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US Visa vs Status Difference ? Visa Expired, I-94 Valid – Legal Stay ?

Many users are not sure, if they need valid US visa to continue to stay in us or if they can continue to stay in even, if their visa has expired. Below are some of the common questions.

  • 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 US Visa ?

In general, Visa is basically an entry document that you need to show when you enter 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 US Port of entry (POE) as part of the POE Procedures , 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, H1B, L1 Visas ?

To get US Visa, you will need to apply for it in your home country at any US Consulate General offices. If you are in US in some other visa and expiring, you can visit other countries that allow stamping for third country nationals like Mexico or Canada and get stamping there as well. In all these cases, 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 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 Lawful immigration Status mean in US Immigration ?

When you enter America by showing your valid US 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.
  • 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. I94-F1 Visa

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.

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. If you received a shorter I-94 duration due to passport expiration, then you need to renew I-94 after you get new passport. Check 5 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 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.

Common FAQs

F1 Visa expired, but my I-20 is valid. 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.

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 ( 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.

I am on OPT and working now, my F1 visa is expiring, can I continue working after expiry ?

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.

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


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  1. Hi,
    My parents came on Visitor Visa in April which is expiring in 1st week of September. But the I94 validity is given till end of October(6 months). Is it legal if they stay in US till I94 validity date or should they be leaving before Visa expiration date? Any help or suggestions is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  2. Hello,

    I am on a H4 dependent status and have received a job offer on a cap exempt H1B. However, my H4 which went for extension last year has still not been approved due to the COVID related delay in processing. Since my H4 visa is on extension will it affect my H1B processing in any way?

    Thank you

  3. My friends E2 visa expired April 5, 2021. His I-94 is valid until February 2022. Can he stay in the country legally after June 5, 2021 using just his I-94.

    • Karen,
      If the I-94 is valid and work visa approval documentation in US is valid, then fine. Check with your attorney as well, to be sure.

  4. My question:
    Husbands’s L1A is valid until 2022 Dec- but the visa is expired currently.
    I live and work here while my daughter is in India (got stuck there due to COVID reasons) for some time. Now both mine and my daughters visa are expired as well.
    When i go to India to bring her here- can i get stamped based on the L1A validity document?
    Should my husband’s visa be valid for us to also get visa and re-enter USA?

    Kindly help. Thanks in advance

  5. Hello ,

    My sister’s visa is expiring on December 31st 2020 and her I94 is expiring on Jan 10th 2021 .
    Her extension is pending from USCIS .
    Since she works for a consulting company ( Kforce) , she will not be paid from Jan 1st because she does not have a project / client from Jan1st .

    Does she have to exit the country before Jan 10th ( i94 expiry )?

    Her employer will inform USCIS on Jan 1st that she will be unpaid from Jan 1st .
    Since there is no valid visa , extension is pending and no salary from Jan 1st

    It’s not clear whether she has to leave the country or can she stay back because the extension is still pending .

    Please advice !

    • Luther,
      If she is not paid, then it means that she not not maintaining status. So, she cannot be living on work visa without working and being paid.
      She either needs to be paid & working or leave the country to avoid issues with violation of status.

  6. H1 and H4 visa stamp expired.
    However, i797 for H1 and i94 for H1 and H4 is still valid.
    H4 doesn’t have i797.
    Is there any issue with H4’s status?

    • Gaurav,
      You need to have valid I-94 irrespective of the status, including H4. When you applied for h4 extension, you should have got I-94 along with it.

  7. Hi,
    So, if my wife obtains F2 status through COS (as a dependent of my F1) , she would still have to reapply for a F2 visa if she wants to re-enter the US after visiting our home country?
    That seems a little unreasonable.
    Thanks in advance for any feedback.

  8. To the question “My L1B, H1B, H4, F1 Visa expired, but I-94 still valid, Can I stay in US Legally ?”
    your answer:
    “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.”

    this is totally an unclear answer, what do you mean by “as long as you are maintaining your status” ? since the question itself is about the H4 expired situation.


  9. My passport has a valid F1 visa stamp which is valid for 5 years until May 2021. I have an H1B approval notice which is valid till Sep 2022. I don’t have a stamp for my H1B as I have not travelled outside USA. Until when I have to travel outside USA to get my passport stamped with H1B?

    • Chakshu,
      As long as you are in US and maintaining status, you do not need US Visa. You need it, when you plan to exit and re-enter US. It is an entry document. You can stay as long as you want in US, if you are maintaining proper status.

  10. Hi, My L1A maxout is in March 2020 but my visa is until 2022 and i94 until 2021 do I need to serve maxout period and return with new L1visa or can use the same visa and return after an year and also can I file H1b visa simoultaneously

    • Ram,
      You need to serve the maxout period, just having visa is not sufficient. You need to have valid approval notice. I am not sure, please check with your attorney on using the same visa. You may try to file it..but need to factor in the total time and how long you are out of the country for start date of the H1B.

  11. Hello,

    My H1-B was approved in 2016. I 797 expiration date is 8/31/2019. My I 94 Exp date is 9/1/2019. My extension was rejected on 9/1/2019. On the same day, I went to the Mexico border and extended my I94 to May 2020. Therefore, I do not have valid I 797 currently, may I stay and work legally until May 2020?
    Thank you.



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