The tourist visa (B-2 visa) allows foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to engage in typical tourism activities, such as visiting Disney World, the White House, or the Grand Canyon, or going to see family. Every year, millions of foreign nationals enter the U.S. using tourist visas, and most of them encounter no difficulties exiting or reentering the United States.
However, in many situations, the foreign national remains in the U.S. longer than the period of authorized stay. This is called “overstaying." This article explains how foreign nationals overstay, the possible consequences of overstaying, and how you can make sure you are able to reenter the U.S. even after your overstay.
One reason that many people overstay is because they do not know the difference between a visa and Form I-94, and end up overstaying unintentionally.
Your visa is a document that gives you permission to seek entry into the United States. (We say “permission to seek entry” because the border officer can refuse to allow you into the U.S. even if you have a valid visa.) Your visa may be valid for several years.
For example, if you are an Indian national, your B-2 visa is most likely valid for ten years. However, the visa does not govern your authorized stay in the U.S.; it merely allows you to enter the United States during that time period. Thus a visa that's valid for ten years does NOT allow you to stay in the U.S. for ten years. Instead, your Form I-94 governs your authorized stay in the United States.
Up until April 2013, all nonimmigrant visitors to the U.S. received a paper I-94 card. The border officer who processes your documents when you enter would give you the I-94 card, upon which he or she had entered a required departure date. After April 2013, the majority of U.S. visitors will not receive a paper I-94, but instead will need to access their I-94 from the Customs and Border Protection website.
The date on your Form I-94 is the last day you are permitted to remain in the U.S., and it may not be valid for as long as your visa is. You must depart the U.S. by the date on your Form I-94, or you will have overstayed.
For example, let’s say you are an Indian national. You have a B-2 visa that is valid from April 1, 2015 through May 31, 2025. You want to come to the U.S. to visit Disney World. You enter the U.S. on April 5, 2019. Your Form I-94 states your visa status is B1/2 and that your status expires on October 4, 2019. You must leave the U.S. by October 4, 2019 (or request an extension or a change to another nonimmigrant status by that date) or you will be considered to be overstaying.
Overstaying your permitted time in the U.S. can be a serious matter. If you overstay by 180 days or more (but less than one year), after you depart the U.S. you will be barred from reentering for three years. If you overstay by one year or more, after you depart the U.S., you will be barred from reentering the U.S. for ten years.
However, if you overstayed for less than 180 days, leaving the U.S. will not trigger any bars to reentry. But keep in mind that the next time you try to enter the U.S., the border officer will be able to see that you overstayed your visa on your previous stay.
Border officers always have the discretion to not allow you U.S. entry. If you overstayed by only a few days or a couple of weeks, the officer will probably let you in. But if you overstayed for several months or close to 180 days, it is likely the officer will think you plan to overstay again, and will not let you in.
Overstaying your permitted time on a U.S. visa can jeopardize your ability to come to the U.S. in the future. If you find yourself in this situation, it is highly recommended that you contact an immigration lawyer who can assist you.