By Maud Poudat | US Immigration Attorney
Posted: June 15, 2021
If you enter the U.S. on ESTA, you'll be able to remain in the country up to ninety days. Although it’s not possible to extend your ESTA, there is an exception that allows you to stay within the U.S. past the 90-day period: having a request granted for Satisfactory Departure.
The Visa Waiver Program, or ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), is a simplified process that permits citizens and nationals from selected countries to pursue admission to the U.S. without applying for a visa. Applicants answer questions on an automated system to determine their eligibility, getting a response within seconds in most cases. This process is much quicker and easier than the standard process for citizens of other countries, who must apply for a B1/B2 visa at a U.S. consulate.
Assuming your ESTA application gets approved, you can expect it to be approved for a 2-year period. However, when you finally enter the U.S. using the ESTA, you'll only be able to stay for up to ninety days consecutively.
No. Unfortunately, there's no method for extending your ESTA to stay longer. Normally, if a traveler enters the U.S. on a B-1/B-2 visa, for example, and needs to extend their visit, they can file an extension of status petition with USCIS (Form I-539). However, if you entered on ESTA, you can't file a change of status petition or request an extension.
The only way to receive authorization to stay in the U.S. past the end of your ESTA period is to submit a request for Satisfactory Departure which is subsequently granted.
To meet the qualifications for a Satisfactory Departure, you'll be required to show that you are unable to leave the U.S. due to an emergency (such as COVID-19), and that you're unable to depart the U.S. through no fault of your own (for example, all flights from the U.S. to your home country have been suspended, your home country has closed its borders, etc.). It is mandatory that you apply for the request prior to the expiration of your stay on ESTA (the end of your ninety-day period). If the Satisfactory Departure request is approved, you'll be authorized to remain in the U.S. for an additional thirty days. Within this thirty-day extension period, you must depart the U.S., unless you submit a second request for a second thirty-day Satisfactory Departure period which is also granted.
You may also apply for a new ESTA the same way you applied for the first one. You can initiate this new application while you’re in the U.S. on your existing ESTA, but no matter what, you won’t be able to stay for a consecutive period of more than ninety days without Satisfactory Departure being granted. Abusing aspects of the ESTA requirements may lead to your ESTA applications being rejected in the future, or being denied admission on your subsequent visa on ESTA.
It is important to note that USCIS and CBP offices were approving many Satisfactory Departure requests in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, during the period of time wherein foreign nationals were prevented from returning to their home countries due to flight cancellations and closed borders. However, at this stage, it is much less likely that a Satisfactory Departure request will be approved on this basis (that is, unless another emergency, such as a medical emergency, is also affecting the foreign national’s ability to return).
Remember, it is possible to leave the U.S. and return later on ESTA. However, the Customs and Border Protection agent who processes your entry may question your reason for traveling in this manner if you only spent a few days outside the U.S. They may suspect that you’re working in the U.S. without authorization. For this reason, it’s advisable to have an explanation with proof at hand as to your reasons for re-entering the U.S. shortly after departing.
If you need advice or assistance applying for ESTA or Satisfactory Departure, the expert immigration attorneys at VP Immigration can help. Our professional team is dedicated to assisting individuals with their immigration needs, including matters related to ESTA. Call our immigration law firm today during regular business hours at (407) 674-6968 and we will be happy to help. If you have an emergency outside of our office hours, call us at (407) 925-2554 and we will contact you shortly. You can also submit a message via our online form or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.