What happens if you overstay your ESTA visa in the USA?

overstaying esta visa

Many people want to stay in the USA for longer than their ESTA visa allows. However, overstaying an ESTA visa has its consequences and those who do not leave the US before their visa expires should be aware of the penalties involved.

Technically, ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is not a visa, it is a visa-waiver. ESTA allows eligible citizens to stay in the US for periods of up to 90 days (and no more than 180 days in a year if multiple trips are made).

If a singular period of time exceeds 90 days, or multiple trips amount to over 180 days in a year then this counts as a visa waiver overstay. ESTA is a fantastic thing which offers amazing opportunities for travelers, sometimes this can give someone the motivation to want to stay. The ESTA form only takes a matter of minutes to complete.

What are the consequences of exceeding the limit of stay in the USA?

The consequences of overstaying a tourist visa in the USA are quite serious as they are designed to deter people. If you overstay, a removal process will begin and if you are caught you are likely to be deported.

Although people do overstay the visa waiver program and get away with it (at least for a time), there are inevitable problems. Your passport will receive an automatic ban which means that you cannot leave the country without encountering problems.

The ban from entering the US lasts for three years if you overstay your ESTA visa by less than a year (but more than 180 days). If is a ten-year ban if you overstay by a year. However, even after the ban finishes, your overstay will count against you in any future ESTA or US visa applications.

You may never be allowed to enter the US again if you overstay. In addition, there are other, serious legal consequences, depending on the length of the overstay. The longer you overstay, the more serious the consequences.

Overstays of less than 180 days

If you overstay the ESTA validity is less than 180 days you are not automatically legally banned from making visa applications in the future. However, when applying for a temporary (non-immigrant visa) you have to show evidence that you intend to leave before the time period of the visa. If you have previously overstayed, it will count as evidence against you.

Overstays of more than 180 days

The ESTA visa overstay penalty becomes more severe for overstays longer than 180 days. You will be automatically barred from returning to the US for three years. This increases to ten years after 365 days. You can even be banned for life in some circumstances if you are deported or if you try illegally entering the USA.

Exceptions to the 3-year and 10-year bans

There are some exceptional circumstances which do not count as ‘unlawful presences’. In these cases, the automatic 3-year and 10-year bans from the US do not apply. The following are just a few of the circumstances which are not legally ‘unlawful presences’:

  • Minors under the age 18
  • Those with a genuine pending asylum application on file
  • Victims of trafficking
  • Green card applicants waiting for a decision
  • People who receive temporary protected Status (TPS)

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