What Happens if You Overstay Your Visa?

To visit the United States, you might need to acquire a nonimmigrant visa. The U.S. immigration system lists more than 30 different types of nonimmigrant visas, all of which grant temporary legal status in the U.S. for various reasons.

Here are just a few of the travel purposes that may qualify you for a nonimmigrant visa:

  • Athletic competitions
  • Performances
  • Foreign exchange student programs
  • Business or investment
  • Medical work
  • Education
  • Specialty occupations
  • Tourism/vacations
  • Seasonal agricultural work

Each visa has its own requirements, restrictions, and intended length of stay. Some can even allow you to extend or change your status.

Understanding the limits of your visa is critical because overstaying or otherwise violating your visa can have serious consequences. In most cases, USCIS can deny future visa applications if it finds that you overstayed a previous visa. Once an immigrant agent or officer discovers that you have violated your visa, it will be rendered void.

Accidentally overstaying a visa is easier than many would believe. This is because the length of time a visa is supposed to last is not actually what tells you when you must leave. Instead, you must look at the “admit until date” on your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. The visa expiration date, on the other hand, simply tells you how long you have to enter the United States.

What Are the 3- & 10-Year Bars?

Since the 1990s, unlawful presence in the U.S. has triggered bars to entry for foreign nationals. If you overstay your visa, the time you spend in the U.S. without proper documentation qualifies as “unlawful presence,” and it may trigger either a 3- or 10-year bar.

If you overstay your visa for 180 or more days before leaving the U.S., you cannot return for another 3 years, even if you are otherwise eligible for another visa.

If you overstay your visa for a year or longer, you cannot return for 10 years.

Unlawful presence can also prevent you from adjusting your status to permanent residence. The adjustment of status process is supposed to occur while you are living lawfully in the United States, but a person who accumulates unlawful presence will need to leave the U.S., wait out the 3- or 10-year bar, and then apply for an immigrant visa through consular processing.

In certain cases, you may be able to avoid this bar if you are a spouse or other immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.

Waivers of Inadmissibility

Some individuals who are inadmissible to the U.S. or ineligible for a visa can qualify for a waiver. If you obtain a waiver, USCIS essentially forgives certain inadmissibility factors, such as unlawful presence. The waiver will be valid indefinitely, and it will allow you to adjust your status or obtain a visa.

Qualifying for a waiver of inadmissibility is difficult, however, as you must prove to the adjudicating officer that you should obtain a visa even though you are technically ineligible. In most cases, you will need to show that your spouse or parent (who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident) would experience extreme hardship if you were forced to leave the U.S. or could not permanently join them.

Because waivers can be so difficult to obtain, you must do everything you can to adhere to all visa restrictions, avoid overstaying your visa, and maintain a clean record. You may have options if an immigration agency discovers that you have violated your visa, but you will need knowledgeable support to overcome this barrier.

Retain Personalized Counsel & Representation

Whether you need help understanding your rights and responsibilities or you need a dedicated advocate to fight for your future in the U.S., Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A. is here for you. We have half a century of legal experience, which we use every day to help our clients accomplish their immigration goals. No matter what type of challenge you’re currently facing, you will greatly benefit from this level of skill and experience.

Give our office a call at (888) 491-8770 or reach out to us online. We look forward to working with you and your loved ones.