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See below, for changes to law and/or policy.
Students and dependents in F, J or M status are no longer exempt from the harsh consequences of unlawful presence and the 3/10 year bars on re-entry. If you failed to maintain status before August 9, 2018, you began to accrue unlawful presence as of August 9, 2018 (unless you had already started accruing unlawful presence because of other circumstances).
If you failed to maintain status after August 9, 2018, you will begin to accrue unlawful presence on the earliest of the following events:
(1) The day after you no longer pursue the course of study or the authorized activity, or the day after you engage in an unauthorized activity
(2) The day after you complete the course of study or program (including any authorized practical training plus any authorized grace period)
(3) The day after the Form I-94 expires, if you were admitted for a date certain; or
(4) The day after an immigration judge orders you excluded, deported, or removed (whether or not the decision is appealed).
If you accrue 180 consecutive days or more of unlawful presence and then leave the USA, you will be subject to a 3-year bar on re-entry. If you accrue 1 year or more of unlawful presence, you will be subject to a 10-year bar on re-entry. For the 10-year bar, the 1 year period of unlawful presence does not have to be consecutive. The USCIS will add up all the periods of time in which you were unlawfully present and if they total 1 year, you will be subject to the 10-year bar (with certain exceptions). A waiver may be available.
If you believe you may be subject to the 3 or 10-year bar, please consult with an experienced immigration attorney immediately.
If a family based application is denied, and at the time of the denial, the applicant is not in legal status, the USCIS is now empowered to start deportation proceedings by issuing a Notice to Appear. This was not the case before, unless there was some compelling reason to refer that applicant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to start proceedings. Now, even if the applicant was in a “period of authorized stay” allowed by the government, but was not in a particular status, he/she will be put into deportation proceedings. It is no longer safe to drop your status assuming that a timely filed application will keep you safe. If denied, you may no longer have the opportunity to just wind up your affairs and leave the USA. The USCIS will initiate deportation proceedings, and if you leave the USA and fail to appear at the hearing, you will be deported in your absence. It is vital that you keep your status active until you are approved the new benefit you are applying for.