There were over 8 million visas issued by the State Department in 2019.
While getting lawful entry into the United States is important, it’s important to know the rules for when your visa eventually expires. It’s easy to get lost in the regulations and paperwork, but overstaying your visa has real consequences.
What are those consequences and how can you avoid them? What should you do with an overstayed visa?
That’s what we’ll be looking at today. In this article, we’ll explore what a US visa overstay looks like and what happens when you overstay a visa in the United States.
What Constitutes USA Visa Overstay?
But what does a US visa overstay look like?
It’s important to know exactly when you were expected to leave. To find this, go to your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.
This is different from the last date on your visa, which just indicates the last date you could enter the U.S. To find out whether you’ve overstayed, you’ll need to count forward from that date on your I-94.
If you’re a student, the I-94 will say “D/S,” which stands for “duration of status.” This means you can only stay in the U.S. for as long as you’re in school.
Is it Too Late For an Extension?
Applying for an extension or renewing your status to a permanent resident in the U.S. requires you to fill out an application to the USCIS. This has to be done well before your visa’s expiration.
Emergencies allow you some grace period. For example, the USCIS loosened some restrictions on administering these extensions or status changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally speaking, you need to submit your extension application on time.
What Constitutes an Unlawful Presence?
Unlawful presence means being in the United States without proper authorization. You might be banned from entering the U.S. if you accrued unlawful presence.
There are different ways to define unlawful presence, and it’s important to make some distinctions here.
If you were under the age of 18 or had a pending asylum application with USCIS, you won’t be given an unlawful presence. Those in a Family Unity program won’t get unlawful presence either.
As mentioned earlier, if you applied for a permanent residency or an extension on your visa, you won’t be hit with unlawful presence. Those who are victims of trafficking or an abusive parent who entered as an unregistered immigrant are also exempt. They only have to show proof of their circumstance.
For everyone else, it’s likely that their overstay time was added up and might be used against them.
Potential Consequences for Overstayed Visa
If those exceptions don’t apply to you, then your overstay can have a few different consequences. Here are the 5 most common ways:
1. U.S. Ban
The first consequence of note is the ban. There are three levels of penalties for overstaying a U.S. visa and getting unlawful presence.
You get a three-year ban if you accrued unlawful presence for up to 180 days but less than a year. This applies only if you left the country before any official removal procedures (like deportation) was made.
A ten-year ban occurs if you got an unlawful presence for up to 365 days. Again, if you leave the U.S. before any forced removal, you’ll get a ten-year ban at worst.
A permanent ban occurs for a few reasons. If your total unlawful presence adds up to over a year, then you’ll receive a lifetime ban. Deportation and other forced removal get you a permanent ban as well.
Those who got caught trying to enter the U.S. without inspection will also receive a lifetime ban.
2. Inability to Change Status
Those who overstay their visa won’t be able to change their status in the future. This means you can’t extend your stay on future visits or get a green card.
With that said, you might be able to stay if an application to extend your stay or change your status is sent in before your I-94’s expiration date.
Overstaying will automatically void your visa. Consulates and immigration departments are very strict on interpreting overstay, meaning even a day over the expiration date can be detrimental.
This means you might not be able to re-enter the U.S. because of your past void visas.
4. No Consulate Shopping
Any immigrant who overstayed their visa has to return to their home country and apply for another visa. However, you can’t apply for visas at consulates that are close to the U.S.
If there aren’t any consulates in your country, the Secretary of State might designate a country where you can go to obtain a visa.
5. Potential Visa Bonds
As of November, visitors from certain countries have to pay up to $15,000 in visa immigration bonds if they can’t prove that they left the U.S. on time.
This rule applies to 23 countries that have overstay rates of 10%.
For those looking to purchase immigration bonds, either for visa-related issues or otherwise, there are organizations that can help. Immigrants in states like Texas or California should look into immigration bonds if they feel their visa status is in jeopardy.
How to Avoid Overstay
Remember that the overstay penalties only apply if you violate the rules then try to return to the United States.
In some cases, individuals that are eligible for a green card can avoid the consequences by adjusting their status in the U.S. That is, they send an application for a green card and attend an interview with U.S. officials before any bans take place.
That being said, adjusting status isn’t as easy as it seems. Those who entered the U.S. illegally can’t adjust their status even if they’re technically eligible for a green card. They’d have to go through a U.S. consulate, which makes things more complicated.
This is all to say that the best way to avoid overstay is to keep up to date on your documents.
Check your I-94 expiration date. Like we mentioned earlier, this is different from the expiration date on your visa. These should be given to you physically if you enter the U.S. by land.
For those entering America by sea or through the air, it’ll probably be given to you electronically.
Another way to avoid overstay and have the right tools to navigate the situation is by keeping all your travel documents. Get your passport stamped when you enter a country. Save your boarding passes and tickets to prove your legality.
Understand Visa Regulations and Act Today
Knowing every important visa regulation is difficult amidst all the paperwork and bureaucracy. However, an overstayed visa constitutes broken visa terms at the end of the day.
Leverage this article to understand the consequences of overstaying your visa and how to avoid or deal with the situation.
For more information on visas and immigration, check out our blog!