You need a valid US Visa to enter America. But, many users are not sure if they need that US visa to be valid even after they enter the US, to continue to stay in the US legally. Below are some of the common questions that many users encounter.
- My H1B Visa expired, but my I-94 is valid. Am I in legal status in the 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 the US and work?
- My L1B Visa expired, but my I-94 is still valid. Can I stay in the US Legally?
- My H1B visa has expired, and I have to travel to India; what should I do?
- My H1B is expiring, and I should travel for business. What are my options?
This article will focus on clarifying most of the above questions, including the differences between a US visa and ‘Status’ in the context of staying in the US on a Visa. Also, we will address some of the common questions on the US visa expiry.
Let’s understand the basics of a US Visa before we get into further details.
What is a US Visa?
In general, a visa is an entry document that you need to show when you enter any country. In terms of a US visa, it is a piece of paper(foil) 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/sticker (Visa foil ) stamped/glued in your passport should be produced at the US Port of Entry (POE) as part of the entry process when you enter the United States either by land, sea, or Air. The key thing is to have the US Visa valid for you to enter the United States.
If you leave the country(USA) for some reason and would like to come back or re-enter America, this US Visa has to be valid for the visa type or status you are planning to enter USA.
How do you get US Visa? F1, H1B, L1 Visas?
To get a US Visa, you will need to apply for the same in your home country or country of residence at any US Consulate General or US Embassy. Also, if you are living in the US, and your visa is expiring, you can visit other countries that allow stamping for third-country nationals like Mexico or Canada and get stamping there as well.
When you for getting a US Visa stamping, you will need to carry all the supporting documents for a visa interview based on the type of visa you are applying it. US Visa stamping documents include documents sent by your employer for H1B or L1 visa, documents sent by the school in America for F1 or J1 visa, your personal documents related to your financial status and eligibility, etc.
The Visa Officer (Consular Officer) at any US consulate general or US Embassy would review your documents and information provided and grant you a US visa based on their discretion. They have the sole authority to give you or deny your visa.
Now that we understand US Visa, let’s look at what is ‘Status’ in context of Visas and Immigration.
What is ‘Status’ or Lawful immigration Status mean in US Immigration ?
When you enter America by showing your valid US Visa in your passport at the US port of entry, the CBP officer at the port of entry stamps your passport and issues I-94( if by sea or air no physical I-94 card) with an admission Stamp and annotation indicating your immigration “Status” in the US and the validity of the same. So, “status” (in the context of immigration) is nothing but the type of visa you are allowed to stay in the US and until what date you can stay in the US on that particular visa type.
Below are some examples on how it works.
- F1 Visa: 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.
- H1B Visa: If your admission stamp says H1B, you will be in the US on H1B Visa status. The until field would indicate until what date you can stay in the US (provided you maintain your status).
- Also, it means that you cannot stay in the country beyond the valid date of I-94. For you to be in legal status, you need to make sure your I-94 remains valid as a basic requirement.
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 status( meaning, living in the US 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 for upto 20 hours on campus during regular semesters and not be engaged in off-campus employment.
Similar to the 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 are considered to be out of status.
If you are out of status, your immigration status is illegal, and you can be deported and barred from entering the US in future. This applies, even if you exceed your grace period and stay unlawfully. Essentially, if you do NOT maintain status, you are staying illegally in America.
Also, if your I-94 expires at any point of time, you are technically considered not to be in legal status. So, it is important for you to keep I-94 valid all the time. Read How to check I-94 online and validity.
If you received a shorter I-94 duration due to passport expiration, then you need to renew I-94 after you get a new passport. Check Six Options to Renew I-94 in US, Experiences by users
Now that we know these terms, let’s look a the differences.
What is the difference between US Visa vs. Status?
- A US Visa is an entry document issued by the US consulate or Embassy abroad to you and you need it to be valid to enter America. You need to it to be valid either for your first entry or if you are planning to return to America after any travel outside the US.
- Status, in the context of US Immigration, 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 and is reflected on the I-94 issued to you. It could be anything like F1, H1B, L1, B1/B2, etc. based on your primary purpose 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 required by that visa category.
So, in short, US Visa is for your entry to America and you get your visa ‘status’ after you entry to America of the same US visa type.
Now that we know the relationship, lets get to the most commonly asked questions around the US Visa validity and Status.
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.
Yes, as long as you are maintaining your status and your I-94 ( Electronic or Physical Card) is valid, your status in US is legal. You need to ensure that your immigration documents (like I-20 for F1 students, I-797 approval notice for H1B holders ) that are tied to your status are valid too.
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.
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