A frequent mistake that people need to understand is unlawful presence. Anyone living in the United States outside of legal status may have entered on a tourist visa and overstayed that visa. They may have entered without a visa from the very beginning. They began to accrue unlawful presence, and this law changed on April 1, 1997. So, anyone who after that date has lived in the United States out of status without any status has accumulated unlawful presence.
The law is clear and very simple. If you've lived in the United States for more than a year and have an illegal presence for a year or more, and you voluntarily depart, it doesn't matter if it's a family emergency to go to your visa interview. You will trigger what's called a 10-year bar.
Many people don't understand they travel back and forth, not understanding that they can potentially trigger the tenure bar, and sometimes they begin what we call the permanent bar, meaning you won't be eligible for any immigration benefit. Until you've been living outside the United States for 20 years, that doesn't mean that 20 years have just passed but that you've lived outside for 20 years.
If you've been in the United States since April 1, 1997, and you've decided to leave or you're thinking about going, please consult with an immigration attorney before you depart, as it might have devastating impacts on your future opportunities to immigrate to the United States.
Contact us or call us at (714) 786-1166 to speak to an immigration attorney and learn about your options.