Form I-539 applications to change or extend nonimmigrant status that are postmarked on or after October 1, 2023 will not require a biometrics fee and in most cases, will not be scheduled for a biometrics appointment. USCIS is following through with its previously stated commitment to remove biometrics collection as a standard requirement for the Form I-539 process. In some cases, USCIS may still determine that biometrics are required, so applicants should attend any scheduled biometrics appointments.
A closer look
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is eliminating the biometrics fee and the routine collection of biometrics (fingerprints and photo) for any Form I-539 application to change or extend nonimmigrant status that is postmarked on or after October 1, 2023. Applications filed on or after that date should include a Form I-539 filing fee only. However, USCIS reserves the right to require biometrics on a case-by-case basis if deemed necessary, and Form I-539 applicants should attend any biometrics appointments that are scheduled for them by USCIS.
Background on the Form I-539 biometrics policy
USCIS began collecting biometrics from Form I-539 applicants in March 2019 under the Trump administration. Processing times increased for these applications and for any corresponding H-4, L-2, and E spousal work authorization. As a result of negotiations in a lawsuit challenging lengthy processing delays for H-4 and L-2 applicants (Edakunni, et al. v. Mayorkas), USCIS temporarily suspended biometrics collection for H, L, and E derivatives for a period from May 17, 2021 through September 30, 2023. During this time, affected I-539 applications are adjudicated using biographic information and background checks, as was agency policy prior to March 2019. Today’s USCIS announcement extends that policy to all Form I-539 applicants as a permanent policy change, starting October 1.
In several public statements within the last year, USCIS has confirmed its plan to permanently eliminate the biometrics requirement for all Form I-539 applicants. The policy change was announced in the USCIS Fiscal Year 2022 Progress Report, released in December 2022, and then in April 2023, when the agency extended its H-4/L-2/E dependent biometrics suspension to September 30, 2023.
Implementation of the new policy
Forms I-539 postmarked on or after October 1, 2023 should include a Form I-539 only; a biometrics fee should not be included. However, USCIS has provided guidance on how it will handle applicant errors in biometrics fee payment on or after October 1, as follows:
- If an applicant mistakenly submits the biometric services fee and the payment is submitted separately from the Form I-539 fee, USCIS will return the biometric services fee and accept the Form I-539.
- If an applicant mistakenly submits the biometric services fee and the payment is combined with a paper-based Form I-539 filing fee, this is considered an incorrect filing and USCIS will reject the Form I-539.
- If an applicant mistakenly authorizes a credit card payment that combines the biometric services fee with the application fee, USCIS will accept the application and only charge the application fee.
What this means for foreign nationals
The change in biometrics policy will alleviate some of the processing backlogs that face the full range of I-539 applicants, including B, TD, and O and P dependents. It will also continue to alleviate the backlogs for I-539 applicants already benefitting from a temporary suspension – those seeking H-4, L-2, and E derivative changes of status and extensions of stay – whose temporary biometrics suspension had been due to expire on September 30, 2023. For these individuals, faster Form I-539 adjudication also impacts any corresponding work authorization that depends on their spousal nonimmigrant status.
It is important to note that Form I-539 applicants who receive a USCIS biometrics appointment notice even after the change in policy should attend their appointment. USCIS may have utilized its discretion to require biometrics for their individual application, and failure to attend a biometrics appointment can result in the application being deemed abandoned.