Several flight cancellations and delays in the US in recent weeks have led to many students being stranded at the airport and being unable to leave the country during holidays.
This comes with a frightening risk that you may overstay your US student visa. This was the predicament of the Chinese students aboard the Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Shanghai, which was diverted mid-flight. As a result, some students found themselves in a situation where they were left without a place to stay.
“I sublet my house in Pennsylvania and sold all my furniture before I flew to Seattle [to get the flight to Shanghai],” says Lisa, a recent Chinese graduate. “Right now, I have no fixed abode and my I-20 [student] visa has expired because I’ve already graduated.”
Among others was one of the students Alin who found herself in a similar situation. After her trip was cancelled, she was forced to choose between spending the remainder of her money on an expensive airline ticket, Covid-19 tests, and quarantine, or risking overstaying her visa. “To go home or not go home, it’s a catch-22 for me either way,” she said.
What Are The Implications Of Overstaying?
Overstaying in the US can lead to a serious offence. The main repercussions are as follows:
- Depending on how long you overstayed, you could be prevented from returning to the US for three to ten years
- You may be barred from extending your stay, changing your status, or extending your status
- Your current visa will be automatically revoked
- Except in your native country, you would normally be unable to apply for a new visa
Also, it is also determined by the amount of time that has surpassed due to the overstay. It’s critical that you understand the date on your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record provided by US Customs and Border Protection.
The visa expiry date is completely different from this. The visa expiry date simply indicates the last day you can use the document to enter the United States. If you have an F-1 visa, your I-94 will most likely indicate ‘D/S’ (duration of status), which means that your visa will expire when you stop studying or complying with the rules of your F-1 visa.
Overstaying your visa may result in unlawful presence. As the term implies, this occurs when you have a history of illegally staying in the United States, such as staying past your visa’s expiry date.
Certain exceptions prevail to unlawful presence, but for international students, arguably the most important one is if you have an outstanding application for adjustment of status (such as a green card), an extension of status, or a change of status.
You will not be deemed an overstayer if you applied for Optional Practical Training (OPT) under your F-1 visa. All other students will have a 60-day grace period after their program concludes to legally remain in the United States.
What To Do When Your Visa Is Expiring But You Cannot Return Home?
Under such circumstances, you should depart from the US as soon as possible. In this process, your country’s embassy can also assist you. The student can also reach out to an immigration attorney or the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
However, USCIS generally acknowledges that you may need to stay in the US over your authorized term of stay and has provided you with a few options. These include:
Attempt to obtain an extension: If you are able to, you should apply for an extension of stay or a change of status as soon as possible. Although processing times may still be lengthier than typical, filing a timely extension will demonstrate to USCIS that you intended to prevent overstaying your visa. This is something you can accomplish online.
Fill out your paperwork as soon as possible: This is very crucial. If you do, your status in the US will be changed to ‘pending,’ which means you will not be accruing time for unlawful presence. Furthermore, if you are on OPT, your employment authorization may be automatically renewed for up to 240 days, allowing you to continue working in the meanwhile.
Due to exceptional circumstances, late applications may be granted considerable leeway: Furthermore, USCIS realizes that you may be unable to file a timely request to extend or modify your status due to reasons beyond your influence, such as Covid-19.
Throughout this scenario, USCIS may consider you to be in a Special Situation and pardon your failure to submit your application on time. USCIS evaluates these applications on a case-by-case basis and hence there is no certainty that you will be evaluated under this. You may be required to give proof that the pandemic has had a direct impact on your ability to apply on time.
Whichever the case may be, if you believe you may be stranded in the United States when your visa expires, you should apply for a renewal or modification of your study permit as soon as possible.