Frequently Asked Questions About U.S. Immigration & the Entry Process

1. What is the purpose of a visa in a passport (travel document)?
Any foreign citizen is generally required to obtain a U.S. visa prior to entering the United States. There is an exception to this rule for Canadian citizens. A U.S. visa allows an individual to travel to any U.S. port of entry and request permission from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection inspector to enter the country. The visa is placed within the foreign national’s passport at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad. Whereas the passport itself serves as a travel document issued by the home country, the visa is a travel document issued by the United States evidencing that a consular officer abroad has found the individual eligible to seek admission to the United States. There are two categories of visas: nonimmigrant visas which are issued to those traveling to the United States on a temporary basis; and immigrant visas which are given to those who intend to establish a permanent residence in the United States.

2. How long does it take to get a nonimmigrant visa?
The amount of time required to obtain a visa will depend on multiple factors including the type of nonimmigrant visa for which you are applying and wait times at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate where you will be applying.

3. How long does it take to schedule a visa appointment at a U.S. Embassy/ Consulate?
The typical wait time to receive an interview appointment to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate will vary depending on the particular post through which you are applying and the number of individuals being serviced at that time. Typical wait times per Embassy/Consulate can be found at:  https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/wait-times.html. The times listed are estimates and your application may take longer. In select situations expedited processing may be requested. Though the requirements vary depending on the office, expedited appointments will generally only be granted in cases of urgent medical treatment, the death of a family member, for limited business reasons, or for students with strict travel deadlines. Each U.S. Embassy/Consulate usually has a list of the acceptable grounds for expedited appointments on its website.

4. What’s the PED (Petition End Date) listed on my visa?
The PED listed on your visa is your Petition End Date, or the date on which the classification under which you entered the United States will expire. For example, if you entered the United States on an H-1B visa, your PED reflects the date on which you will no longer be eligible to work in the United States as an H-1B visa holder. Generally, your PED will correspond to the expiration date given by USCIS on your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record at the port of entry.

5. What is the significance of an expiration date on an electronic or paper Form I-94 (expiration of status in the United States)?
The date found on your I-94 is your “admitted-until” date. The admitted-until date is the date by which you are required to leave the United States, unless you are the beneficiary of a timely filed petition for extension of stay. (See FAQs 12 & 13.) If there is “D/S” on your I-94 instead of a specific date, you were given a “duration of stay” date. A duration of stay date signifies that you may stay in the country as long as the status under which you entered is valid. For example, if you entered with a student visa, you will be allowed to stay until you finish your full course of academic study.

6. Why does my visa expire before my status (I-94) expiration?
A visa is a document that is intended to grant you permission to travel to the United States. It does not guarantee your admission into the country, but rather indicates that a consular officer found you to be eligible for admission. The expiration date on your visa, then, is merely the date on which your ability to travel to the United States ends. Your I-94 is the form documenting your arrival to and departure from the United States. It indicates under what status you are present in the United States and the length of time you are allowed to remain in the country. The date on your I-94 is the date on which your status ends. It may seem illogical for a visa to be granted for a period of time shorter than your actual status. However, the length of time a visa is granted is partially dependent on the country of your citizenship. This is because each country has an agreement with the United States regarding the length of time for which visas will be granted. This arrangement is called “visa reciprocity.” While the United States will not enter into formal reciprocity agreements, the United States creates reciprocity schedules which are shaped by the visa requirements the sending country imposes on U.S. travelers. Reciprocity schedules apply to all nationals, permanent residents, refugees and stateless residents from the involved countries. The United States attempts to make visa validity, the number of visas granted, and the fees for such visas reciprocal with the sending country “insofar as practicable.” The U.S. government publishes visa reciprocity tables which show the available visas in any given country as well as the corresponding fees. The visa reciprocity tables can be found online at the following site: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/fees/temporary-reciprocity-schedule.html.

7. Can I be in the United States legally as long as my visa is still valid?
Not necessarily. A visa is a document that is meant to allow a foreign national to request permission to enter the United States. Thus, the expiration date on your visa is the date on which your permission to request entry expires. When a foreign national presents a Customs and Border Patrol official with his/her visa at the port of entry that official has discretion to allow or deny admission. Accordingly, that official will also determine how long the foreign national can stay in the United States. The U.S. immigration inspector will either write a date or a “D/S” on the entering individual’s Form I-94. If your I-94 bears a specific date then that is the date by which you must leave the United States, regardless of whether your visa is still valid. (But see FAQs 12 & 13 for an exception.) If your I-94 has a “D/S” then you will be allowed to stay in the country so long as your status is valid.

8. What happens if my visa expires while I am in the United States?
There will not be a problem if your visa expires while you are in the United States. When you entered the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection Immigration Officer at the port of entry (likely an airport) authorized you to stay in the United States for a set period of time when s/he admitted you into the country. S/he should have noted that period of stay on your admission stamp or on your I-94, Arrival/Departure Record. You can stay for the entire period noted, even if your visa expires during that period of time. It is important, however, to keep your I-94 inside your passport so that you have an official record of your permission to be in the United States, particularly if your visa does not reflect your entire authorized period of stay.

9. My visa is expired but my I-94 is still valid. Can I travel outside of the United States?
Pursuant to the U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Inspector’s Field Manual Chapter 15.3, to 8 CFR § 214.1(b), and to 22 CFR § 41.112(d), automatic visa revalidation applies to expired nonimmigrant visas of foreign nationals who have been outside of the United States for 30 days or less to visit a contiguous territory (Canada or Mexico). The validity of an expired nonimmigrant visa is automatically extended to the date on which the foreign national applies for readmission. Automatic visa revalidation also applies to situations in which USCIS has granted a change from the initial nonimmigrant classification to another nonimmigrant classification before the foreign national’s temporary departure. A foreign national may rely on automatic visa revalidation when s/he holds an expired visa with which s/he was previously admitted and is in possession of a valid Form I-94 record showing an unexpired period of initial admission or extension of stay and meets all of the following criteria: (i) is applying for readmission after an absence not exceeding 30 days solely in contiguous territory; (ii) has maintained and intends to resume nonimmigrant status; (iii) is applying for readmission within the authorized period of initial admission or extension of stay; (iv) is in possession of a valid passport; (v) has not applied for a visa while outside of the United States; and (vi) is not a national of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designated country, including Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

As long you meet the above mentioned criteria, you are not required to obtain a new visa, provided that your passport validity requirements are met. In addition, there is no limit to the number of entries you can make under the automatic revalidation provisions, provided that all eligibility requirements and criteria are met. It is important that you understand these rules. Although CBP officers undergo training on this topic as described below, some travelers experience difficulty when attempting to use the automatic visa revalidation due to improper application of the rules by CBP. Training on the automatic revalidation provisions is currently administered at the CBP Academy during basic training, as well as during Post Academy training that is administered after the trainee officers have returned from the Academy. The training is also administered to officers during immigration cross-training, and periodic musters are disseminated to the field regarding automatic revalidation. You should NOT turn in your currently valid I-94 record on departure from the United States to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days. If the airline tries to demand it be turned in, you should explain that this is the travel document required to return to the United States. You should be in possession of the following for automatic revalidation purposes: your valid passport containing the expired visa stamp; the Form I-94 (if you have not relinquished the I-94 included on an I-797 Notice of Action Approval Notice for an extension of stay) or a printed copy of the I-94 record; your I-797 Notice of Action Approval Notice or endorsed Form I-129S and a photocopy, as applicable; and documentation of the duration of your trip.

10. My visa is expired. Does this affect my ability to work/remain in the United States?
No. A visa only has to be valid when you seek entry into the United States. Your visa’s expiration does not affect the length of time you are authorized to stay in the United States or your ability to work while you are here. Your status and the length of your authorized stay in the United States are governed by your I-94 record.

11. My I-94 record expiration date was issued only to the expiration of my passport date, not my petition expiration date. I have since obtained a renewed passport. How do I get my I-94 record extended to match my petition expiration date?
If you are traveling abroad, you will be able to correct the date on your I-94 record the next time you enter the United States. If, however, you are not traveling abroad any time before the expiration of your I-94, you will need to file an application to extend your stay with USCIS.

12. My employer has timely filed a petition to extend my status. Do I need to stop working when my current status expires?
If your employer filed an I-129 to extend your status before your status expired, you may continue to work for your employer for a period of up to 240 days while your petition for extension is being processed. The 240 days will begin on the day on which your previous status expires. If your extension is denied, your permission to work will automatically terminate, even if it has not been 240 days since the expiration of your original status.

13. What happens if my nonimmigrant status expires while my extension is pending?
If your nonimmigrant status expires while your extension is pending and you are extending an A-3, E-1, E-2, E-3, G-5, H-1B, H-1B1, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, I, J-1, L-1, O-1, P-1, R-1, or TN visa, you will still be allowed to remain in the United States and to continue your employment for up to 240 days. The “240 day rule,” codified by 8 CFR § 247a.12(b)(20), allows any foreign national who filed his/her application for extension in one of the designated nonimmigrant categories prior to the expiration of his/her current status to continue to work for the same employer for up to 240 days beginning on the date the authorized period of stay expires.

Being issued an RFE (Request for Evidence) will not affect your ability to utilize the 240- day rule. However, if your application for an extension is denied, your authorization to work is immediately revoked. You may travel abroad after filing an application for extension and still maintain your lawful status, but you must either return to the United States before your current nonimmigrant visa expires or remain abroad until your petition for extension is approved and you have obtained a new visa. If you return to the United States after the petition for extension is approved but before your current nonimmigrant visa expired and do not have the new I-797 Approval Notice with you to present to the CBP officer, your authorized period of stay will be limited to the PED on your visa. You should notify our office of any intended travel abroad while a petition for extension is pending and provide us with your contact information abroad so that we can reach you in the event your petition is approved while you are outside the United States. You must be physically present in the United States when a petition for extension is filed. You should also notify our office if you know that your employer is preparing to file a petition for extension on your behalf and you need to travel abroad so that we can plan the timing of the filing accordingly.

14. My employer has timely filed a petition to change my status. Do I need to stop working when my current status expires?
Yes. You should stop working when your current status expires and until your change of status application has been approved and is effective.

15. Can I travel outside of the United States while my change of status application is pending?
Yes, but you will abandon the application. In order to be able to return to the United States, you will first need to obtain an approval notice reflecting consular notification and use it to obtain a new visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad.

16. If I need to travel outside of the United States and obtain a visa before I return (or if my dependent family members need to travel and obtain visas), will my employer cover the associated legal fees and costs?
Generally, your employer will cover the associated legal fees and costs of obtaining a visa only for you and only if the travel is business-related. You should, however, contact your HR representative to confirm the company’s policy regarding coverage of legal fees and costs for dependents.

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