As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is continuing to impact travel and daily lives across the United States (US), travelers who legally entered the US by way of the ESTA/Visa Waiver program (VWP) may find themselves unable to depart the U.S, before their current period of admission will end. Earlier today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deferred Inspections sites at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey provided guidance to individuals who find themselves in this situation.
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Individuals and their attorneys are permitted to request Satisfactory Departure if the individual’s period of stay will expire in 14 days or less from the day he or she contacts JFK Deferred Inspections. If their period of VWP/ESTA admission has expired, the decision to grant satisfactory will be considered on a case by case basis.
There is no provision under U.S. law to extend the stay of an alien admitted under the VWP. The only form of relief for an alien admitted under the VWP who is unable to depart timely due to emergent circumstances is the exercise of Satisfactory Departure.
Pursuant to Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 217.3(a), if an emergency prevents an alien admitted under the VWP from departing the United States within the period of authorized stay, a period of Satisfactory Departure may be granted not to exceed 30 days – provided that the request is made during the period of admission and the alien is still in status at the time of the request. If departure is made within the period of approved Satisfactory Departure, the alien is regarded as having made a timely departure without overstaying the allowed time. In emergent circumstances, requests for Satisfactory Departure may be granted if the alien is out of status but can prove the intent was to depart timely – authority to approve these cases is reserved for the Director, Field Operations, unless re-delegated locally.
Requests for Satisfactory Departure are generally adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, in extraordinary circumstances, CBP may adjudicate requests for Satisfactory Departure. Many aliens admitted under the VWP may be stranded at U.S airports due to canceled flights. Where appropriate, CBP should grant Satisfactory Departure if the alien is awaiting a canceled flight and the period of VWP admission is expiring prior to the traveler's ability to depart.