HOUSTON – I really enjoyed my trip but now; what to do if I can’t go home? This is the question that many foreign travelers who are present within the United States are facing, and with good reason.
A few weeks ago, no one could have predicted that the trip they had planned to visit their relatives or get to know a city in the country would turn into a huge headache.
It turns out that with the coronavirus pandemic, or COVID-19, some of the travelers present in the US have been surprised that their return trips to their countries have been canceled or postponed. This is because many countries around the globe have decided to close their borders and not allow the entry or exit of people from their country, as a measure to control the spread of the virus.
Although certainly the main concern of any person at this time should be to stay healthy and do their bit to prevent the spread of the virus, it is no less true that these travelers also face other additional challenges, such as, for example, a potential violation of the US immigration laws.
Thousands of people travel to the United States every day, but they do not have a permit that allows them to stay here indefinitely. The best example of this type of person is the tourists. To these, the government simply gives a certain period to fulfill the purpose of their trip and once it is fulfilled, they must leave. However, what happens when you try to leave the country it turns out that your flight was canceled because your country does not accept travelers?
The first thing to keep in mind is that we must not lose our cool. After all, it will not be the end of the world, not because of not being able to travel or because of the virus.
The second is that there are remedies to ask the US government to extend the period that can be in the country, submitting a request for it.
This is requested through form I-539 and payment of $ 370. The response takes about two months, but you can extend your stay for six months.
If the person comes from one of the countries that does not need a visa to visit the United States, they must request a satisfactory exit letter which is granted for a maximum of 30 days.
The third thing is that even if this period cannot be extended and the person begins to accumulate illegal presence in the country, he or she will not activate an automatic punishment until more than 180 days have elapsed.
This does not mean that it is not possible to confront problems with the immigration service if you are in the country without permission to do so.
However, it is my opinion that the government would not take action in cases like this, since the person did not leave the country due to circumstances beyond their control.
That said, it would not be a bad idea to always carry evidence that the travel ticket was canceled, to show that there was the intention to leave on time.
As I mentioned before, the priority is, and must continue to be, to stay healthy and avoid further contagion of this terrible virus.
However, if you or someone you know is experiencing problems staying legally in the US while the situation is being monitored globally, remember that it is always recommended that you seek and obtain the help of an experienced and reputable attorney working on immigration law.
* Attorney Naimeh Salem is certified in Texas and practices immigration in Houston.