Unlawful presence means that if you violate immigration regulations, you will immediately lose your legal status in the United States. Beginning on the day after the violation, you will be present in the US without authorization. If the primary visa holder on an F1 or J1 accrues unlawful presence, so do their dependents on the F-2 or J-2 that are over the age of 18.
How does this impact international students and scholars? As a result of your unlawful presence, the government could bar you from future entry into the US. According to the Department of Homeland Security, some examples of status violations are failing to pursue the course of study or authorized activity. Other cases are engaging in an unauthorized activity such as unauthorized employment, staying beyond the expiration date or staying beyond the grace period following the program completion.
Prior to this policy, F1 and J1 students and scholars, including dependents, were only subject to the accrual of unlawful presence if the USCIS denied a benefit that resulted in the loss of illegal status or a decision on a status violation made by an immigration judge. If you fell out of status, while it did have consequences, you did not accrue time and unlawful presence.
Avoid violating your immigration status by following the immigration regulations, as explained to you during orientation. If engaging in employment or outside activity, make sure you have authorization and only work during the authorized period. Also, make sure your email address is always up to date and check your email. If you are changing your visa status to different status, make sure that you, your employer or your department initiates the process early.