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Visa vs. I-94 and understanding your authorized period of stay in the United States.

The Nonimmigrant Visa and the I-94 Form are two central immigration documents that are often confused. Understanding the difference is essential to avoid immigration consequences, such as unauthorized stay.

Nonimmigrant Visas

A nonimmigrant traveler will need a visa to enter the United States if not exempted by a visa waiver program. The visa allows an alien to travel to a port of entry (an airport or a land border crossing) and request permission from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspector to enter the United States.

Examples of visa types are F1 student visas, B2 tourist visas, H1B specialty occupation visas, E2 investor visas, and R1 visas for religious workers. The type of visa granted depends on the purpose of the trip. Each visa type gives its holder a certain status with specific requirements and obligations, such as limits on authorized work and future immigration options.

Consulates outside the United States are responsible for visas issuing. A visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. However, it indicates that a Consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad has determined that you are eligible to enter for that purpose. A visa might be for single or multiple entries.

The expiration date on the visa document is the last date to apply for admission at the United States port of entry.

The I-94 Form

Form I-94 is an Arrival/Departure Record issued to aliens who are admitted to the U.S and who are adjusting their status while in the U.S. or extending their stay. When a nonimmigrant enters the U.S. with a valid visa at the port of entry, a CBP officer generally attaches the I-94 to the nonimmigrant visitor’s passport upon U.S. entry.

The I-94 sets the time that one might stay in the U.S. in the status stated in their valid visa. The expiration date on the I-94 is the last authorized date for staying in the United state without asking for an extension. This is the “Admit Until Date” on the electronic Form I-94. Nonimmigrants must exit the U.S. on or before the departure date stated on their I-94 Form.

An Example

An E-2 visa holder entered the United States on January 1, 2020, with a visa valid for five years (expiration date of December 31, 2024). At the port of entry, the Border Control Officer issued him an I-94 with an Admit Until December 31, 2021. This visa holder is authorized to stay in the U.S. for two years, until December 31, 2021 (even though his visa is valid for another three years). To avoid unauthorized stay, he can travel and re-enter the U.S. with a new I-94 Form with a new expiration date. Since his visa is still valid for another three years, he will not need to file for his visa renewal at this time.

For further information and case-specific questions, please email us at: or leave a message at: (408) 758-2712.

*This article has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, may not be current, and is subject to change without notice. Readers should contact their attorneys to obtain advice concerning any particular legal matter.

© Copyright 2022 by Revital Shavit Immigration law


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