Is it Legal to Overstay Your Visa?

With illegal immigration being a hot news topic for the past years, many people may ask if overstaying a valid visa is against the law. In short, the answer is yes.

Whenever a foreign national enters the United States on a visa, or using a waiver program, the foreigner is given a specific date by which he or she must leave the country. Depending on the visa, this time may be short or long. For example, visitors who are simply tourists or are seasonal workers may only be allowed to legally stay in the country for a few months. For other foreigners, such as students or non-seasonal workers, the visa length may be several years. No matter how long you are allowed to stay, once your date of departure passes and you have not left the country, you are in the U.S. illegally.

Immigration Officials Decide

Notably, your visa is simply a document that allows you to enter the U.S. It does not state the length of your allowable stay. Technically, a visa allows a foreigner to travel from his or her home country to a port of entry in the U.S. Once the foreign national has arrived at an American port of entry, a customs and border protection (CBP) officer determines whether or not the person may enter the U.S. If you are allowed to enter, then the CBP officer decides how long you can legally stay. In short, a CBP does have the authority to refuse to let you in to the country.

When a CBP officer allows entry, he or she will provide a second card that must be kept with the visa. This is referred to as a Form I-94 and it determines how long a foreign national is allowed to legally stay in the U.S. If you arrived to the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, the Form I-94 will say “D/S” for duration of status instead of having an actual date printed on it. “D/S” means that a person on a student visa may remain in the country for as long as it takes to complete full-time studies, with an extra 60-day grace period to leave the country.

Overstaying and the Consequences

If a foreign national overstays beyond the date on the Form I-94 or the end of the F-1 visa time frame, he or she is in the U.S. illegally. The consequences for overstaying a visa are serious. First, your visa is cancelled automatically and will likely prevent you from getting another visa in the future. Once you are in the country illegally – referred to as “unlawful presence” – for a period of 180 days or more, you become “inadmissible.” In short, you will not be granted a visa, green card, or other immigration benefit for several years. An overstay of between 180 and 365 days results in three years, while an overstay that is over 365 days results in a 10-year barring of reentry.

Legal Help in Las Vegas

Immigration laws are complex and seem to be getting more complicated as the years go by. At Parry & Pfau, our skilled Nevada lawyers have been fighting for their clients in Las Vegas and across the state of Nevada for years. Call us today for an initial case evaluation.

(image courtesy of Kelsey Knight)