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#USImmigrationLaw: What If I Overstay My Visa?

By Peter Clarke, JD on July 05, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

You got a visa so that you could enter the United States lawfully and return without trouble. But now the clock is ticking and your visa is about to expire, and you're wondering what happens if you stay here anyway.

The consequences of overstaying a visa can be very severe or quite minimal, depending on your circumstances. Of course, your best bet is to try to extend a visa before it expires, and you do have that option, generally speaking. Let's see what else you can do.

Overstay Consequences

The result of staying in the U.S. beyond the time allotted by your visa is a bar on reentry. It may be for a few years or a decade or, in some cases, you may never be allowed to return to the U.S., depending on the extent of your overstay. Foreign nationals unlawfully in the U.S. for 180 days to a year cannot come back for three years, while a longer overstay can result in a 10-year bar. How long you overstay a visa will determine the severity of the government's response. The punishment, reasonably enough, is that you can't get another visa.

Time Stops for Some

Time stops for no one, but it does toll in the law occasionally. Tolling indicates that the clock stops in the context of a case with time limitations. People who overstay their visas may stop the clock -- meaning they will not be penalized legally -- in certain situations. The following will toll time on an overstay if a foreign national:

  • Has been lawfully admitted or paroled into the U.S.
  • Was under the age of 18 during the unlawful presence.
  • Has a non-frivolous pending asylum application on file with USCIS Is a victim of trafficking and is unlawfully present due to the trafficking Is a beneficiary of a family unity program.
  • Has a pending application for either an adjustment, an extension, or a change of status.
  • Had a non-immigrant visa and is a battered spouse or child who can show a connection between the abuse and the overstay.

Some of these exceptions apply to extreme situations while others are quite common. If you are in immigration proceedings of another kind, for example, time may toll during the pendency and your overstay will not be counted against you while waiting to adjust your status.

Consult With Counsel

If you are concerned about immigration issues, speak to a lawyer. Many immigration attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your options.

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