As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States, travel restrictions and processing delays have put many travelers, international students, and long-term residents at risk of overstaying their visas.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has drafted several recommendations to guide those who are affected. We’ve summarized their advice below.
Visa Tips for Nonimmigrants in the U.S.
Try to apply for an extension (if applicable). If possible, your first choice should be to apply for an extension of stay (EOS) or change of status (COS). Although processing times might be longer than usual, applying right away can show that you intended to intervene and avoid overstaying your visa. You can find the relevant forms online; you can even file many status changes directly through USCIS.gov.
Make sure you file your paperwork on time. Once you have filed for an extension (see above), your status is officially “pending.” While your status is pending, you will not accrue time for unlawful presence—even if you are technically in the United States while your visa is expired. Furthermore, if you’re in the country for work, your previous employer authorization can automatically be extended for up to 240 days (so that you can continue working) if your EOS request is filed on time.
Find out if you qualify as a “special situation.” USCIS makes allowances for nonimmigrants who accidentally overstay their visas because of special situations. The global pandemic, and subsequent state-by-state lockdowns, might qualify you for this exemption. However, you might need to prove—with corroborating evidence—that the pandemic directly impacted your ability to file extension documents on time. Whether or not you intend to petition for this exemption, you should file for your extension as soon as possible. The longer you wait, you could simply be accruing a longer unlawful presence period that you will need to justify.
Determine whether you qualify for situational flexibility. Similar to the “special situation” exemption described above, there are a few other reasons that USCIS might overlook your expired visa—but they are also very specific, and require supporting evidence to qualify. One example pertains to those who entered the country through the Visa Waiver Program. These individuals cannot file for EOS or COS. Therefore, if they cannot return home when their visa expires, they would have to petition for a 30-day exemption due to conditions related to COVID-19.
If none of these options applies to you, or if you have additional questions about any of these options, then visit USCIS.gov.
As always, World Education Services (WES) recommends that you conduct your own research and consult with an immigration attorney before making any final decisions related to your visa.
It is also important to note that this information might change as situations are updated worldwide. To ensure that you have the latest updates from USCIS, visit their webpage dedicated to COVID-19.
WES wishes you safe travels and good health as you continue your journey.