Once in a while I come across a potential client who has gone past the point of no return. Because he or she did not know the practical rules of United States immigration early on, they have gotten themselves in a situation which may result in their being deported an/or barred from entering America. Sometimes an immigration lawyer can help…but not every time.

Below is list of ten things I wish every foreign national knew about US immigration.

  1. Expiration Dates – The expiration date on your I-94 (or I-94W) trumps the expiration date of your visa. Thus, if you stay past the I-94 expiration, but not the visa expiration date (or the 90 days of a visa waiver), you have overstayed your authorized period of stay in the United States.
  2. Overstays -Overstaying your authorized period of stay could get you banned from reentering the US for either 3 or 10 years, depending on the length of the overstay. If you have overstayed, but have not left the US yet, contact an immigration attorney before you leave! This could prevent you from being barred from re-entering the US!
  3. Permanent Bar “9C” – overstaying for more than a year and then re-entering without inspection (EWI) will get you permanently barred from reentering the US. You will also incur the dreaded “9C” bar if you are deported and then re-enter without inspection. You are not permitted to file a waiver for this bar for 10 years. Period.
  4. Drug Use – if you admit to drug use that is more recent than one year ago at a medical exam, you could be found inadmissible to the US for one year from the date of last drug use. (**Updated — drug use ban used to be 3 years)
  5. Selective Service– all males residing in the US, legal or not, between the ages of 18 and 25 must register for the draft. The only exception is where the male is here in valid, non-immigrant status, such as on a student visa. Failure to register before the 26th birthday can have adverse consequences when he applies for citizenship through naturalization.
  6. Criminal Convictions– criminal defense attorneys sometimes do not take the client’s immigration status into account when advising how to resolve a criminal matter. Certain convictions will get a defendant deported and/or found to be inadmissible. Sadly, sometimes this situation could have been avoided by pleading to a different type of charge.
  7. Voting – only US citizens are permitted to vote in federal elections. Thus, voting in a federal election when you are not a citizen could prevent you from becoming one eventually. In some cases, even registering to vote can get you into trouble.
  8. False Claim to US Citizenship– someone who claims to be a US Citizen in order to receive a government benefit (and the definition of this is very broad) could be permanently barred from entering the US. There is no waiver available for this bar.
  9. Spouses of US Citizens– it is a myth that a spouse of a US citizen automatically has the right to live and work in the US. Although they do enjoy preferential treatment in some stages of immigration, the husband or wife of a United States citizen can be found inadmissible and be barred just like anyone else. An immigration lawyer can help identify problematic portions of a foreign national spouse’s background.
  10. US Immigration is Watching You! – no, not really. BUT, when applying for immigration benefits, be honest. If there is a way for the US government to find information about you, assume that they will. If an immigration attorney suggests that you lie, find a new one! Even a little white lie can lead to charges of misrepresentation later on. UPDATE: Ok, yes, they may actually be watching you — Read this!
  11. I promised 10, but here’s another. I wish all foreign nationals understood just how important it is to have a US immigration attorney handle their case. In fact, you can’t afford not to hire an immigration attorney. I cannot tell you how many times I have received a call or email from a potential client who has made a disaster of the case trying to handle it himself or herself. Not only will this usually end up costing more to try to fix, but occasionally the damage is actually irreversible. Although I think my prices are pretty reasonable (see immigration attorney fees), if you can’t afford them at least consult with your local legal aid society. The representation will not be on par with what you would receive with a private attorney, but you may be able to avoid many of the dangerous pitfalls you will encounter going it alone.