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Potential Consequences of Illegal Entry or Overstaying Visas

Overstaying a visa or entering the United States surreptitiously or by fraudulent means can result in very serious consequences. Since 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act has prevented many foreigners from reentering the U.S. based on their unlawful presence. For information on how to gain permanent employment status legally, click here.

A foreigner is considered to be unlawfully present in the U.S. when he or she is in the country without proper authorization from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State or Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). There are three situations that can lead to an unlawful presence:

  • A person enters the U.S. without checking in with customs or immigration officials.
  • A person is lawfully admitted into the U.S. but voluntarily stays in the country after his or her visa or travel document has expired.
  • A person enters the U.S. under false pretenses or with falsified travel documents.

Most unlawful presence cases are identified when foreigners leave the country and their I-94 Arrival and Departure records or other documents are inspected.

Inadmissibility and Consequences

Immigrants may be declared inadmissible if they are found to be unlawfully present in the U.S. This means that they cannot pursue legal residence through adjustment of status(with some exceptions), although they may still be able to apply for immigration benefits through a consulate office. Learn more about adjustment of status and see if you qualify for filing in the U.S.

Overstaying a visa for more than six months may result in being barred from entering the U.S. for three years. If the overstay period is one year or longer, the ban will last 10 years. If the unlawful presence was longer than a year and the foreigner attempts to illegally reenter, the ban could be made permanent.

Foreigners who overstay their visas for any reason should seek the advice of immigration attorneys before departing the U.S. In some cases, the bans can be waived for foreigners who are married to U.S. citizens or legal residents, and some people may qualify for an amnesty exception based on the day they entered the country.

October 2023