On May 11, 2018 USCIS announced a new policy regarding the expiration of status for those in F (students), J (exchange visitors) and M (vocational students) status and their dependents. When an immigrant enters the United States they are typically issued an I-94 card which will list the date that the immigrant’s status will expire in the US. If the immigrant stays beyond the expiration date on their I-94 card they start to accrue “unlawful presence”, are out of status and are in many cases removable from the United States. In the past, F, J and M visa holders did not have expiration dates on their I-94 cards. Their I-94 cards said “D/S” on them. D/S stands for duration of status. If they remained in the US after their program expired they were out of status but not accruing unlawful presence. Unlawful presence is important because if a person has 180 days of unlawful presence and leaves the United States they are barred from returning to the United States for three years. If they have more than one year of unlawful presence and leave the United States they are barred from returning to the United States for 10 years. In immigration law this is commonly known as the 3 year/10 year bar.
In the past the advantage for students and exchange visitors in F, J, and M status was that their I-94 cards said D/S, didn’t have an expiration date and therefore they couldn’t rack up unlawful presence time and be subject to the 3 year/10 year bar unless they were denied for some other immigration benefit, or found to be excluded/deported/removed by an immigration judge.
As of May 11, 2018 USCIS has changed their policy regarding unlawful presence for those in F, J and M status. The new policy states that those in F, J and M status will start to accrue unlawful presence:
- The day after they no longer pursue the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after they engage in unauthorized activity;
- The day after completing the course of study or program, including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period;
- The day after the I-94 expires; or
- The day after an immigration judge, or in certain cases, the Board of Immigration Appeals, orders them excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).
Most students and exchange visitors are compliant with immigration laws. However, sometimes people face unfortunate circumstances and are no longer able to comply with the terms of their particular visa. This tightening of the unlawful presence rules for F, J and M visa holders makes it more difficult for these individuals to regain their immigration status once they fall out of status. Speak with a reputable and experienced immigration attorney if you feel that your immigration status is in jeopardy.