Green Cards (Common)
National Interest Waivers
Professors & Researchers
Executives & Managers
PERM Labor Certification
Investors (EB-5 visas)
Family (Spouse, etc.)
Work Visas (Common)
O-1 Extraordinary Ability
TN Canadians & Mexicans
J-1 Visa Holders
Nurses & Physical Therapists
Visa Expiration and Authorized Stay in the United States
There is a critical difference between your visa expiration date and the length of time you have permission to remain in the United States. Understanding this difference is important for you to maintain valid status in the U.S., and to avoid problems in traveling internationally.
Citizens of foreign countries generally need visas to enter the United States. A visa is permission to apply to enter the United States. The visa is a document which is attached to a page in your passport.
The U.S. Department of State has responsibility for issuing visas. Most visas are issued at one of the U.S. embassies and consulates in foreign countries around the world. 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. There are several different categories of visas, including nonimmigrant visas for business people, tourists, students, temporary workers, and investors. There are also immigrant visas for individuals coming to live permanently in the United States based on family, employment, diversity or refugee status.
A visa is not permission to enter the United States. A visa means that your application has been reviewed by a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate, and that the officer determined you are eligible to travel to the United States for a specific purpose.
With a visa, you may apply for admission to the United States at a port of entry, which may be an international airport, a seaport or a land border crossing. At the port-of-entry, a U.S. immigration officer 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. These immigration officers work for the Department of Homeland Security.
When you enter the United States, the U.S. immigration officer will provide you with a Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record (or a Form I-94W if you used the Visa Waiver Program). The Form I-94 is a small, white card that is stapled in your passport. The Form I-94 will show under which category you were admitted, and the date you are authorized to remain in the United States. Some categories, such as students and exchange visitors, are admitted for “duration of status,” which is shown as “D/S” on the Form I-94. This designation means that you are allowed to remain in the United States for as long as you continue to meet the requirements of your nonimmigrant status. In most cases, the I-94 will show a specific date 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.
If you are traveling on the Visa Waiver Program, you will receive Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record, a green card.
You should keep your Form I-94 (or I-94W) in your passport, since it shows your permission to be in the United States. The date or D/S notation, shown on your Arrival-Departure Record, I-94 or I-94W is the official record of your authorized length of stay in the United States. Although your visa may be valid for several years, your authorized period of stay, as shown on the Form I-94, may be limited to a few weeks.
Depending on your nationality, visas can be issued for any number of entries. Your visa may allow only one entry, or it may allow multiple (or unlimited) entries. If you travel frequently to the United States, you may be able to receive a multiple entry visa and avoid having to apply for a new visa when traveling to the United States while your visa is valid.
The visa describes the purpose of your travel (such as business or tourist or temporary work). If the purpose of your trip changes, you may have to apply for a different type of visa. If you have a visitor visa, for example, it cannot be used to enter the United States to study at a university.
The visa in your passport will show a visa expiration date. Your visa may used for travel to the United States from the date it is issued until the date it expires. The time from the visa issuance date to the visa expiration date is called the visa validity period. The visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to the United States to request permission to enter from an U.S. immigration inspector. The visa does not guarantee entry to the United States.
The expiration date on your visa should not be confused with the date of your authorized stay in the United States. The visa expiration date has nothing to do with the authorized length of your stay in the United States for any given visit. You are generally authorized to stay in the United States until the date on your Form I-94, given to you by a U.S. immigration officer when you entered the United States. If you wish to stay longer than this date, you may be eligible to file to extend your stay by filing a petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
There are circumstances which can cancel the validity of your U.S. visa. If you stay beyond the date of your authorized stay on your Form I-94 and did not receive approval for an extension of stay by the USCIS, then your visa may be automatically void or cancelled. However, if you file an application for an extension of stay or a change of status before your authorized stay expires, and your application is pending and not frivolous, then generally your visa will not be cancelled.