Almost everything about the immigration laws of the United States is complicated – if not downright baffling. For example, understanding the difference between the “visa expiration date” and the actual length of time that a person has permission to remain in the United States can be very confusing. These are quite different terms, and the differences are important to understand.

A U.S. visa only gives a foreign citizen permission to apply to enter the United States. By itself, a validation doesn’t grant entry into the U.S. Rather; it merely shows that a consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate has determined that the visa holder is eligible to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry – an airport, seaport, or a land border crossing. At the port-of-entry, an immigration officer with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decides whether to permit the visa holder to enter the U.S. and how long that person can stay for any particular visit. Only a U.S. immigration officer with the CBP has the authority to permit someone to enter the United States.

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WHAT ARE THE TWO DATES ON A VISA? WHAT DO THEY MEAN?

Two dates are on a visa – the visa issuance date and the visa expiration date. The period of time between the validation issuance date and the validation expiration date is called “visa validity,” which is the length of time a person is permitted to travel to a port-of-entry and seek entrance into the United States. A validation that has been issued for a single entry into the U.S. – as noted on the validation under “Entries” with the number “1” – is valid for traveling one time to a U.S. port-of-entry.

A visa approved for multiple entries – as noted on the validation under “Entries” with a number larger than “1” (or with the letter “M” for multiple entries) – can be used as many times as allowed to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry. These multiple entries are allowed from the date it is issued until the date it expires. It’s imperative to understand that a validation does not guarantee entry into the United States. Someone’s entry and the length of that person’s authorized stay in the U.S. are decided by a CBP officer at the port-of-entry each time a person travels to enter the U.S.

The period of visa validity can be voided or canceled in some circumstances. If a validation holder remains in the United States beyond the end date of his or her authorized stay – the date provided by the CBP officer at the port-of-entry or by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – the validation is automatically voided. The exception is when the validation holder has filed an application for an extension of stay in the U.S. or a change of immigration status and that application is pending.

WHAT HAPPENS AT A PORT-OF-ENTRY?

When a validation holder arrives at a U.S. port-of-entry, the Customs and Border Protection official will record either an “admitted-until” date or a “D/S” (duration of status) on the validation holder’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94. If a validation holder’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94 has a specific date recorded on it by the CBP officer, then that is the date by which the validation holder must leave the United States.

If a validation holder has “D/S” recorded on his or her admission stamp or paper Form I-94, that validation holder may then remain in the United States as long as the person continues his or her course of studies, participation in an exchange program, or authorized employment. The “admitted-until-date” or D/S notation, as shown on the validation holder’s admission stamp or paper Form I-94, is the official record of that person’s authorized length of stay in the U.S. The “visa expiration date” does not determine or in any way refer to anyone’s length of stay in the United States.

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HOW CAN A STAY IN THE U.S. BE EXTENDED?

If someone enters the United States on a nonimmigrant validation and wants to extend his or her stay, before that person’s authorized length of stay expires – and in fact, well before the expiration date – he or she must apply to USCIS for an extension of stay or for a change of immigration status. At this time, the visa holder should probably consult with an immigration lawyer. An experienced California or Nevada immigration attorney, for example, can review a change of immigration status application for accuracy and thoroughness and can also provide helpful insights and recommendations.

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To extend a stay in the United States, a validation holder must file a Form I-539 (“Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status”) with the USCIS before the period of authorized stay expires. The USCIS recommends applying at least 45 days before the authorized stay expires. Anyone who remains in the U.S. longer than he or she is authorized may face deportation and a permanent denial of re-entry. Visa holders can check the date in the lower right corner of Form I-94, “Arrival-Departure Record,” to determine when their authorized stay expires. A visa holder may apply to extend a stay in the U.S. if that visa holder:

  • lawfully entered the U.S. with a nonimmigrant validation and that status remains valid
  • has not committed any crimes that make someone ineligible for a visa
  • has not violated the conditions of admission
  • has a valid passport that will remain valid for the duration of the stay

WHO MAY NOT EXTEND A STAY IN THE U.S.?

Those admitted to the United States for ninety days as part of the Visa Waiver Program may not apply to extend a stay, and neither can those in transit through the United States with a “C” nonimmigrant visa or without a visa. Additionally, crew members in the U.S. on a “D” nonimmigrant validation may not extend a stay in the United States. Finally, fiancés of U.S. citizens (and the dependents of those fiancés) holding “K” nonimmigrant visas and criminal informants holding “S” nonimmigrant visas may not apply to extend a stay in the United States.

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Visa holders must diligently consider and understand the dates of their authorized stays and make sure that they are following all immigration procedures and adhering to the terms of the visa. Failure to do so will put a visa holder “out-of-status.” Remaining in the U.S. beyond the authorized period of time is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and a validation holder in violation will typically have his or her visa voided and will become ineligible for a future visa for return travel to the United States.

It’s worth repeating. Almost everything about the immigration laws of the United States is complicated – if not downright baffling. And anyone needing questions answered about visas will need to have those questions answered by someone who knows the law, someone like a California or Nevada immigration attorney. The important thing is to know and understand what the dates on a visa represent and to adhere to all of the visa’s terms. If someone who is eligible to enter the U.S. needs to enter the U.S., it can usually be done, but validation holders must understand the dates and terms of their visas.