If the CBP officer at the border of the U.S. allows the alien to be admitted into the U.S., the officer will issue a Form I-94 card.At that moment the alien obtains legal status and may remain in the United States for the specific purpose or purposes designated by the visa for a specified amount oftime. For example, if an alien holds a B-1 Business Visitor visa and is admitted to the United States, the alien now has B-1 legal status to remain in the United States to conduct limited business activity. The duration of authorized stay for the alien is shown on the I-94 card. A legal status allows the alien to remain in the US for the intended purpose of the visit, while a visa allows an alien to apply for admission into the United States for a specific purpose. Nonimmigrant status and a nonimmigrant visa are separate concepts and one does not necessarily have to do with the other. Each can, and often does, have a separate expiration date.
An alien holds a B-1 visa to do business in the United States temporarily and seeks admission to the U.S. based on that visa which expires in three months. When a visa is valid for a specific period, the alien has to apply for admission into the United States within that period. In our example, the alien has three months to apply for admission into the U.S. The alien applies for admission to the U.S. at the border one month after his visa is issued. His visa does not expire until two months from the time he is applying for admission into the U.S. The border officer grants the application and gives the alien an I-94 showing that the alien has a B-1 status to do business in the US for a temporary period of six months. In this case, the alien's visa expires four months before his legal status expires.
Status only remains valid if the alien remains in the U.S. for the duration of the authorized stay as evidenced by the I-94. Once an alien leaves the U.S., the alien's legal status is cancelled even ifthere is time left before the expiration date of the legal status. For readmission into the United States, the alien needs to have a valid visa.
In the example above:
If the alien left the United States after his visa expired and prior to the expiration of his status (i.e., between two and six months after his application at the border for admission is granted), the alien would have to apply for a new visa to regain admission to the United States for the same purpose or any other purpose. If he left and sought to return prior to the expiration of his visa (i.e. less than two months after his admission) and his visa allows for multiple entries, he would not have to apply for a new visa to come back to the United States prior to the expiration of his visa.
As noted above, a visa is only for the purpose of admission into the United States, not for the purpose of remaining in the United States. Remaining in the United States is strictly a matter of remaining in legal status as evidenced by the I-94. Therefore, if an alien's legal status expired and the alien is still in the United States, the alien is in the United States unlawfully even though his visa may not have expired. An alien in this situation must immediately seek to regain a valid legal status to avoid deportation or other serious consequences.
(Updated 10/09/12 by NT)
For more information on non-immigrant visas, please click on the following links: