How long can you stay in the USA on a non-immigrant visa? As a U.S non-immigrant, you must know the difference between U.S visa (and its period of validity) and U.S visa Status (which determines your duration of stay in the U.S).
In this guide, you will learn how the U.S visa works, what the U.S visa status is, and understand the difference between your U.S visa validity and your duration of stay in the U.S (i.e U.S visa Status).
Many US non-immigrants do not understand that the expiration date of their US visa does not determine the length of time they are allowed to remain in the US, as the expiration date of a US visa is simply the last day to which you must arrive on US soil and seek entry into the US.
How long you are allowed to remain in the US on a given US visa is dependent on what immigration status you’re entering the US under, and is decided when you get to the US Port of Entry.
U.S Visa Guide for Beginners
The U.S visa, like all other travel visas, is nothing but the documents that allows a foreigner to travel to the U.S and seek entry into the U.S. Being in possession of a U.S visa does not guarantee a foreigner a right of entry into the U.S.
Entry into the U.S is solely dictated by the U.S Customs and Border Patrol officials who are foreigner encounters at a U.S Port of entry.
On the other hand, your U.S Visa status is a category to reach your seeking to be admitted into the U.S. Your U.S visa class, and the U.S visa status always go hand in hand.
As an example, let’s say you travel to the U.S with an F1 visa. When you get to the Port of entry, you’re going to be seeking to be admitted into the F1 status. You cannot travel into the US with the B1 Tourist visa and seek to enter the U.S into an F1 status.
For many other countries, the travel visa contains the duration for which the foreigner is legally authorized to stay in the country. This is not the case with U.S Travel Visa, as the period of validity of your U.S travel visa has nothing to do with your legal authorized state in the U.S.
Entering into U.S
When you arrive at the U.S Port of entry, which could be at an international airport, a Seaport, or U.S land border (North and South Borders) crossing, seeking to be admitted into a particular status, you will be inspected by the U.S Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer.
U.S Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) official will stamp your passport. That stamp on your passport will determine the duration to which you are legally authorized to remain in the U.S.
This stamp in your passport is called an admission stamp, and it contains the date you were admitted, the status to which you were admitted, and the date for which you are allowed to remain in the US (called an admit until date).
In the case of a U.S Port of entry at a U.S land border crossing, a U.S Customs and Border Patrol official would provide you with a paper document called a Form I-94. This Form I-94 will contain the duration to which you’re legally allowed to remain in the U.S.
This admit until date varies according to the type of visa and visa status you wish to be admitted under. For example, a B2 tourist visa holder wishing to enter the US into the B2 status is generally given a maximum duration of stay of 180 days. Thus, the admission stamp would contain an admit until date that is 180 days into the future from the date of entry.
U.S Visa Stamp
There are two broad ways by which your duration of stay is determined by a Customs and Border Patrol official.
- Stamp that says Admitted until Date and
- Stamp that says DS, where DS stands for Duration of Status.
If your stamp says Admitted until Date, then the date listed in your stamp is the last day to which you are allowed to remain in the U.S. On the other hand, if your stamp say DS (duration of status), then as long as you continue to maintain your period of activity for which you’re admitted into the U.S, you’re allowed to remain in the U.S.
Different between U.S Visa and U.S Status
As an example, someone who travels to the US on an F1 visa who is admitted into the F1 visa status would be given a stamp that says D/S – which stands for Duration of Status. This means that as long as the person continues to fulfill the requirements to be an F1 student in the US, they’re allowed to remain in the U.S.
Remaining in the U.S beyond your authorized period of stay is a violation of your visa status and could result in you being deported or barred from entering the U.S in the future. You can think of the expiration date of a U.S travel visa simply as the last date to which it must arrive on U.S soil and asked to be admitted into the US.
But once you admitted into the U.S, the expiration of your U.S visa has nothing to do with your legal stay in the U.S. Your legal authorized stay in the US is based on your US status, and not your US visa. You can see how the implications of the terms U.S Visa and U.S Status are different.
Travelling outside of the U.S with an expired visa
However, with few exceptions, if you travel outside of the U.S with an expired visa, you will need to get a new visa in order to be admitted back into the U.S. While you’re in the U.S, you can file for an extension of stay or change of status.
For example, you can go from a B1 tourist visa status to an F1 student visa status.
However, you cannot file for an extension of your U.S visa while you’re in the U.S. This is because all applications for U.S visas are processed by the U.S Department of State and must be done outside of the U.S.
Changing your status in the U.S means that whenever you leave the U.S you must obtain a visa in the new status in order to be admitted back into the U.S.
As an example, if you enter the U.S on a B1 Tourist visa and later change your status into an F1 Student visa, then if you leave the U.S, you must obtain an F1 Student visa in order to be admitted back into the F1 status.
Many non-immigrants are allowed to change their status from one non-immigrant status to another or even into an immigrant status while in the US. Upon changing your status, your duration of stay in the US will then be ultimately decided by the new status.
However, upon leaving the United States on this new status, you would have to obtain a new visa under this new status in order to seek entry back into the US.
I hope you found this guide very helpful.
Thank you for reading this guide.
DISCLAIMER: This post and guide is designed for general information only and is NOT legal advice. The information presented in this post should not be construed to be formal legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may contact a licensed attorney.
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