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Immigration "Visa"

Versus "Status"

  • The Difference Between a "Visa Stamp" and "Immigration Status"


    The U.S. State Department is responsible for all immigration matters that take place outside of the United States, while the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for all immigration matters that take place within the United States (see Agencies Involved)This is the key to understanding your immigration status as it applies to your entry into the United States and how long you are allowed to remain in the United States.


    A "visa" or “visa stamp” is issued by the U.S. Department of State at a U.S Embassy or consulate. A visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States. This is because the State Department has jurisdiction everywhere outside of the United States. In other words, a foreign national with valid non-immigrant status may exit the United States at any time. However, they may not re-enter without a valid State Department visa stamp.


    A person's non-immigrant "status" is what a foreign national receives when his or her non-immigrant petition is approved by USCIS. This status is only valid within the United States. This is because the USCIS only has jurisdiction within the United States.  In other words, if a foreign national has valid non-immigrant status, he or she may remain in the United States for the duration of that status even if they do not have a visa stamp.  However, once they leave the United States, they may not re-enter without a State Department visa stamp.


  • The Importance of Your I-94 Card


    A foreign national’s I-94 card determines how long an individual may remain in the United States.  This card is completed by a foreign national when they enter the United States, and is stamped with the appropriate visa type and duration of stay on the actual card by the immigration officer at the port of entry.


    IMPORTANT!  The I-94 card controls over all other immigration documents issued by the USCIS or State Department.  In other words, the expiration date on your I-94 card is the date you must exit the United States.  This date controls over your USCIS Approval Notice and your U.S. State Department visa stamp.


  • When Do You Not Need A Visa Stamp?


    There are a few exceptions to the rule with regard to needing a visa stamp to enter the United States.  Specifically:


    • If a non-immigrant visits either Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days, the foreign national may use his or her I-94 card as a re-entry document.
    • If a person has filed to become a permanent resident or green card holder, a visa is not required to re-enter the United States so long as the individual has been issued an “advance parole” travel authorization from the USCIS.


One of the most confusing issues in immigration law, and the issue that gets more people into trouble than any other, is the difference between a person's USCIS "status", a U.S. State Department "visa", and an I-94 form.  Failure to understand the differences between these documents can cause a person (or oftentimes their spouse and children) to overstay their stay in the United States.



© 2017 Thompson Immigration Law Associates