimmigrant) and the location of filing for an estimate of timescales.
Importantly, even if a timely application is made for an extension of stay, but USCIS does not make a decision before the applicant’s authorised stay expires, that person’s lawful nonimmigrant status will still end and they will be classed as out of status. It is also worth noting that if an application for extension of status is pending, USCIS will generally defer any removal proceedings until after a decision is made, although this is not guaranteed.
If the application for an extension of stay is approved, the approval will relate back to the date the Form I-94 expired, and the applicant’s status while their application was pending will then be considered to have been lawful. However, if the application is denied, they may be required to depart the United States immediately. In addition, any nonimmigrant visa in their passport granted in connection with their B classification will become void. Once a visa is void, a new visa application must then be submitted at a US Embassy overseas.
How much does a US visitor visa extension cost?
To apply for an extension of stay in either B-1 or B-2 nonimmigrant status using Form I-539 will cost $370. However, as of the beginning of October 2023, USCIS has exempted any additional biometric services fee, where applicable, for all Form I-539 applicants.
Will a US visitor visa extension require a further interview?
USCIS may require the applicant of a US visitor visa extension to appear for an interview to verify their identity, and to obtain additional information or documentation, although an extension may be granted without an interview. Much will depend on the reasons given for the extension of stay and the circumstances involved, and whether USCIS consider it necessary to ask the applicant questions in person. The applicant may also be asked to provide their biometric information, including a scan of their fingerprints and a photo.
Can a US visitor visa be used to visit the US several times?
A visitor visa will usually be granted as a multiple-entry visa, allowing the successful visa-holder to visit the United States a number of times during the validity of this visa for up to 6 months on each occasion. However, for anyone looking to stay in the US for a period of longer than 6 months, they will need to apply for a US visitor visa extension.
For those using a visitor visa to come to United States on more than one occasion, there should be a reasonable amount of time between each visit, although there is no set requirement for how long a visitor must wait. This means, for example, that someone can travel to the USA for 6 months every year on a visitor visa, provided they can satisfy border officials that they intend to depart at the end of each stay, maintaining significant ties to their country of residence. If officials become suspicious that a visitor visa is being used to live in the US through frequent or extended visits, they are likely to refuse a person entry.
Can an application be made to switch to a different visa?
If a person’s plans change while in the US, for example, where the visa-holder receives an offer of employment or would like to enrol on a course of study, they may be able to request a change to their nonimmigrant status to switch to another visa category. However, advice from an immigration specialist should be sought to explore all available options.
Importantly, a US visitor visa will not allow the holder to undertake paid or productive labour, including employment or self-employment, where they would need to apply for a suitable work visa if they plan to engage in any activities prohibited under the visitor rules. Equally, even though the visa-holder can engage in a short course of recreational study in B nonimmigrant status, where the primary purpose of their visit is business or tourism, they would need to apply for a suitable student visa if they plan to pursue any other studies.
If eligible, an application to change status must be made to USCIS, again using Form I-539, although requests to change status to certain employment-based classifications must instead be filed using Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker). Applications to adjust status in the US can be complex, requiring numerous documents in support, where the help of a specialised attorney to navigate any potential pitfalls is strongly advised.
NNU Immigration are US visa specialists. For specialist guidance on your US immigration options and applications, contact us.
US Visitor Visa Extension Guide FAQs
Can a US tourist visa be extended?
A US tourist visa is usually designed for trips of up to a maximum of 6 months, although it may be possible to apply to extend a visit to the United States for up to 12 months in certain circumstances.
Can I stay in USA for 6 months every year?
In theory, you can stay in the USA for 6 months every year on a visitor visa, where there is no set time to wait between visits, provided you are not intending to live there through frequent or extended visits.
How much does it cost to extend a tourist visa to USA?
The fee to apply to extend a tourist visa to stay on longer in the USA is currently set at $370 using Form I-539. However, if your visa extension application is not successful, this fee is non-refundable.
Can I apply extension for my visitor visa?
You can apply for an extension to your US visitor visa if you continue to meet the requirements under the visitor rules, including being able to show that you intend to depart the country at the end of your stay.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.