Understanding what to do when your visa expires is crucial to your stay in the United States, and experienced immigration lawyers can help. It is incredibly important to note, for instance, that there is a significant difference between the expiration date on your visa and the amount of time you can stay in the United States after your visa expires. While your visa allows you to enter the U.S., the date on your visa is not the expiration date for when you must leave.
Therefore, everyone in the United States on a visa should understand what a U.S. Visa Overstay is, what the penalties are if you overstay a U.S. visa, and how you can get a U.S. visa waiver.
Our experienced team of immigration lawyers at Jackson, Landrith & Kulesz, PC can also help with:
- Employment-Based Visas
- Family Visas
- Student Visas
- Green Cards
- Adjustment of Status
This article dives into the various options you have if your visa expires and how you can extend your stay in the United States. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
What is a U.S. visa expiration date?
When a non-US citizen arrives at a port of entry in the U.S., the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer determines the length of your visit. You can see the date that you are admitted until or “D/S” (duration of stay) status on the admission stamp or on paper Form 1-94.
If either the admission stamp or the Form I-94 has a specific date on it, then that is the date that your visa will expire, and you must leave the U.S. However, if you have D/S on either the admission stamp or Form I-94, then you can stay in the U.S. so long as you continue your studies, are an active member of your exchange program or have qualifying employment.
It is crucial not to confuse the expiration date with the date on your actual visa. The date on your actual visa is the date you can lawfully enter the U.S. by, not the date you must leave by.
What should I do before the expiration date arrives?
First, you should know when exactly your expiration date is so that you can plan ahead to ensure you do not overstay. Individuals in the U.S. with a valid nonimmigrant visa can either:
- Apply for a Change of Status; or
- Apply for an Extension of Stay
Each of these options may allow you to prevent the consequences of an overstay. Read on below to learn more about each option.
Applying for a Change of Status
If you entered the U.S. legally, you could apply for a lawful permanent resident status (also known as the application process for obtaining a Green Card). This means that you can obtain a Green Card without having to first go back to your home country to complete the visa processing.
Before your expiration date arrives, you should first determine if you are eligible to apply for a green card. The USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) provides various categories that allow individuals eligibility for a green card, including:
- Through Family
- Through Employment
- As a Special Immigrant
- Through Refugee or Asylee Status
- Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
- Victims of Abuse
- Various Other Categories
- Through Registry (residing in the U.S. since before January 1, 1972)
Next, you must complete at least two forms, including an immigrant petition and a Green Card application. Typically, another individual (often known as sponsoring or petitioning for you) fills out the petition.
Then you have to check for visa availability and then file a Form I-485. The final steps include attending a biometrics services appointment at your local Application Support Center. Here you will provide fingerprints, a photograph, and/or signature. In some cases, you will have to go to an interview and respond to requests for additional evidence before you receive a decision.
The application process for a Green Card can be lengthy and confusing. It is crucial that you consult with experienced immigration lawyers before beginning the process to ensure you file all the correct documents and follow the procedures.
Applying for an Extension of Stay
If you want to extend your stay, you must apply with the USCIS for an extension of stay before your authorized stay expires. You should apply well before the expiration date arises to ensure that you obtain the extension before the expiration date.
You must apply by filling out the Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. In order to be eligible to apply, you must meet the following criterion:
- You entered the U.S. lawfully with a nonimmigrant visa.
- Your nonimmigrant visa status is valid.
- You did not commit any crimes that would render you ineligible for a visa.
- You did not violate any of the conditions of your admission.
- You have a valid passport, which will remain valid for the duration of your stay.
When should I file an application for an Extension of Stay?
The USCIS review process for application can vary. You should always apply well before your expiration date in order to ensure that you receive a decision before the date arises. The USCIS recommends filing at least 45 days before your stay expires.
Will my application for an Extension of Stay automatically be approved?
No. An approval for an application for an extension of stay is not automatically granted. The USCIS looks at your status, why you want to extend, and consider other factors before granting your application. If granted, the USCIS will also determine how long the extension will be in effect for.
What if I do not hear back from the USCIS regarding my application for an Extension of Stay before my stay expires?
If you do not hear back after submitting your application, but your stay has expired, the USCIS uses its discretion in determining whether to begin removal procedures. However, you do not start to accrue an “unlawful presence” or overstay while your extension of status is pending. Even if your Form I-94 expires, so long as you have not violated the terms of your nonimmigrant status, you may be able to continue working for a maximum period of 240 days while your application is pending. Nonetheless, in order to be eligible for the maximum period of 240 days, you must have submitted your application before your I-94 expired.
Contact Our Experienced Immigration Lawyers With Your Questions
If you have any questions regarding your visa status, when your expiration date is, and what to do if your visa expiration date arrives, contact our experienced team of immigration lawyers here at Jackson, Landrith & Kulesz, PC. We can also help in other areas of immigration law, like Naturalization, Citizenship, Employment-Based Visas, Family Visas, Student Visas, Green Cards, Adjustment of Status, Refugee, and Asylum.
We take the time to understand your unique situation and provide you with the answers to all of your questions to make informed decisions to move forward. With over five decades of practice, we are here to help you and make ourselves available when you need us. Contact us any time for an initial consultation.
Have more questions about immigration law? Learn more from our frequently asked questions.