Can my ESTA waiver visitor from Japan extend her stay here with us until it is safe to return to Japan?
Someone who entered on the Visa Waiver Program cannot apply for Extension of Status (i.e. extend their stay on VWP) or Change of Status (i.e. change to another nonimmigrant status, e.g. B2 visitor). However, there is something called "satisfactory departure" which can be granted to VWP visitors who cannot leave within their 90 days of admission due to an emergency like hospitalization or natural disaster in the US, to allow them to stay for an additional period of at most 30 days.
This USCIS page says you can try contacting the USCIS contact center to request satisfactory departure:
Flexibility for Visa Waiver Entrants. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. However, under current regulations, if an emergency (such as COVID-19) prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, USCIS in its discretion may grant up to 30 days to allow for satisfactory departure. Please see 8 CFR 217.3(a). For those VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure. To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center.
The CBP has also announced that they are granting satisfactory departure:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced today that Visa Waiver Program travelers who have been granted satisfactory departure may apply for an additional 30-day extension of their admission period if they remain unable to depart the United States because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Visa Waiver Program travelers may seek satisfactory departure by contacting:
- Any local CBP Port of Entry or Deferred Inspection Site; or
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Contact Center.
Travelers should be prepared to provide their passport number when submitting their request.