Options When Your Period of Stay is Running Out

Erick Widman

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used by the United States to determine whether visitors are eligible to travel to the country. These decisions are made based on the requirements under the Visa Waiver Program.

Period of Stay Under ESTA

Typically, unless revoked, a travel authorization is valid for up to two years. Once ESTA is received, there is no need to reapply within those two years. However, it is important to understand that ESTA does not authorize you to stay in the U.S. for two consecutive years. Instead, this authorization allows visitors to stay in the country for up to 90 days at a time.

What Happens if ESTA Period Expires

The U.S. may implement strict consequences on tourists and visitors who overstay their visa or ESTA period. A removal process or even deportation could occur in certain situations. Your passport may be banned, which could cause complications when you attempt to leave the country. You may also be prohibited from re-entering the United States for up to three years following the expiration. In extreme situations, a ten-year ban may be implemented.

The consequences are usually based on how long you overstay your ESTA period. If it has been less than 180 days since your authorization expired, you will likely not be automatically banned from future applications. Instead, you could be asked to show evidence of your planned on-time departure. Overstays of more than 180 days increase the likelihood of more severe consequences.

There are also circumstances that could count as exceptions to these rules, including the following:

  • Children and minors;
  • Pending asylum applications;
  • Trafficking victims;
  • Green card applicants; and
  • People with temporary protected status.

Since people who have entered the U.S. as a visitor under the ESTA visa waiver program are typically given 90 days to remain in the U.S., they will need to leave the U.S. before this period of authorized stay runs out. If you are among these ESTA program participants and you do not leave within that timeframe, you will accrue “unlawful presence.” Once you have the unlawful presence classification, you will no longer be able to use the ESTA program without applying for a visitor visa (and other problems will follow as well). Therefore you definitely want to avoid unlawful presence and protect your ability to use ESTA and the visa waiver program freely in the future.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

Get Extra Time by Requesting Satisfactory Departure

When a genuine emergency arises – such as a global pandemic – which prevents ESTA visitors from leaving the U.S. before the period of authorized stay runs out, USCIS thankfully allows for some flexibility.

In this situation, you can request what is called “Satisfactory Departure,” which will allow you to stay up to 30 days beyond your original period of stay. Thus, if you have flu-like symptoms, exposure to the coronavirus, or other health issues, you should apply for Satisfactory Departure as soon as possible to prevent ESTA expiration.

USCIS Requirements for Satisfactory Departure Requests

The following are listed as requirements to qualify for a Satisfactory Departure request:

  • Must have been admitted under ESTA
  • The authorized period of admission must still be valid (not expired)
  • The request must be submitted within five days of the originally intended departure
  • Must present supporting documents as to the extenuating circumstances that are preventing their departure in a timely manner (COVID-19)
  • Bring passport and original and updated (if any) travel information

Steps to Request Satisfactory Departure

For those currently residing within Oregon or Southern Washington – no matter where your original port of entry was – please follow the steps below.

  1. First, call the USCIS 1-800 number: 800-375-5283. To easily navigate through the automated phone tree, push the following buttons: 1, 2, 1, 1, 1. Then, enter your receipt number or press #. When you are able to speak with a representative on the phone (it can take a long time these days), then ask to set up an emergency Satisfactory Departure appointment with the closest USCIS office.
  1. Second, once your appointment has been set up through the 1-800 number, USCIS has committed to having a local officer call you within 48 to 72 hours.
  2. Third, attend your appointment and arrive 15 minutes ahead of time to allow time to go through security. In addition, because USCIS doors will be locked (at least through May 3, 2020), we recommend that you make a small sign and bring it with you to your appointment. Print in red/bold letters, “Emergency Appointment – Satisfactory Departure.” Then show it to USCIS security through the glass door. You should then be let in, and a USCIS officer will meet with you to go over your documents and complete your request.

Completing Your Departure in a Satisfactory Way

Remember that you need to make sure you leave the U.S. before your new 30-day period expires – this makes your departure “Satisfactory.” If the coronavirus creates ongoing issues for your travel, we recommend following these steps all over again to request a new 30-day period as needed. Take care and stay safe!

For further questions or assistance with immigration or visa-related concerns, contact Passage Immigration Law at (503) 427-8243 .

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