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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 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., Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials 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.
* Carefully review information about international visitor admission on the CBP Website.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.
* To learn more select 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. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
Q: What is the Inspection Process?
A: All persons arriving at a port-of-entry to the United States are subject to inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers. CBP Officers will conduct the Immigration, Customs and Agriculture components of the Inspections process. If a traveler has health concerns, he/she will be referred to a Public Health Officer for a separate screening.
Q: What Can I Expect to Happen at a Port of Entry?
When arriving at an airport, the airline will give all non-United States citizens a form to complete while still en route to the United States, either Form I-94 (white), Arrival/Departure Record, or Form I-94W (green), Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form and Customs Declaration form 6059B. The forms ask for basic identification information and the address where you will stay in the United States. Note that completion of the paper Form I-94W remains a requirement at the port of entry for Visa Waiver Travelers even if a travel authorization has been obtained via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. For more information on ESTA visit the Electronic System for Travel Authorization page. ( Electronic System for Travel Authorization )
Upon arrival, the airline personnel will show you to the inspection area. You will queue up in an inspection line and then speak with a CBP officer. If you are a U.S. citizen, special lines may be available to you. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you should use the lanes marked for non-citizens. If you are a U.S. citizen, the officer will ask you for your passport and Customs Declaration form, verify your citizenship, and welcome you back to the United States. You may be asked to proceed to a second screening point with your belongings for additional questioning by CBP Officers. If you are a U.S. citizen, the officer will ask you for your passport, verify your citizenship, and then welcome you back to the United States. You will then proceed to the Customs inspection area.
If you are an alien, the CBP Officer must determine why you are coming to the United States, what documents you may require, if you have those documents, and how long you should be allowed to initially stay in the United States. These determinations usually take less than one minute to make. If you are allowed to proceed, the officer will stamp your passport and customs declaration form and issue a completed Form I-94 to you. A completed form I-94 will show what immigration classification you were given and how long you are allowed to stay.
Also, If you are an alien, CBP Officers may decide that you should not be permitted to enter the United States. There are many reasons why this might happen (see INA § 212(a)). You will either be placed in detention, or temporarily held until return flight arrangements can be made. If you have a visa, it may be cancelled. In certain instances, Officer(s) may not be able to decide if you should be allowed into the United States. In this case, your inspection may be deferred (postponed), and you will be instructed to go to another office located near your intended destination in the United States for further processing.
The inspection process at a sea port-of-entry is similar to the airport process if inspection facilities are available. Otherwise passengers will be instructed where to report for inspection on board the vessel.