I have seen many of our readers asking questions in our Q & A forum like
- My H1B Visa expired, but my I-94 is valid. Am I in legal status in US ?
- My F1 Visa expired, but my I-20 is valid and I am enrolled. Is my F1 status valid ?
- I am on OPT, my F1 visa is expiring in a month, can I stay in US and work ?
- L1B Visa expired, but I-94 still valid, Can I stay in US Legally ?
- H1B visa has expired and I have to travel for India ? What should I do ?
- H1B is expiring and I should travel for business. What are my options ?
This article will focus on clarifying the differences between US visa and Status. Also, we will address some of the common questions around the visa expiry.
What is a Visa? What is US Visa ?
Visa is basically an entry document that you need to show at the port of entry of any country. In terms of US visa, it is a piece of paper glued in your passport by the US Consulate Office, with your name and details like the type of US visa, expiry date, photo, etc. This piece of paper (Visa) stamped/glued in your passport should be produced at the Port of entry (POE), when you enter United States either by land, sea or Air. The key thing is, it has to be valid for you to enter United States. If you leave the country for some reason and would like to come back or re-enter, this Visa has to be valid for the visa type or status you are entering USA.
How do you get US Visa ? F1 Visa, H1B Visa, L1 Visa ?
To get US Visa, you will need to apply for it in your home country at any US Consulate General offices or if you are in US and expiring, you can visit to other countries by crossing border. You will need to carry all the supporting documents for a visa interview based on the type of visa you are applying it. It could include documents sent by your employer for H1B or L1 visa, documents sent by school in America for F1 or J1 visa, your personal documents related to your financial status and eligibility, etc. The Visa Officer at US consulate general would review your documents and information provided and grant US visa based on his discretion. He has the sole authority to give you or deny your visa.
What is ‘Status’ or immigration Status in US ? What does ‘Status’ mean in Immigration context ?
When you enter America by showing your Visa in passport and other documents, as needed, the CBP officer at Port of entry stamps your passport and I-94 ( if by sea or air no physical I-94 card) with Admission Stamp and annotation indicating your Immigration Status in US and Validity of the same. Below are some examples
- If your admission stamp says F1, it means that you are entering America on F1 Visa status. In the ‘until’ field, if it says D/S – it means Duration of Status. What D/S means is that as long as you maintain your current immigration status in US, you can stay in America. We will talk more below on how to maintain it.
- If your admission stamp says H1B, you will be in US on H1B Visa status. The until field would indicate until what date you can stay in US, provided you maintain your status.
What is maintaining your ‘Visa Status’ or ‘Status’ in US mean ?
Maintaining your US visa status means that you are not violating any of the immigration rules that are tied to your visa status. For instance, if you are on F1 visa, you should be enrolled full time at a school and have a 3.0 GPA. Also on F1 visa, you can only work 20 hours on campus during regular semesters and not be engaged in off-campus employment. Similar to F1 visa, each visa has a set of immigration regulations and you have to following them. If you violate any of the immigration rules tied to a visa status, you will be out of status. If you are out-of-status, your immigration status is illegal and you can be deported and barred from entering in future, also if you exceed grace period. Essentially, if you do NOT maintain status, you are staying illegally in America.
Now that we know these terms,
What is the actual relation or difference between US Visa vs. Status ?
- Visa is an entry document issued by US consulate abroad and you need a valid visa to enter America or return back to America after any travel.
- Status is something you get when you enter America using a valid US Visa. Your status is indicated on your admission stamp done at the Port of Entry. It could be anything like F1, H1B, L1, B1/B2, etc. based on your reason for entry and it will indicate the validity of the status. Your status is only valid, if you maintain it properly by following all the immigration rules as mentioned above.
Phew ! Now that we know what is the relation, lets get to the most commonly asked questions around the US Visa validity and Status.
F1 Visa expired, but my I-20 is valid and I am enrolled full time. Is my F1 status valid?
Yes, your status is valid, provided you are maintaining your immigration status. Your F1 Visa stamp in your passport is only good to enter America. Its significance ends there, you do not have to worry about the expiry of the F1 visa. It only plays role, if you would like to re-enter America after traveling to your home country for vacation or holidays.
I am on OPT and working now, my F1 visa is expiring, can I continue working or should I leave ?
As long as you have maintained your status and not violated anything, your visa stamping expiration does not matter. You can continue to work until your OPT period is done. If you leave the country and try to re-enter, then you will need to have valid visa and you would need to go for stamping at that time. Always keep in contact with your DSO and make sure your have valid I-20 and your status is maintained properly.
My L1B, H1B, H4, F1 Visa expired, but I-94 still valid, Can I stay in US Legally ?
Yes, as long as you are maintaining your status and your I-94 is valid, your status in US is legal. You need to ensure that your immigration documents (like I-20 for F1 students) that are tied to your status are valid too.
H1B, L1, F1 Visa stamp in passport expired – I have to travel to home country like India. Can I re-enter ? What should I do ?
If your visa stamp in passport has expired, it means that you cannot use it to re-enter America after you travel to home country. Your visa stamp has to be valid, to enter US. You should apply for getting F1, H1B or L1 Visa stamping done in your home country at a US consulate office. Some people travel to other countries to get this visa stamping done, depending on their situation and preference. Also, on the contrary, if your passport has expired, but your visa is valid, you can still use the same valid visa to re-enter US. Read Enter US with Valid Visa in Expired Passport
Does that clarify Visa Vs Status in USA ? Did I miss anything ? Any thoughts to add ?
Image Courtesy : http://www.iso.rochester.edu/travel/arrive/i94.html