Many individuals have difficulty understanding the difference between the visa expiration date and the length of time you have permission to remain in the United States. These are very important and very different terms.
What is a Visa?
Citizens of foreign countries generally need visas to enter the United States. A visa is permission to apply to enter the United States. It is a document which is affixed to a page in your passport.
Under U.S. law the Department of State has responsibility for issuing visas, and most visas are issued at one of the Department of State embassies and consulates abroad. Therefore, when you want to travel to the United States, you must first apply for a visa at an American embassy or consulate abroad. A consular officer decides whether you are qualified for a visa.
A visa doesn’t permit entry to the U.S. A visa simply indicates that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer determined you’re eligible to travel to the port-of-entry for a specific purpose. The port of entry can be an international airport, a seaport or a land border crossing.
At the port-of-entry a U.S. immigration officer of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides whether to allow you to enter and how long you can stay for any particular visit. Only the U.S. immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States.
What Does the Visa Expiration Date Mean?The visa expiration date is shown on the visa. Depending on the alien’s nationality, visas can be issued for any number of entries, from as little as one entry to as many as multiple (unlimited) entries, for the same purpose of travel.
This generally means the visa is valid, or can be used from the date it is issued until the date it expires, for travel for the same purpose, when the visa is issued for multiple entry.
This time period from the visa issuance date to visa expiration date as shown on the visa, is called visa validity. If you travel frequently as a tourist for example, with a multiple entry visa, you do not have to apply for a new visa each time you want to travel to the U.S.
As an example of travel for the same purpose, if you have a visitor visa, it cannot be used to enter at a later time to study in the U.S. The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States to request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to permit you to enter the U.S. The visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S.
The Expiration Date for the visa should not be confused with the authorized length of your stay in the U.S., given to you by the U.S. immigration inspector at port-of-entry, on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94, or I-94W for the Visa Waiver Program. The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the U.S. for any given visit.
There are circumstances which can serve to void or cancel the period of time your visa is valid. If you overstay the end date of your authorized stay, as provided by the Department of Homeland Security''s U.S. immigration officer at port of entry, or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), then this action on your part generally will automatically void or cancel your visa. However, if you have filed an application in a timely manner for extension of stay or a change of status, and that application is pending and not frivolous, and if you did not engage in unauthorized employment, then this normally does not automatically cancel your visa. If you have applied for adjustment of status to become a permanent resident alien (“green card” holder), you should contact USCIS regarding obtaining Advance Parole before leaving the U.S.
Each time you arrive at the port-of-entry, a U.S immigration officer decides whether to allow you to enter and how long you can stay. Only the U.S. immigration officer has the authority to permit you to enter the United States.
Admission to the U.S. - Duration of Stay - Form I-94
Upon entering the U.S., an immigration officer of the Department of Homeland Security''s, Border and Transportation Security, at the port of entry, places a small white card, Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record in your passport. On this card, the U.S. immigration inspector records either a date or "D/S" (duration of status). In most cases, a specific date will be indicated on the Form I-94 (in the lower right-hand corner). If your I-94 contains a specific date, that is the date by which you must leave the United States. Some students, exchange program participants, and certain temporary workers (e.g., foreign diplomats) will be admitted for “duration of status.” If you have "duration of status" or “D/S” on your Form I-94, you may remain in the U.S. as long as you continue your course of studies or remain in your exchange program or qualifying employment.
If you are traveling on the Visa Waiver Program, you will receive Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record, a green card.
Your Form I-94, or I-94W is a very important document to keep in your passport, since it shows your permission to be in the U.S.
As example of the difference between the duration of stay permitted in the U.S. and validity of a visa, your visa may be valid for several years, and yet your authorized period of stay, as shown on the Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94, may be limited to a few weeks.
The date or D/S notation, shown on your Arrival-Departure Record, I-94 or I-94W is the official record of the your authorized length of stay in the U.S. You cannot use the visa expiration date in determining or referring to your permitted length of stay in the U.S.
Extension of Stay
Permission to enter and/or remain in the U.S. and extensions of stay in this country are granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If you came to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa, and you want to extend your stay in the U.S., then you must ask for permission from DHS’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before your authorized stay expires. If you have a date on your Form I-94, you should apply for your extension of stay with USCIS well in advance of its expiration.
USCIS, How Do I Extend My Stay?
Providing permission to remain in the U.S, called extension of stay, to persons in the U.S., holding a nonimmigrant visa is not the responsibility of the Department of State, and therefore Visa Services is unable assist you in this regard.
What if I Decide to Stay Longer and am Out-of-Status with the Department of Homeland Security?
You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures. Failure to do so will cause you to be out-of-status.
Staying beyond the period of time authorized, by the Department of Homeland Security, and out-of-status in the U.S., is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Visit http://www.immigrationlawgroup.com/ for legal advise on waivers, asylum, business investor treaty visas, and family adjustment.