In the U.S. on a Visa? This One Common Mistake Could Put You in Danger
Understandably, most of the attention regarding the administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration approach has been focused on the crisis on the border and the cruel separation and detention policies which continue to tear families apart. But immigration authorities are also applying “zero-tolerance” policies to the smallest mistakes made by visa-holders. If you are in the U.S. on a valid non-immigrant visa, any misstep – even overstaying your status by just one day - can put your future in immediate and long-term jeopardy.
But thousands of visa-holders unknowingly put themselves in peril every year simply because they don’t understand the critical difference between the expiration date of a visa stamp (in your passport) and the expiration date of your status (the length of your authorized stay in the U.S.). These are two very distinct concepts in immigration law. Failing to recognize how the two work together, or often don’t work together, could render you inadvertently undocumented with devastating consequences.
What is a Visa?
A visa is a stamp that is put in your passport by the Department of State at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad. The visa stamp contains, among other information, the visa classification/type and the expiration date of that visa stamp. While that expiration date tells you the last day you can enter the U.S. during its validity, how long you can remain in the U.S. is not governed by the expiration of this visa stamp. For example, a B visitor visa stamp can be valid for up to 10 years, but each time you enter the U.S. using that visa, you will only be admitted for up to 6 months at a time.
What is Your Status in the U.S.?
While it’s important to know the expiration date of your visa stamp, it is even more vital to know the expiration date of your status. Your status in the U.S. is how long you can remain here once admitted. As will be explained in detail below, your I-94 card expiration controls your status and not your visa stamp expiration.
The expiration of your status is typically noted by the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officer in your passport on entry at the airport/port of entry. Additionally, every time you enter the U.S., you are given an electronic I-94 card. Your I-94 card shows the date you entered the country, the place you entered and, most importantly, the expiration date of your status – your “Admit Until Date.” This is the date that controls your status/stay in the U.S.
It is absolutely critical that you check your I-94 “Admit Until Date” every time you enter the U.S. You can check it here.
Per recent policy change from Washington, CBP Officers will not amend an I-94 expiration date where there has been no CBP error. For example, people are often only admitted to the States until the expiration date of a passport regardless of the expiration date of a visa stamp or otherwise. Thus, your “Admit Until Date” may be much shorter than you anticipated and you may not discover this until it is too late. If you do not check your I-94 and comply with the “Admit Until Date,” there may be dire immigration consequences.
Consequences of Overstaying Your Status
If you overstay your status, the consequences can be swift and enduring:
Your visa stamp can be canceled immediately, and you will only be able to apply for a new visa stamp in your country of origin;
You will likely have to disclose this overstay on future immigration applications;
You could face immediate removal proceedings resulting in deportation;
You could lose eligibility to obtain another visa or green card;
You could face a 3 or 10 year bar from entering the U.S., depending on the specific circumstances and the length of the overstay.
You May Have Options. We Can Help.
If you have concerns about your status or think you may have overstayed, you should speak with an immigration lawyer immediately. Depending on your situation, you may have options that can preserve your ability to remain in or return to the U.S.
Please contact McEntee Law Group to arrange for an initial consultation to discuss your immigration matter.