Most people who visit the United States do so after applying for and being granted a temporary or non-immigrant visa. Although these visitors enter the country legally, they may then sometimes overstay their visas, and remain in the country in violation of immigration laws.
When non-immigrant visas are granted, they usually have a set date on which they expire, and at that point the person travelling on the visa can no longer use the visa to enter the country. When a traveler uses the visa to travel to the United States, the traveler is required to leave on a set date, if the traveler fails to leave, he or she is said to overstay the visa.
Most people who overstay do so because they were not able to get their visas renewed because it meant leaving the country, they found employment or better opportunities, or because they face hardship by returning to their home country. Asylum applications are not always processed in a short period of time, and so for some people, it is easier to get a non-immigrant visa and then fail to return home at the expiration of the visa. Unfortunately, overstaying a visa is as illegal as crossing the border without a valid visa.
A person who overstays a visa can face some of the same consequences as a person who entered the country illegally. For example, if the person leaves the country, he or she can be banned from reentering the country for three to 10 years. The three-year ban applies if the person was in the country unlawfully for 180 days, but less than a year, before voluntarily leaving the country. If a person overstays a visa for more than a year before leaving voluntarily, then the 10-year ban applies if he or she tries to return. If a person overstays and gets deported, he or she becomes permanently ineligible for reentry.
In some cases, a person who has overstayed may be able to apply for an adjustment of status while in the United States. This is an option that is available to people who overstay their visas, but not to people who entered the country illegally without a visa. Most people applying for an adjustment of status do so because they marry an American citizen and wish to apply for a green card.
In most cases, a person who has overstayed a visa and later applies for a green card is required to leave the country to complete the process, but because of the reentry bans, most people would prefer to file for an adjustment of status and avoid leaving the country. To find out if an adjustment of status is possible in your case, you need to talk to an experienced immigration attorney.
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If you were granted a non-immigrant visa to travel to the United States as a student, tourist, or an employee, and overstayed beyond the time allowed, you may be limited in your options to legalize your status. For more information on how an experienced immigration attorney can assist you, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.