In a policy memorandum dated May 10, 2018, the United States Citizenship and Immigration and Services (“USCIS”) provided new guidance to its officers and adjudicators on calculating unlawful presence for nonimmigrants in F, M, and J status. This policy memorandum, which becomes effective on August 9, 2018, represents a dramatic shift in long-standing USCIS policy.

The date unlawful status begins to accrue is extremely important as this date is a linchpin in determining when the 3-year and 10-year bars of reentry may apply. Generally, unlawful status for more than 180 days, but less than 1 year, triggers a 3 year bar of reentry, while unlawful status for more than 1 year triggers a 10 year bar. Waivers of the bars may be available if certain requirements are met, including in some cases extreme hardship to a U.S. or permanent resident spouse or parent.

The new policy specifies that F, M, or J nonimmigrants who failed to maintain their status (for example by no longer pursuing a full-course of study, no longer engaging in an approved training program or activity, or engaging in unauthorized employment) before August 9, 2018, will start accruing unlawful status on August 9, 2018, unless the nonimmigrant already starting accruing unlawful status on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denial of an immigration benefit, if DHS determines that the nonimmigrant violated his or her nonimmigrant status while adjudicating that immigration benefit;
  • The day after the nonimmigrant’s Form I-94 expires, if the F, M, J nonimmigrant was admitted until a certain date; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered the nonimmigrant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who fail to maintain their nonimmigrant status on or after August 9, 2018, begin accruing unlawful presence on the earliest of the following:

  • The day after the F, J, or M nonimmigrant no longer pursues the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after he or she engages in an unauthorized activity;
  • The day after completing the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period);
  • The day after Form I-94 expires, if the F, J, or M nonimmigrant was admitted for a date certain; or
  • The day after an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals orders the alien excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).

The new policy is a dramatic change in how USCIS previously calculated unlawful status. Under the prior policy, unlawful presence for those in admitted F, M, or J status for the duration of their status (D/S) started accruing only on the day after:

  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed), whichever came first.

F, M, or J nonimmigrants who were admitted until a specific date, instead of D/S, accrued unlawful presence only on the day after:

  • Their Form I-94 expired;
  • USCIS formally found a nonimmigrant status violation while adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit; or
  • An immigration judge ordered the applicant excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision was appealed), whichever came first.

This new policy also affects the immigration status of dependent family members as the validity of their status is dependent on the principal maintaining his or her status.

To review the text of USCIS’ new policy memorandum, please click here.