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Understanding the difference between your visa and your status

Posted by attorney Calvin Sun

This article is directed at the non-US citizen or non-US national who is in the US in a non-immigrant status. You might be a student, in F-1 status. You might be a temporary worker, in H-1B status. Regardless, this article is intended to help you understand the difference between your VISA and your STATUS. . What is status?. . Your status is simply the condition of your stay in the US. That status reflects the reason you are in the US, and what you can and cannot do while you are in the US. For example, those in F-1 status must study at an approved college or university. They also are limited in how much they can work. You receive your status as the result of a successful submission of a petition or application.. . What is a visa?. . A visa gives you permission to enter the United States, subject to approval by an immigration official at your port of entry. The visa allows you to enter the U.S., subject to permission by officials. The latest time you are allowed to enter is determined by the expiration date of the visa. In other words, if you have a visa, and it is expired, then you cannot enter the United States on that visa if you are outside the United States at that moment.. . In order to obtain a visa that is associated with a particular status, you generally must be in that status. You generally would receive your visa at a US embassy or consulate. The visa would have an expiration date, which represents the last day on which you could enter the US. Note, however, that this expiration date has nothing to do with how long you may remain in the US once you enter. Furthermore, even if you have a visa, you still might be denied entry into the US. Once you arrive at a port of entry, a US immigrations official still has the authority to deny you from entering the US.. . Example of status without a visa. . The clearest evidence that "status" and "visa" are different is the fact that a person can have a status without having the associated visa. Suppose you are accepted as an undergraduate student at a US university. Before coming to the US, among other things you would need to apply for and receive an F-1 student visa, and would need to enter the US on or before the expiration date of that visa. When you enter the US at the proper time with respect to the start of your studies, you would be in F-1 status and also have an F-1 visa.. . Assume that you comply with the requirements of maintaining your status during your four years of undergraduate study. Assume further that you have found a job that is related to your field of study, and that you will be working at that job following your graduation. In other words, you will take advantage of your post-completion optional practical training (OPT), and that the OPT period is one year.. . During your OPT period, your boss likes you so much that he wants to hire you full time. Because your job qualifies as a specialty occupation, furthermore, your boss files a petition for you to receive H-1B status. Two months after your boss files the petition, it is approved. During this time, you have remained in the US.. . Because you never left the US, you received your H-1B via a "change of status." During this time, your passport remained the same, that is, no additional visa stamp was inserted. In other words, even though your passport has an F-1 visa (which might even have expired by now), it would not have an H-1B visa, even though you now are in H-1B status.. . Why this distinction is crucial. . This distinction between visa and status is crucial if you later, after getting your H-1B status, decide to leave the US, for example to go back to your home country. In that case, you cannot just simply return to the US. You will be turned away because even though you might be in H-1B status, you do not have an H-1B visa. Therefore, you will need to visit a US embassy or consulate in order to receive an H-1B visa, which then could allow you back into the US.. . Therefore, keep in mind that visa and status are related but different entities.. . This article does not constitute legal advice.

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