“Visa” is Not the Same as “Status”

Visa and status are two concepts that are commonly confused. Under immigration law, the two concepts are distinct, even though in discussions, the word visa and the word status are used interchangeably. Visa, in immigration law, refers to the visa stamp affixed to one’s passport by the U.S. consulate in the foreign country that enables one to board a flight to the United States. Status, on the other hand, is provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer at the port of entry when one arrives in the United States to allow the person to enter the U.S. Alternatively, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may change or extend the status of a nonimmigrant who is already in the United States.

For example, the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, while issuing a nonimmigrant visa (tourist, business, student, etc.) does not guarantee the applicant the right to enter the United States. Visa approval is to be viewed as permission to travel to the U.S. to request the CBP Officer (at the Port of Entry) for the right to enter the United States. When a person arrives at a U.S. port of entry and requests admission into the U.S., the person must provide the CBP Officer with all the requirements necessary (valid passport, supporting documents, visa when required, etc) for admission into the United States.

Evidence of Status is Form I-94 / I-95

The real entry approval is the Form I-94, I-94W, or I-95 (Arrival / Departure Record) that is stapled to the passport at the port of entry. This card provides one with valid legal status to remain in the United States for the duration indicated on the card, telling how long s/he may stay in the United States during that visit.

Validity of Visas

Generally, visas maybe granted for a duration of one month to ten years, depending on the category of the visa and individual person’s eligibility. What this means is that one can travel to the United Sates from abroad at any time during the time that the visa is still valid and has not expired. It does not mean, for example, that an individual can stay continuously for ten years if s/he has been issued a 10-year visa stamp in the passport.  As discussed above, the length of time is indicated by the date on the I-94. Generally, a visitor who enters on the 10-year multiple entry visa, is only given six months to stay in the U.S. If one wishes to stay in the U.S. longer, s/he has to file for an extension of status with the USCIS.

Visas may be granted for single or multiple entries. With a single entry visa, a person must reapply for the visa after leaving the U.S., when s/he wishes to return. The multiple entry visa allows the person to travel to the U.S. as many times as needed within the duration of the visa. H1Bs are almost always multiple entry visas for beneficiaries from most countries, though the B-1 or B-2 business or visitor visa may be single- or multiple-entry. The U.S. consulate will annotate the visa accordingly.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.