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Consequences and alternatives to overstaying a visa

Obtaining your visa likely opened many doors for you. Perhaps your temporary status in the United States allowed you to find employment, to study at one of New Jersey's fine colleges or universities, or to visit some of the many beautiful landmarks in the country. Whatever your reason for coming, you have one pressing reason to leave. Your visa is going to expire.

As much as you may want to stay, the law is clear that if you remain in the country past the expiration on your visa, your status in the country is no longer legal. It is important that you understand the consequences of overstaying and the options available to you.

What's the harm?

Overstaying your visa can have serious repercussions. For example, if you remain between 180 days to one year beyond the expiration of your temporary status, you will be forbidden to re-enter the U.S. for three years. Overstaying for a year or more leads to a 10-year ban. Such a ban will separate you from family or loved ones you may have in the U.S. It will also limit any opportunities you may have fostered during the time your visa was valid.

The government will send you an order of removal after your visa expires, and if you fail to respond in a timely manner, you face more immediate consequences than a ban from re-entry. For example, the government may levy a fine against you. There is also the potential that you will be charged criminally and incarcerated for as long as four years.

What are my alternatives?

If your visa has not yet expired and you intend to stay in the U.S., you can request an extension for certain visa categories. You must apply for an extension before the end of your temporary status and only if you are here lawfully and have committed no felonies or other crimes that would disqualify you from eligibility.

A second option to avoid overstaying your visa is to change your temporary status. U.S. immigration laws contain dozens of visa categories, and one may suit your reasons for staying. For example, if you came here on a visitor visa, you may decide to stay and attend college on a student visa.

Applying for a change of status can be complicated, and a lot is at stake if you are already nearing the expiration of your visa. To avoid delays or to seek advice if your visa is already expired, you may benefit from the counsel of an immigration attorney.

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