Extending your stay as a tourist in the US

I have decided to start working on my Mom’s visa extension to enable her to stay the full year from her arrival, July 1, so that we can transition Angel into preschool seamlessly.  It was an agreement we had from the time I gave birth that I only needed her to stay until Angel could attend preschool regularly at age 3 when he could be conversant enough to let me know if thing should go wrong at daycare.  I just wasn’t comfortable entrusting him to strangers when he still couldn’t talk.  From the way his vocabulary has taken shape in the last four months, we are okay.  He can now tell me if he got hurt, got a booboo, if he’s itchy, if he’s hungry, if he likes something, and if he is happy.  Between now and July next year, I am confident that we will hear an even more expanded vocabulary from the boy.  He continually tries to sound like he’s telling you a story, or carry on a conversation even if it’s in broken sentences.

It’s remarkable that one of the first sentences he has been able to master is to tell us which toy he wants his Dad to “buy” and “pay”.  With the acquisition of “Gordon” from the Thomas the Tank Engine series, this week he’s bugging his Dad to get him “Emily”.  (We already have three sizes of Thomas, and we have Diesel, James and Henry besides Gordon.)  He still can’t quite say “Thomas”, referring instead to his favorite character as “Toneau” — but he’s getting there.

My mom was fortunate enough to have been granted a 10-year multiple entry visa back in 2000, (giving her another four years on this one), and has since been here to help me with Angel three times now in the last 2 1/2 years.  The first time, she arrived just days before I gave birth and stayed for a year, thanks to a 6-month extension of her first visa of 6 months as well.  Her one-month break in Manila became a full six-month lull which saw her returning last year, after which we went home with her after her 6-month stay here in New York again.  This time around, I’m filing a last extension for her current 6-month visa to enable me to complete the months leading up to Angel’s enrollment full time in daycare.

Since friends and friends of friends have “consulted” me on what they are supposed to do to extend their stay here in the US, I thought it would be helpful to lay it all out here to enable those who might “google” the topic to find a reference.

First of all, let me say that the US Immigration Website is a very user-friendly website.  It has an index arranged through its FAQs or Frequently Asked Questions by topic, making it easy for the ordinary Joe to navigate their way around.  For those seeking to file an extension of their stay here in the US, do keep in mind that like your original visa, the granting of an extension is purely discretionary on the part of the US Goverment.  (Yes, despite the $200 processing fee which is non-refundable if your extension is denied.)

Let me say though that despite all the horror stories I have heard, I have yet to encounter a person who had actually been denied an extension.  While the length of extensions I have personal knowledge of vary from 30 days to 6 months beyond the validity of the original stay on any given entry, the people I have spoken to were all granted upon applying.  We are being warned that a second extension will not be granted, but I beg to differ because this is the first extension for my Mom during this stay, and secondly, and I know my bestfriend was granted a second extension when she was here years ago, although this was later on taken against her when she tried to renew her visa.  Again, just like applying for a regular tourist visa — everything is really subjective and is decided on a case-to-case basis.

So I am keeping my fingers crossed that this final extension is granted, because otherwise, Mom will leave at the end of the year and maybe return soon after for one last 6 month “tour of duty”.

General information about extending one’s stay in the US can be found here. The most important thing to note is that you must file the extension at least 45 days before the date stamped on your I-94 and/or passport signifying the deadline of the stay granted to you here in the US.  Naturally if you received only 15 days or anything less than 45 days, the prudent thing to do is to immediately file the extension, or at least within such reasonable time as to ensure that the CIS receives you application BEFORE your stay’s expiration.  The form which has the application and explanation/instructions regarding the extension of stay is explained here  and is downloadable as a fillable PDF form here.  (The website recommends that you download and save the form on your hard drive and fill it in, then print out to submit.)

There is a comprehensive list of required documentation, foremost of which is a copy of your passport which shows a validity beyond 6 months from the date your original stay expires.  So if your stay expires on January 1, 2007, your passport should be valid at least until June 30, 2007.  If it expires before that, even if you are actually able to renew your passport here in the Philippine consulate (which I do not advise because they will charge you in dollars.. when I did it in 2002, I was charged $50!!), the CIS will NOT approve it because you will fail one of their requirements.  As when you apply for a US Visa from Manila, you must be able to prove that you have an intention to return to the Philippines, and that you are financially able to support yourself through your extended stay here in the US.  In lieu of your own financial capability, you can show proof (as we did) of your “sponsors” financial ability.  In our case, both Alan and I submitted verifiable certificates of employment stating our length of employment in our respective companies, position and actual salary.  To prove that Mom still lives in the Philippines, we got a current Barangay clearance/certification from where we live in San Juan which we will submit.  (This was so generously handcarried by Nerris to me.)  In the case of those who came here during a leave of absence, a letter from your employer certifying that you have been granted a leave of absence good for the duration of the extension you are seeking is also helpful.  It is not required, but the point is to show that you have reason to return to the Philippines after your extension is granted.

With my Mom, it is fairly straightforward that I need her here to help me with my son, so that is the reason I stated and will state in my cover letter.  If you wish to stay to see other relatives or friends outside of the state you originally meant to visit, letters of invitation from those individuals would also be helpful, along with supporting financial documents like a certificate of employment to show they can take care of you while you are staying with them.  If you mean to seek medical treatment, again, your application should be submitted with pertinent certifications proving that.

And of course, all your reasons and documents should be summarized concisely in a well-written cover letter.  Nothing verbose, but make sure it is grammatically sound.

Even if you fulfill all these and submit your requirements in a timely fashion, you should be ready to leave at the appointed time unless you receive the granting of your request before that date arrives.  So while I am going to take care of the paperwork and submit what is required of me, I will also start getting Mom ready for a possible trip home.  Her plane ticket is an open booking so it should be fairly easy, but her 6-month stay is at the end of December which is peak season for travel back to Manila.  Of course I’m counting on anothe approval, but I have to be ready — just in case.