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State Dept. announces longer look-back period for travel purpose

The Department of State has just announced a new rule for what will happen to travelers who misstate the true purpose of their travel to the U.S. -- or who change their minds too quickly. Previously, if a traveler stated one purpose for travel on a visa application but then acted contrary to that purpose within a month of arriving in the States, immigration officials could presume that traveler had misstated the purpose of their trip.

For example, if a traveler applied for a tourist visa and failed to mention that he was planning to visit and marry a U.S. citizen, the State Department could charge him with willful misrepresentation if he carried out his true purpose within a month of arrival.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has just announced that immigration authorities and consular officials can now charge visitors if they fail to follow through on the plan stated on their visa application within three months of their arrival.

In other words if, within three months, visa holders do something they did not reveal in their visa application or during interviews with consular officials, the State Department can assume they deliberately lied.

Being found to have willfully misrepresented yourself to a U.S. immigration official can cause great difficulty. It makes it very difficult or impossible to renew your visa, to apply for a new visa or to adjust your status.

Will innocent changes of plan be deemed willful misrepresentation?

The American Immigration Lawyers Association worries that people who innocently change their plans within the three-month look-back period will be caught up by the new rule.

"If someone comes to the U.S. as a tourist, falls in love and gets married within 90 days and then applies for a green card, this means the application would be denied," said an AILA spokesperson. "This is a significant policy change."

It's quite possible that such a thing could happen, considering how many visas the United States issues each year. Last year, the U.S. issued over 10 million visas.

It's important to realize, as well, that the rule only applies to those who are required to have a visa to come to the U.S. Travelers from most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and some other countries do not need a visa or a travel plan in order to come to the States.

If you are in the U.S. on any type of visa and the original purpose of your travel has changed, it's important to speak to an immigration attorney. An attorney can help you ensure that a change in plan is not viewed as deceit by the U.S. government, and all discussions with an attorney are strictly confidential.

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