Understanding Visa Categories

What is the Difference Between Visa and Status?

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The word “visa” is commonly used in the immigration context, and it is often used incorrectly. “Status” is a less widely-used term, but it is just as important. In this article, we will discuss the difference between the two terms, and how they are used in immigration.

What is a Visa?

A “visa” is a travel permit or document that allows a person to travel to the United States and ask to enter in a specific classification. A U.S. consulate or embassy issues visas, sometimes be called “visa stamps” or “visa foils.”

For example, if you would like to travel to the United States to visit as a tourist, you would first apply for a tourist visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. If you are approved you will get a tourist “visa stamp” in your passport. Then you can travel to a United States port of entry/border. When you arrive at the border you will ask the customs officer to allow you to enter the United States as a tourist. The officer will see you have a right visa, he or she will stamp your passport, and let you into the United States.

Does having a visa guarantee your admission to the U.S.?

No. Having a visa does NOT guarantee your admission to the United States. A customs officer must “inspect” you first. The inspection involves asking a set of questions to determine if you are entering for a permitted purpose of your visa.

For example, if you have a tourist visa, you can only ask to enter as a tourist. The officer must be satisfied that you are only coming to be a tourist. If the customs officer suspects you have a different intention, you can be denied entry.

Does a visa expire?

Yes, a visa does expire. It can be valid for 30 days and even up to 10 years depending on your classification.  You can use that visa to enter the country up until the date it expires.

This is where an important difference takes place.

The visa allows you to arrive at the border to ask for permission to enter the country. Once you are inside the United States, the visa is no longer applicable to your ability to stay in the country. That is where “Status” comes into play.

What is Status?

Status is your formal immigration classification while inside the U.S. A customs officer stamps your passport when he or she is satisfied that you are entering for the purpose of your visa. The stamp contains the port of entry, date of entry, the classification (e.g. tourist), and how long you are allowed to remain in the United States.

The customs system also maintains a record of your entry and classification, which you can find online. This is called an I-94 arrival record.

For example, if you have a tourist visa, your “status” in the U.S. will be “tourist.” Many people say “I am on a tourist visa when actually the correct phrase is “I am in tourist status.”

Does Status expire?

Usually. Most temporary visas have a date of expiration. That means you must leave the United States before your status expires.

Note: Even if you arrive at the border on the last day that your visa is valid, you can still enter and have a period of status that goes beyond your visa validity.

What if my status expires? Would there be consequences?

If your status expires, you are “out of status” in the United States. It means you cannot stay in the U.S. any longer. It also means that technically immigration authorities can deport you.

If you leave the U.S. after your status expires, you will have a harder time getting a visa in the future. It is also more likely that customs officers would deny you entry in the future.

Being out of status for more than 6 months but less than 1 year, and then you leave the country, results in a 3-year ban on re-entry to the country.

If you are out of status for more than 1 year and you then leave the country, you will be banned for 10 years.

Can I extend or change my status?

Yes, in some cases. If there is a valid reason to extend your status, it may be possible to apply for an extension. You should contact one of our attorneys to understand if you would be granted an extension or change of status.

If you need help in simplifying the process of your immigration, please contact Occam Immigration with any questions.

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