What happens if you overstay on a student visa in the US?
Do you know how long you can legally stay in the US after graduation? Source: Brandon Mowinkel/Unsplash

Visa regulations can be tricky for international students to master. You’re not a resident in the country you’re studying in, but you’re not a mere visitor or tourist, either – you, dear friend, are a student.

But what happens when you graduate? Are you allowed to remain in the country, and if so, for how long? What if you’re trying to look for a job? Is it a crime if you overstay, even for just a few days?

These are the common questions international students typically ask when it comes to staying in the country after completing their degree.

The Trump administration has made immigration laws much more stringent for international students, so you really need to know the rules and regulations of your F1-visa (a student visa) before you apply to study in the US.

If you’re unsure about what happens to your visa status after you’ve completed your studies, we’ve got the answers for you:

How long is my F-1 visa valid after graduation?

When you enter the US for the first time, you’ll be issued an I-94 card by an immigration officer. On this card, it will typically say Duration of Status or D/S, meaning that you can stay in the US as long as you are enrolled in an academic programme.

Once your programme ends, you’ll have a grace period of 60 days (due to graduation ceremonies and such) to legally stay in the US. You should leave the country following this, unless you’ve already secured a job and are under OPT (more on this below).

What are the repercussions if I overstay?

Overstaying in the US is a serious issue, but the severity depends on the duration for which you’ve overstayed.

According to AllLaw, “If you overstay by 180 days or more (but less than one year), after you depart the US you will be barred from reentering for three years. If you overstay by one year or more, after you depart the US, you will be barred from reentering the US for ten years.”

But if you’ve overstayed for less than 180 days, you will not be barred for reentry, but it remains on your record, so the border officer will be able to see that you have overstayed past the 60-day grace period, and use their discretion to disallow your re-entry since you have overstayed before.

Basically, if you’ve overstayed close to 180 days or longer, it may jeapordise your ability to re-enter the US in the future.

What if I want to work after graduation?

Students who study at a US university have the option to apply for post-graduation OPT (Optional Practical Training), which is 12 months of training or work experience related to your field of study.

STEM students can get an additional two-year OPT extension.

You will not be found guilty of overstaying your student visa if you’re on OPT. You will receive an OPT card after you apply, which shows your validity to stay in the country.

Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before completion of their studies, and up to 60 days after. If you’re unable to secure a job under OPT within this time, you will have to go back home.

If you’re applying for a H-1B visa and you get approved, you will need to leave the country and re-enter under the new visa.

If you think you’ve overstayed or are unsure how long to stay in the US after graduation, seek advice from your International Student Services department or engage an immigration lawyer.

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