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The penalties and alternatives for overstaying your visa

Whichever of the countless possible reasons that brought you to Georgia, you likely spent a great deal of time and handled more than your share of frustration to obtain your visa. You may have arrived in the United States to work, study or visit family, and you understood that your time as a foreign national was limited to the deadline on your visa.

That deadline is approaching. You may be considering staying in the country once your visa expires and taking a chance that immigration authorities will not find you. However, it is important that you understand the very serious ramifications of such a choice and the alternatives that may be available to you.

Penalties for overstaying

If you remain 180 days or longer past your visa expiration, penalties immediately kick in. The amount of time you remain affects the severity of the consequences. Between 180 days and one year overstaying your visa means you will not be permitted to return to the U.S. for three years after your departure. If you stay longer than a year, the government will ban you from re-entry from 10 years.

This could be a devastating penalty if you have family in the U.S. or if you have plans to return for your education or work. If you refuse to leave after receiving a final order of removal from immigration authorities, you face fines and the potential for criminal charges. These charges could affect your re-entry for life as well as result in a lengthy prison sentence.


If your visa has yet to expire, you have alternatives. You may be eligible for an extension of your visa, or you may decide to apply to have your status changed. For example, if you came here to work and decide you want to go to college, you may be eligible for an academic visa to replace your work visa.

To ensure you do not fall out of status, it is wise to apply for your extension or change of status well before the expiration of your visa. Immigration processes generally take time, and if your visa expires before you receive approval for your extension or status change, you may have to leave the country to avoid the penalties.

Because of the complexities of obtaining, overstaying and adjusting visas through the immigration process, many find it helpful to seek legal assistance from an attorney who is well versed in the complex and ever-changing immigration laws of this country.

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