On August 9, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published new policies relating to the accrual of unlawful presence for F and M nonimmigrant students, and J nonimmigrant exchange visitors.Pursuant to the revised guidance, students and exchange visitors in F, J, and M status will start accruing unlawful presence as of August 9, 2018 for failing to maintain their status, unless unlawful presence has already started accruing due to a prior finding of violation of status by a USCIS official or because an immigration judge had ordered the individual excluded, deported, or removed. This change in policy is particularly important to students and exchange visitors as they could now find themselves subject to the 3- or 10-year admission bars, which were generally not applicable to them under prior policy.
Under the immigration law, a person who is unlawfully present in the U.S. for a period of more than 180 days but less than one year, and voluntarily leaves the U.S. before removal proceedings is barred from readmission to the U.S. for 3 years from the date of departure or removal.Respectively, the 10-year bar applies when the unlawful presence period is one year or more. Unlawful presence, as noted in immigration law, refers to being in the U.S. after the expiration of authorized stay or being in the U.S. without being admitted or paroled.
With the implementation of this new memo, USCIS is abandoning 20 years of consistent policy in favor of a retroactive approach to unlawful presence.In general, most students and exchange visitors are admitted for the "duration of status" to provide flexibility for the completion of academic programs, rather than a date certain on their I-94 admission records. Prior to this new unlawful presence policy, a student or exchange visitor would only begin to accrue unlawful presence after an immigration benefit application is filed and USCIS determines that the student or exchange visitor has violated his or her status, or an immigration judge ordered the student or exchange visitor excluded, deported, or removed. By changing the unlawful presence policy, students and exchange visitors now must be extra diligent to ensure that they maintain their status.
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