It is a common and misunderstood practice for a visitor to the United States to stay for 6 months, leave the United States, and enter again the next day to stay in the United States for another 6 months. Although this is commonly done and it is possible that the visitor has not encountered any issues yet at the border, this is not recommended.
See below a breakdown of common visitor scenarios and what elements may pose risks of appearing to the examining officer that you have “immigrant intent,” which can be a basis of refusing your entry, which will then affect subsequent attempts for you to cross into the U.S.
1. Frequent short visits of 1-2 weeks length, interspersed throughout the year.
Short-term stays ranging from a few days to several weeks, which are interspersed throughout the year, generally pose low risks that a visitor will be seen to possess “immigrant intent.” It is a good idea to prepare a detailed itinerary including your return flight to your home country, and to clearly explain the purpose of the trip (visit friends, family, business meeting, etc.)
2. Longer-term visits, 2-3 months to 6 months, with a larger gap between each visit.
Visitors seeking to stay for longer term visits spanning several months should be prepared to answer questions regarding their ties to their home country (employment, schooling, residence, etc.) and explain your reason for staying longer than usual, such as your itinerary, details about the occasion that you are attending in the U.S., or family and/or friends you are visiting. If the time you spend in your home country appears more significant than your trips to the U.S., the risks are lower that you will be questioned about whether or not you are trying to practically “live” in the United States, which is not allowed with a visitor visa.
3. Long-term visit, full period of 6 months, with a very short gap between each visit.
It is risky to accumulate a travel record that shows that a visitor has stayed many months in the United States, left for only a short time, and re-entered the United States to stay for another several months. This is because it can give the visa officer reason to suspect that you are actually a “de facto” resident of the U.S. Even if you comply with all other requirements, such as not engaging in any unauthorized work in the U.S., if you spend the majority of your time staying in the United States with insufficient evidence on how it is for a specifically limited duration, an examining officer may refuse you entry on your next visit on the basis that they suspect you are trying to “practically” live in the United States, based on your travel record.
Recommendation: Extend your status from within the U.S., if necessary
If you are a B1/B2 visa holder and have a valid reason to stay for longer than 6 months, for example, to accompany your child who is studying in the United States on a F-1 visa, a different strategy is recommended. Instead of making a short-term exit out of the country and attempt to re-enter for the sake of obtaining visitor status for another 6 months, it may be more straightforward to apply for an extension of your visitor status to USCIS from within the United States.
National of a visa waiver country who enter the United States on an ESTA has a maximum stay of only 90 days and cannot apply to extend their status from within the United States.
Visitors should also note that short-term trips of 30 days or less to Canada or Mexico does not “break” your period of stay in the U.S.. This means traveling short-term to Canada or Mexico it will not create a new admission when you re-enter the United States, so it will not “re-set” the clock for your authorized stay.
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