A problem striking many foreign visitors during the current COVID-19 pandemic is the inability to depart the U.S. before the expiration of their authorized period of stay. Upon entry to the U.S. as a visitor for tourism or for business, the Customs and Border Protection Officers generally grant an authorized stay of 90 days, for those entering on the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), or 6 months, for those using a B-1/B-2 visa. The exact expiration date of the authorized period of stay can vary, and it is the responsibility of the visitor to be compliant. If the visitor overstays this authorized period, they could be subject to strict consequences, including difficulty with future visa applications and be barred from entry for up to 10 years. The visitor can and should always check the details of their authorized stay here, by pulling their most recent Form I-94.
However, departing the U.S. in compliance with these requirements can be difficult if not impossible under this pandemic. Many flights are cancelled. Some borders here and abroad are closed. Moreover, the health risks of traveling with other potentially contagious members of the public are substantial.
For visitors who entered the U.S. on ESTA, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have issued guidance clarifying that individuals who are unable to depart the U.S. due to the pandemic can request a form of relief called Satisfactory Departure. This request extends the visitor’s authorized period of stay in 30-day increments beyond their original expiration date. For visitors who entered the U.S. using a B-1/B-2 visa, an official application may be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, requesting an extension of stay up to six months in duration.
Ensuring that the required extension is filed prior to the visitor’s expiration of authorized stay is key to maintaining a lawful immigration status and avoiding future immigration and travel problems. Our offices are currently open, and we offer video conference and teleconference consultations. If you have any questions about extending your stay in the U.S. as a visitor on ESTA or B-1/B-2, please do not hesitate to reach out and make an appointment.
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