USCIS has posted a reminder of the flexibility of certain nonimmigrant programs for international visitors who wish to extend their stay in the U.S. due to unexpected events in their home countries (for example, the recent severe weather in the Caribbean due to Hurricane Ike):
Nonimmigrant tourists and business visitors, when unexpected events occur in their home country, may request an extension of stay to extend their travel time. These visitors will need to explain in their request (on Form I-539, the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) how the event affected their ability to return home, how much longer they expect to remain in the U.S. and proof that they can support themselves while remaining in the U.S. during this extended period.
USCIS notes that it will also accept requests to change status for such individuals to that of a business or pleasure nonimmigrant visa (B1 or B2, respectively) when they are not able to simply extend their original visa. In addition, visitors paroled into the U.S. whose travel plans have been delayed due to inclement home country conditions may request an extension of parole by visiting a local USCIS office.
Foreign students, who are unable to continue to pay for their education due to an unexpected event in their home country, may request an off-campus employment visa (Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization).
Nonimmigrant individuals whose travel plans have been affected by unexpected events in their home country may request expedited processing of these applications.