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So I screwed up and alerted the guards. They came looking for me and fortunately I am a master of hiding, so they didn't find me. Now when this happens, guards' status changes from hunting to cautious. It, however, stays on cautious and their icons on the minimap show orange.

How long do enemies/guards stay in this status? When is it safe to go about my business without them being alert of my presence?

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It depends. If you killed someone and didn't hide the corpse then almost always there will stay one guy with the corpse.

If you we're spotted, your disguise blown or a body found then any of those can trigger the npc's to change their routine, so the more you screw up the more attention it brings to your presence, best bet is to watch their routine and check when it's safe to make your move.

Also, it all depends on the level you're playing and the difficulty. The harder the level or difficulty the longer they'll stay alert.

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