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Consequences of Overstaying My Visa in the United States

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on March 21, 2016 3:57 PM

You came to the United States and decided to remain ... maybe even just a little longer. What will happen if you overstay your visa?

The answer to that question is not simple. It can depend on how you came, why you are staying, and more. Almost every rule has exceptions -- perhaps you can't go home or you need to stay for reasons recognized by the law. Let's take a look at some general rules that will give you the tools to consider your situation.

Overstay

Remaining in the US beyond the time provided in a visa is punishable in immigration law. You can be barred from receiving another visa for years -- just how many years you'll be forced to stay away depends on the length you remained against the law.

Generally, overstaying a visa for 180 days to a year can result in a 3-year bar to re-entry in the country. If you hang around here for a few years without lawful immigration status then you might find that, once you do leave and decide to return, you'll be barred for a decade.

Exceptions and Extensions

Which visa you entered the US with may determine some of your options. Some people come as tourists, others as students or workers. Your visa dictates that which you are legally allowed to do while here, how long you can stay, and the process for obtaining an exception.

But people can and do change their status once they get here for many reasons, most notably love and work. Let's take love as an example; say you come on a tourist visa, fall head over heels in love with an American, get married, and don't go home. That may be fine -- but to answer the question precisely would require more facts about your life.

Some people also come in on a visa waiver program, meaning they need no visa to enter as a tourist based on an agreement between the US and their nation. That can impact their status when they apply for a visa based on marriage. So, as you can see, it gets tricky to answer the overstay question.

Context Is Key

You may be thinking that this confusion is bad news for you but it is not. What it means is that you may have options or a process for remaining in the United States legally. Which options are available to you depends on details of your situation. Every person has a story and it's often a complicated one. Immigration law recognizes this.

Speak to a lawyer. Tell your story. Find out what options are available to you and start doing what you can to get or remain in lawful immigration status.

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