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Nonimmigrant Visas: Time Limits and Immigration Status

passports and visa documents

As we discussed in our prior article, Types of Nonimmigrant Visas, a nonimmigrant visa, aka a temporary visa, grants its holder with U.S. government permission to perform a specialized activity – and only that activity – for a specific, limited time. Temporary visas can allow for multiple entries, or they can allow for a single entry. A visa is usually stamped on your passport and will contain information on whether it was issued for multiple entries or a single entry and the expiration date. You will only be given admission into the United States at an airport or border if the visa you are using to enter the United States is valid at the time of entry.

A visa is a document used only at the time of entering the United States. Once you enter the United States, you should refer to your I-94 validity period to determine how long you are allowed to remain in the United States and your immigration status during your stay. If you intend to apply for an extension of your status or change your status while you remain in the United States, you must do so before the expiration date of your I-94. Again, the visa on your passport is only important at the time of entry. Once you enter, your I-94 dictates the time limits. So, if your I-94 is still valid but your visa has expired while you are in the United States, it is not a problem - you are still considered to be maintaining valid immigration status.

A visa can be obtained at a U.S. Consulate in your home country. If you plan to obtain a temporary visa at a consulate other than the one in your home country, this process is called third country national (TCN) processing.

There are several indicators of the time limits on your visa and your status, which will be described below.

Look at the Expiration Date of your Visa Petition or Certificate of Eligibility

Some work visas require that your employer submit a petition requesting that you be allowed to enter and work in the United States. Some work visas that include this requirement are visa categories H, L, O, P, and Q. Student visas may require that you first obtain a certificate of eligibility from the U.S. school. The petition’s approval notice or the certificate of eligibility will indicate the desired start and expiration dates of the visa. This may give an idea of how long your visa and/or I-94 are valid for. You should always refer to your visa and/or I-94 for official validity periods.

Expiration Date of your Visa

The expiration date on your visa does not indicate how long you can stay in the United States once you arrive. Instead, it indicates how long you have the right to enter/reenter the United States. There is a chance that your visa expires before you are required to leave the United States, the time of which was allotted through your certificate of eligibility/approved petition, and which is listed on you I-94 card. If this is the case, you can renew your visa at a United States consulate the next time your travel outside of the U.S. You can also choose to stay in the United States without traveling for the full term of your petition or certification of eligibility, so long as your I-94 remains valid throughout the entire time that you are in the United States.

Number of U.S. Entries Permitted on the Visa

There are two types of visas. Most are the multiple-entry type, which allows you to go in and out of the United States as many times as your please until the visa expires. Some are the single-entry type, which you can use to enter the United States only once.

Departure Date on your I-94 Card

The “admit until” date on your I-94 card controls how long you can stay in the United States, not the expiration date on your visa. The "admit until” date on your I-94 card will come either from the date on your approved petition/certificate of eligibility, or from governing immigration laws and reciprocity between countries. Although it is common for the “admit until” date, the end date on your approved petition, and the expiration date on your visa to all be the same, that is not always the case.

There are times when a border patrol officer may give you a shorter stay in the United States on your I-94 card than your petition allows for. If this happens, you can apply for an extension. Applying for this extension can be a complicated process, however, so we recommend you have an experienced attorney handling it for you.

If you are a student, then your I-94 card may say “D/S,” which means duration of status. This indicates that you can stay for as long as you are actively pursuing the academic program for which you entered the United States, and you are not violating the terms of your status.

Expiration Date on your Passport

First, it is important to know that you cannot enter the United States without a valid passport. With that said, your visa is stamped in your passport, and if your passport expires while you are trying to enter the United States, there is a simple fix to the problem: apply for a new passport and bring your expired passport with you. As you are entering the United States, simply show the border patrol officer your expired passport with the Visa in it, and then your new valid passport.

Potential Visa Cancellation due to Overstaying your Visa Status

If you overstay the “admit until” date on your I-94, your visa will automatically be cancelled. This will make you ineligible for TCN processing, and you will have to return to your home country to apply for a new visa. There are severe immigration consequences to overstaying beyond the “admit until” date on your I-94 and you should consult with an immigration attorney before departing the United States. If you have overstayed your visa, and are looking for guidance, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can provide information on the consequences applicable to your case and minimize negative consequences.

If you are looking to apply for a temporary visa, concerned about how long your visa allows you to stay and work in the United States, or believe that your visa may have expired and you don’t know what to do next, our immigration attorneys at KI Legal are here to help. Don't hesitate to call us at (212) 404-8644 or you can email to learn about your next steps.




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