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If you are unlawfully in the United States for 180 continuous days, INS can bar you from becoming a permanent resident for three years. If you are unlawfully in the country for 365 continuous days, you can be barred for 10 years. There are several ways to get past this bar, particularly if you are a battered spouse or child and the unlawful presence was because of that, if you were under 18 while you were unlawfully present, or if you timely file an application for an extension to stay (in which case, the continuous days do not start counting until you are denied an extension).

Unlawful presence includes remaining in the country longer than allowed under a visa, entering the country without INS authorization, entering fraudulently, or violating your immigrant status.

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