Written by Joanna Hughes

Earlier this year, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a change to the way it would calculate unlawful presence for F, J and M visa holders. More recently, it issued a policy memorandum (PM) revising these changes. Looking for clarification as to whether you will be affected as an international student? Here’s what you need to know, as recently reported by The Dartmouth.

Calculating “Unlawful Presence”

Under the previous policy,  the accumulation of “unlawful presence” -- defined by the US Immigration Visa Center as “presence after the expiration of the period of stay authorized by the Department of Homeland Security, or any presence without being admitted or paroled" -- began to accumulate only after a visa holder failed to comply following the formal determination of a status violation by an immigration official or immigration court.

Under the new policy, students who accidentally violate their visa statuses may immediately begin to acquire unlawful status.

In other words, whether a violation is intentional, unintentional, known or unknown, unlawful presence may begin to accrue -- for violations as small as failing to report an address change within the designated amount of time or working for more than 20 hours a week.

Spreading the Word

According to The Dartmouth, “This change could have a long-term impact. Students who accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence can be barred from re-entry for three years upon their exit from the country, while those who accrue unlawful presence for more than 365 days can be barred for ten years. These consequences have not changed, but the change in how unlawful presence is counted means students may be accumulating days of unlawful presence unknowingly.”

The good news? Most international students are already attuned to the importance of maintaining their status, and those who are not in violation have nothing to worry about. That said, spreading the word about the change can help prevent avoidable issues.

Additionally, because the repercussions of accidental violations are now more severe, experts recommend that students meet with their Office of Visa and Immigration Services (OVIS) advisors before making any changes which could inadvertently jeopardize their statuses.

Learn more about studying in the US here.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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