Navigating U.S. Visa Expiration and Understanding Your Immigrant Rights

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For many years, the United States has been a choice country for immigrants from different countries in search of better education, employment opportunities, better living conditions, and splendid vacations.

The promise of the American dream, enforcement of fundamental human rights, and the practice of democracy made it more appealing for people looking to migrate.

About one in every eight U.S. residents (13.5 percent) was born in another country.

The landscape of U.S. Visa expiration and deportation

While the U.S. might be one of the most liberal nations in the world, immigrants are likely to face arrest and deportation over visa-related issues.

There are over 40 million immigrants in the U.S., and between 10.5-12 million were reported to be in the country illegally, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

Eligibility for U.S. Visa

Anybody can apply for a U.S. visa; however, the approval is decided by the consular officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply.

Aside from this, a citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States will first need a passport issued by their country.

To make the application process easier, you can also view the requirements for visa application using the official Visa Wizard.

Visa criteria vary for citizens in different countries. For instance, most citizens of Spain can travel to the U.S. for tourism or a visit for 90 days or less without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.

On the other hand, citizens of countries like Brazil will need to apply for a Tourism (B-2) visa before being allowed entry into the U.S.

Meanwhile, Spanish and Brazilian students looking to study in the US need to apply for a student visa.

Expiration of visa vs. expiration of status

The U.S. visa always comes with an expiration date. It is vital to note that a visa does not guarantee the holder’s access to the country. It indicates that a consular officer has reviewed your application at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and that the officer determined you’re eligible to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry for a specific purpose.

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While a visa has an expiration date, it doesn’t dictate how long someone can stay. It’s important to remember that a visa is solely an entry document. Once inside the U.S., other factors determine the authorized length of stay.

Non-citizens are required to abide by the immigration law during their stay. Violation of the law can negate visa eligibility and rights, which might be followed by arrests and deportation. In simple terms, your visa status might expire even before the expiration of the visa.

For law-abiding immigrants, it is also possible to extend their stay in the US through legal means. For international visitors entering as F-1 or J-1 students, their permitted stay typically aligns with the duration of their academic programs.

This can be extended with Optional Practical Training (OPT), a temporary temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student’s major study area.

If lucky, during this time, you can land a job that will qualify you for a work visa.

Overstaying the authorized duration for your visa can lead to serious consequences, including deportation and denial of re-entry into the US.

U.S. deportation

Individuals and families without a legal basis to remain in the U.S. are subject to removal pursuant to the Customs and Border Protection, CBP’s longstanding Title 8 authorities.

Over 355,000 individuals, including more than 54,000 individual family members residing in the U.S. illegally, were removed by the DHS between May and October 2023 alone.

Non-citizen who violates the immigration law, including those with a green card, can be deported to their home country. Deportation casts a shadow of fear over a substantial segment of the migrant community.

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It can be devastating, especially for families, as it can tear them apart, forcing them to leave behind loved ones and cherished memories.

The U.S. may detain and deport noncitizens who:

  • Participate in criminal acts
  • Are a threat to public safety
  • Violate their visa

While the government has the power to deport any non-citizen who violated the immigration law, the affected individuals have the right to appeal their deportation.

Before an individual is deported, there is usually a preliminary hearing before a judge in immigration court during the deportation process. Most times, the person is detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) before trial or deportation.

The immigrant will need help paying bail (or ayuda para pagar fianza in Spanish) to be released from jail pending the appearance in court. If the judge’s verdict is that the deportation should progress, you can either leave the US on your own expense or wait for the government to sponsor your travel. Also, some deportation rulings can be appealed.

There are, however, exceptions, and this applies to a person who;

  • Comes to the U.S. without proper travel documents
  • Uses forged travel documents
  • Does not comply with their visa or other entry document requirements

Immigrants in this category can be removed without a hearing in an immigration court.

Understanding your immigration rights

The U.S. Constitution protects every person irrespective of their immigration status.

Rights when interacting with ICE or other law enforcement officers

  • You have the right to remain silent. You may refuse to speak to immigration officers.
  • To be allowed to enter your home, the officer must have a warrant signed by a judge.
  • You have the right to ask ICE officers to show you the warrant via a window or slide it under your door. To be valid, the warrant must have your correct name and address.
  • You have the right to a lawyer
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Rights to free speech

The right to free speech is a fundamental principle enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. It states: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” This means the government cannot restrict your ability to express yourself through words, writing, images, or other forms of communication.

However, the right to free speech is not absolute. There are certain limitations and restrictions in place to protect other important interests. For instance, speech that incites violence or imminent lawless action can land you in legal trouble.

Right to refuse consent to a search

The US Constitution offers immigrants key protections, which include the prohibition against law enforcement conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, violating the constitutional guarantee of due process, or engaging in discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

Educational rights of immigrant children

Every child in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, has the fundamental right to attend school, as enshrined in the US Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Parents of the children also have the right to keep private from the school, their immigration status.

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