Immigration Fundamental #3: I-94 v. Visa
I have often seen individuals confuse the purpose of an I-94 and a Visa, something that can lead to disastrous long-term consequences. In part this misunderstanding arises as a result of what I believe to be unclear instructions and explanations given to individuals when they present themselves at U.S. Consulates or at ports of entries such as airports. The misunderstanding arises when individuals believe that the validity dates indicated on their visa, which they obtained from the U.S. consulate, controls how long they are allowed to remain in the U.S. In actuality the date stamped and written on your I-94, which is the white document stapled in your passport in most cases when you actually enter the U.S., is what controls how long you are authorized to remain. Here are some further details:
Visa Stamp: The visa stamp that is placed in your passport merely evidences that you have been to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy and have been determined by a consular officer to be eligible for the specific visa and may now seek entry into the U.S. Having such a visa DOES NOT guarantee that the Department of Homeland Security will allow you to enter the U.S. once you present yourself at the Port of Entry with the visa. Further, the dates provided on the visa merely show how much time you have available to present yourself at the Port of Entry into the U.S. in order to request admission. Note that in most cases the visa may allow multiple entries and may be valid for up to 10 years in some cases, as is sometimes seen with visitor visas.
I-94: Once you present yourself for inspection at a U.S. Port of Entry using your visa, and assuming you are granted entry, you will receive an I-94 card in your passport in most cases which will indicate the visa status you have been allowed entry on as well as how long you are being admitted for. It is this date that determines the length of stay you have been granted and NOT the date on your visa.
Example: Let’s assume you have been issued a ten year visitor visa at the Consulate and you have received the visa stamp in your passport. Now you take a flight to San Francisco and present yourself for inspection to the officer who asks to see your passport and visa. Assuming you are granted admission the officer will then provide you with an I-94 and a date indicated thereon. Normally as a visitor you will have a date covering a 6 months stay. What this means is that you are then allowed to remain in the U.S. for those 6 months as indicated on your I-94 and not for 10 years as indicated on your visa stamp.
Although this seems like a simple issue it often causes confusion for unprepared entrants into the U.S.
Hendrik PretoriusThis is one of a series of articles from Immigration Attorney Hendrik Pretorius, focusing on the U.S. immigration options and processes available to those interested in entering the U.S.
Hendrik Pretorius is an immigration attorney based in San Francisco, California who is an ex-pat from South Africa. Hendrik focuses on helping non-U.S. citizen business owners, professionals, and those in the arts enter the U.S. as well as helping to re-unite families in the U.S.