Don't deport her!
February 15, 2011 11:10 PM   Subscribe

How long can EU citizens stay in the United States per year?  My girlfriend would like to stay with me for two-three months, then return home to work for a month, come back to the US for a couple months, etc. Will homeland security break up this arrangement after a while? Is there a limit to how many days per year she can stay in the US?  To be clear, she won't be working here. 
posted by pollex to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Usually, it's three months out of every 180 days. So, if you stay for three months, you've got to go home for three months before coming back. Timed right, she can stay six months a year total, broken up into two or more periods. With computerized passport control, it's pretty hard to get around this without having a student visa or something like that.

And some EU states, notably Romania and Bulgaria, require a visa for *any* entry. I've had many friends from these countries denied visas because they are regarded as a "risk," due to some combination of simply being young, not owning property, not having a spouse or children back home, having limited personal finances, and so on.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:19 PM on February 15, 2011

Dee Xtrovert is basically right, but essentially it's entirely up to the USCIS agents at the point of entry to the US. They will ask your girlfriend questions to make sure she's not intending to work in the US or try to stay. First time or two the questions will be pretty basic ("Where do you work?" "Who are you staying with?"), but they are very, very likely to escalate. I have had USCIS agents go through my wallet and question me about every business card in it when they were concerned I would try to overstay. A girl with a boyfriend in the US is likely to be considered a big overstay risk, that's the kind of thing they ask questions to find out about, and if she gets busted lying it will be a big deal.

On the visa waiver it's entirely up to those agents whether they turn her away (the visa waiver waives the need for a visa in return for waiving the right to appeal deportation). If she is ever turned back she will never be able to use the visa waiver system again and will need a visa for future visits, the turn-back will also come up and have to be dealt with in any visa application.

Sorry, US immigration stuff is a minefield and it sucks. Can you alternate visits so she's only coming a couple of times a year?

(I am not an immigration attorney, you should ask one... etc etc)
posted by crabintheocean at 11:51 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's 90 days, which is slightly less than three months, unless it's February, March and April (not in a Leap Year).
posted by essexjan at 1:06 AM on February 16, 2011

Seconding crabintheocean's advice to see an immigration lawyer, and for both sides — that is to say, her visiting the US, and you visiting the EU. Immigration laws and enforcement of them have been increasingly strict; I also see more and more "gray area" cases being acted on by immigration officials, whereas before they were more likely to let things slide. You're being conscientious, so this is more a general heads-up than directed at anything you specifically said: please do not count on anyone letting anything slide. Sure, you can find stories from people who slipped through the cracks, but you're a lot less likely to hear from people who were in fact deported. And you'd be surprised at all the little details immigration officials can (and will, if/when they feel like it) use against people. Not everything is online. I say all this as an American who's been a student in France, worked and lived in Finland and later again in France, with a then-French boyfriend. I now have dual French and US citizenship, so FWIW, I've been through the ropes.

All that said, you can find good info on's "Visas" page. Most EU countries are part of the Visa Waiver Program. I can't find anything official beyond "90 days"; I often hear "90 days in for every 90 days out", which fits with what others have said, but all my Googling has not (yet?) found anything official that supports that, so do be careful. Contact an immigration lawyer; it is worth it if you see long-term potential for this relationship. Oversights early on could have nasty long-term consequences. (I'm thinking, as an example, of someone who stayed in the EU on a tourist visa for years, married an American woman there, had kids with her in the EU, never got legal, and could well face deportation as well as be denied any future reentry — I haven't heard what eventually happened, which doesn't bode well.)
posted by fraula at 4:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check out visajourney for lots of anecdotal stories. It's a great resource for all things immigration and visa related.

My wife (then girlfriend) lived in Canada (I live in the US) and when I would drive her across the border for just a weekend stay, we would get grilled. One time we told them that I would drive her from Canada to US, but she would buy a ticket in the states for the return trip. They ripped us a new one for not having bought the ticket in advance to show them, since apparently having the ticket in advance is more evidence of her intent to actually return to Canada.

So, my personal suggestion is, no matter what you end up doing, having a return ticket and proof that she will, in fact, be returning home soon can help the border crossing. However, this isn't to say that's all you will need. USCIS has quite a bit of discretion when it comes to allowing people to visit the country and if they sniff out something fishy, they will more than likely give you a hard time.

When it comes to straightforward immigration issues (like me and my wife, who had no kids or previous marriages), I don't think a lawyer is always necessary. However, it sounds like you may be walking a finer line than we had to and it may be worth a couple hundred dollars to talk to a lawyer for an hour or so just to know where the line is.

Good Luck. I know it sucks how it feels like US immigration always feels like a stupid hurdle to just spend some time with your loved one.
posted by johnstein at 9:23 AM on February 16, 2011

I'm going to say the same thing to you that I did in the last thread on this topic (wherever it is): read the book Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert. She and her man tried this sort of thing, got really busted, he got kicked out of the country for something like over a year, and wasn't allowed back unless they got married. Period. They WILL NOTICE and bust you if you come back into the country any time soon after you left it. TPTB do not LIKE it when you leave technically and then return soon multiple times.

Frankly, I wouldn't recommend her coming back until it's been another year after she left the first time. Even if "technically" she can spend six months here or whatever, THEY WILL NOTICE AND THEY WILL GET YOU.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:23 PM on February 16, 2011

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