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How Long Can I Stay in the United States?

How Long Can I Stay in the United States?


Overstaying a period of authorized stay in the United States can carry severe consequences.

However, the United States Customs and Border Protection officers do not always make it clear how long a person can stay in the United States. Therefore, I am spending a few moments explaining periods of lawful admission.

There are three to four factors that determine how long a person can stay in the United States:

  • The validity period remaining on the person’s passport.
  • The type of visa held by the person.
  • The period of validity of the visa, in some circumstances.
  • The border inspector’s discretion.

Generally speaking, Customs and Border Protection will not authorize a person to stay in the United States beyond when the passport expires. For example, if a person is coming to the United States on June 15, 2016 and the passport expires on August 1, 2016, the port inspector will only admit the person for six weeks, even if the visa would otherwise allow a person to stay in the United States longer.

Also, the length of time a person can lawfully stay in the United States depends on the type of visa the person holds. The actual length of time depends on the visa category. For example, people coming to the United States under ESTA (waiver travelers) are admitted for up to 90 days. B-2 tourists are admitted for up to six months. H-1B workers are admitted to the United States for up to three years.

This can get confusing, because in some cases, a person is admitted to the United States for the validity period of the visa (such as H-1B, L-1A, or O-1), and in other cases the person is admitted for a fixed time than can either be shorter or longer than the visa’s remaining period of validity (such as B-2 tourist visas or E-2 treaty investor visas).

Additionally, some visas do not have a fixed date by which the person must leave the United States. For example, F-1 students are admitted “D/S” (duration of status). As long as the student maintains good status (goes to school on a full-time basis and comply with all applicable immigration laws and school regulations), the student is allowed to stay in the United States.

Finally, the border inspector can use his or her independent judgment and admit a person for a shorter period of time than normally allowed. Sometimes, this is a mistake, and sometimes, it is a conscious decision by the inspector. Inspectors do not always tell people when the period of admission is shorter than normal.

How Can I Tell How Long I Can Stay in the United States?

When a person comes into the United States, Customs and Border Protection stamps the person’s passport and writes the following information in the stamp: The visa class of admission (e.g., WT, B-2, F-1, H-1B, etc.), the date of admission, and the date the period of authorized stay ends. As noted earlier, some classes of visas do not have fixed periods of admission. The Customs and Border Protection officer will indicate that by writing “D/S” in the admission stamp.

The stamp in the passport controls how long a person can stay in the United States. Even if the person could have been admitted for a longer period of time, the stamp in the passport controls the person’s authorized length of stay in the United States.

What is an I-94?

People used to receive a paper called an I-94 that also indicated how long they could stay in the United States. This paper was stapled to the passport. The United States phased out paper I-94s years ago. However, a person can get a printout of the I-94 by going to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94 a few days after being admitted to the United States. This printout gives the period of admission and the admission record number (called the I-94 number). It is a good idea to get the printout after every admission to the United States.

Conclusion

United States immigration law penalizes people who overstay the period of lawful admission. However, border inspectors do not always tell people how long the period of admission is and the length of time can vary a lot depending on the visa category, the remaining validity period of the person’s passport, and the border inspector’s own judgment. Therefore, you should look at the admission stamp in your passport and check the electronic I-94 record every time you come to the United States. If you find an error, you should contact either Customs and Border Protection or an immigration attorney as soon as possible.