The Ordinary Rule Most people believe that the short answer to the issue of how long a tourist may legally stay in the United States is six months. To be more specific, once an admission is decided to be "fair and reasonable," the visitor is allowed a six-month stay by default. If you plan to extend your stay beyond what the ordinary rule allows, you need to apply for a visa extension.
In practice, few people actually follow the ordinary rule. Many tourists overstay their visas by several weeks or months. Some countries, such as Australia, require foreign visitors to have a valid visa before they are allowed into the country. If these travelers violate this rule, they can be denied entry into Australia.
The ordinary rule was designed to prevent foreigners from overstaying their visas by simply changing their appearance and applying for another visa. The new visa might have been granted, but if the original reason for entering the United States has not been completed, then the visitor should not be allowed to remain longer than the period specified in his or her visa.
For example, say a traveler wants to stay in the United States for three years. Under the ordinary rule, he or she could probably get a two-year visa by leaving after six months and getting a new one. But what happens if this person wants to stay for three years? He or she would need to apply for a visa extension.
He warns readers about the length of time visitors can remain, writing, "Usually a limit of 182 days, or nearly six months throughout a 12-month period." He goes on to say that some people have been granted extensions but not for much longer. He says the government may eventually drop the issue if you don't appeal the ruling.
If you reach the end of your stay without filing an appeal, he says you're likely to be deported. However, he adds, "There are cases where people have managed to win their appeals after they've been ordered removed from the country."
The bottom line is that you should consider applying for citizenship as soon as possible. If you're given permission to remain in the country, you might be able to extend your stay past the initial permit's expiration date by appealing an order of removal. But you should do this as early as possible because once it's done, it's done. There's no going back.
Out of respect for other people's wishes, we recommend you try to remain in America for at least five years before considering application for citizenship.
However, the Department of Homeland Security has announced its intention to speed up the process by which non-citizens can become citizens.
True, the Code of Federal Regulations states that any visitor to the United States may be admitted for no more than one year and may be given temporary stay extensions in increments of no more than six months. However, there is no mention of a six-month limit. In fact, many people are granted extensions all along the East Coast by programs that offer work permits and other benefits.
It's possible to request an extension online or at a consulate office in case you run into any problems with your paperwork. Also, if you have been granted permission to remain in the country, it would help if you continue to follow the rules. Otherwise, you might find yourself removed from the program without notice. Of course, being banned from reentry isn't exactly something that can be undone easily either.
It's best to check with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before your initial visa expires because procedures can change. But as long as you meet the requirements, you should be able to extend your stay periodically.
If you enter the United States on a visa waiver, your stay is limited to 90 days. A B-2 tourist visa, on the other hand, usually allows you to remain for up to six months. Furthermore, with a B-2 visa, you can petition to extend your stay. If you are granted a request for extension, the new deadline to leave will be one month after the date that the original period of stay was supposed to have ended.
In any case, at least 14 days must elapse between the day you arrive in the United States and the day you seek to extend your stay. If this period isn't respected, you could face a fine or even imprisonment.
It's also important to note that if you are arrested during this time, you cannot be held in custody longer than the maximum permitted sentence for a misdemeanor under U.S. law. Otherwise, you could be forced to return home without having received an official permit to stay in the country.
If you require a long-term residence permit, you should consider applying for U.S. citizenship. Not only does it allow you to vote in federal elections, but also gives you access to government assistance programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
To stay in the US for more than 90 days, you must get a B1/B2 visa, which allows you to stay for up to 6 months. However, in general, the United States is quite stringent when it comes to giving B1/B2 visas to those who are otherwise qualified for the Visa Waiver Program (which allows for stays of up to 90 days).
In fact, according to the US State Department: "If you cannot prove that you are making an effort to leave and will not reappear in this country, we will deny your request for a visitor's visa."
So, yes, if you want to stay in America for more than 90 days, you need a visa.
A B1/B2 visa can be obtained at any American Embassy or Consulate around the world. To find out more about the requirements for these visas and how to apply, please visit our VFS Global website.
There are also special visa categories called "O" visas that allow certain people to remain in America indefinitely. These include refugees allowed to enter the country under the federal refugee resettlement program as well as immigrants granted permanent residence status by virtue of their employment.