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An expired passport isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when you’re temporarily in the United States. Your I-94 can expire too and if it does, it could cause serious issues.
If you don’t want to return to your country and come back with a new I-94, you’ll need an I-94 extension. Here’s everything you need to know for a seamless process.
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What is the I-94 Arrival/Departure Record?
I-94 is a card or form every immigrant must-have. It’s what shows you can legally enter the United States (arrival) and when you must depart. How you travel determines how you receive your I-94. If you travel by air or sea, the document is electronic, but if you travel any other way, you’ll receive the I-94 card.
The length of your I-94 varies by person and the type of visa they carry. Some I-94s are only good for a couple of months and others are good for the intended duration of your visa. Your I-94 will state this.
If your I-94 expires before your visa, you’ll need an I-94 extension.
What is an I-94 Extension?
If you want to stay in the United States longer than your I-94 states, you’ll need an I-94 extension. It’s best to apply for the extension 45 days before it expires.
An I-94 extension only extends the duration date on your I-94, not your visa. It basically allows you to stay in the US longer than the original I-94 states.
How to Extend your I-94
1. Determine if you’re eligible to extend your I-94
You may be eligible to extend your I-94 if:
- You entered the United States legally
- You haven’t committed any crimes or acts that would jeopardize your immigration
- You have a valid visa
- You have a valid passport
2. Complete Form I-539
Complete Form I-539 at least 45 days prior to your I-94 expiration. The USCIS typically won’t approve an extension request that occurs after your departure date passed.
To complete it, you’ll need:
- Personal identifying information
- Your most current I-94 number
- Yoru passport
- Most recent entry date into the US
- Your current visa category
- The date you need your I-94 extended until
- Your address back home
- Data from any criminal history
3. If you need an extension for an employment-based visa complete Form I-129
Your employer must complete this form if you are a nonimmigrant worker here on a work visa. But, if you have family here, they must complete Form I-539 for themselves and your employer must complete Form I-129 for you.
I-94 Extension Processing Time
The I-94 extension processing times vary based on the workload of the USCIS and the type of extension needed. On average, it takes at least 45 days, but sometimes longer.
There is no guarantee that you’ll receive approval, which is why applying for the extension early is so important. If your I-94 expires before you have an answer on your I-94 extension, you don’t have to worry about deportation. If the I-94 extension is approved, the time you were here with an expired I-94 will be legal.
If you’re concerned about processing times, check here and click Form I-539, and the center you will send your forms to.
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I-94 Extension and COVID-19, What You Must Know
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed most processes down, including I-94 extensions. Fortunately, the government is understanding if you do things in a timely manner. In other words, allow enough time for the extension considering the circumstances - don’t wait until the last minute.
In many cases, employment authorization is automatically extended for 240 days as long as you file your extension on time.
If your extension is due to anything outside of work, and your delay was caused by COVID-19, they’ll likely excuse the delay without penalty, but your delay must coincide with the circumstances and not be extensive.
In addition, it’s important to do the following:
- Tell the truth - Never lie to get your I-94 extended. This only leads to more problems. Be 100% truthful about the situation and they’ll work with you. When you lie, you may make a mistake and/or get caught in the lie and have worse consequences.
- Pay the fees - Make sure you know the appropriate fees and pay them on time. Any delay in the extension could cause you more problems.
- Know the travel restrictions - If you must travel to get your I-94 extension, make sure you’re aware of any travel restrictions that could impede your progress.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with an I-94 extension can get confusing. We’re here to help. The key is to act early, especially during the pandemic as it’s slowed many processes down. Always check the processing time on the USCIS website and let us help you get through the process with as little stress as possible.