If you overstay your visa, you're in the United States illegally. There's not much difference under the law between someone who enters illegally without a visa and someone who stays past the time a visa expires. When you overstay, you become "out-of-status." However, it's not always easy to understand when your visa expires.
U.S. Immigration Decides How Long You Can Stay
Your visa doesn't state how long you can stay in the United States, and it doesn't actually get you into the country. A visa only allows you to travel from your own country to a port of entry in the United States. When you arrive at the port of entry, an immigration officer decides whether to allow you to come into the country and, if so, how long you can stay. It's possible that the officer could turn you away. The officer makes the final decision.
Your "Out-of-Status" Date Is Not on Your Visa
When the immigration officer allows you to enter, you'll receive a second card to keep with your visa, a Form I-94. Your Form I-94 is the document that actually determines how long you can legally stay in the country. The date on your visa only tells you how long you can use it to arrive in the United States. The date on your Form I-94 determines when you must leave the country.
Your Visa May Be Cancelled
If you stay past the date on your Form I-94, your visa is cancelled. Without a valid visa allowing you to arrive at a United States port of entry, you're in the country illegally. This could prevent you from getting another visa in the future. If you ever wanted a green card, you might have to wait three to 10 years, depending on how long you overstayed.
You Have Options
Before your Form I-94 expires, there are steps you can take if you know you're not going to be able to leave the country by that date. You can contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and ask for an extension. You&'ll have to give a good reason. Approval can take a while, however, so you should do this as soon as possible. If your Form I-94 has already expired, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The more quickly you act, the more options you may have.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding overstaying a temporary visa is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.
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