If you have entered the U.S. as a visitor under the ESTA visa waiver program, you are typically given 90 days to remain in the U.S. You need to leave the U.S. before this period of authorized stay runs out, or you will accrue “unlawful presence.” Once you have unlawful presence 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.
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.
Get Extra Time by Requesting Satisfactory Departure
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. Therefore if you have flu-like symptoms, exposure to the coronavirus or other health issues, you should definitely apply for Satisfactory Departure.
USCIS Requirements for Satisfactory Departure Requests:
- Must have been admitted under ESTA
- Authorized period of admission must still be valid (not expired)
- Request must be submitted within 5 days of the original 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.
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.
Second, once your appointment has been set up through the I-800 number, USCIS has committed to have a local officer call you within 48 to 72 hours.
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!