"I just entered the US. I have a US visitor visa (B1/B2 visa) in my passport that is valid for 10 years. At the port of entry the immigration officer issued me an I-94 saying I was admitted for 6 months. How long can I stay in the US: 6 months or 10 years?"
Lack of knowledge or misunderstanding about the role of a "visa" and the "I-94" has been a major factor for many foreign nationals falling out of status in the United States. What is the difference between visa and I-94? Which one determines how long can you stay in US – the I-94 or visa?
Jae Yong, a Korean Citizen who is a reporter for the Korean Times Newspaper, is being transferred to the US as a foreign correspondent for the paper. He will be stationed in Washington, DC and will be reporting on US politics. He is granted the I visa for journalists and media representatives. The visa is valid for 5 years. When he enters the US his I-94 is marked D/S for "duration of status." This means that as long as Jae is working as a foreign correspondent for the Korea Times Newspaper he can stay in the US. There is no end date by which he is required to leave the US regardless of what the expiration of the visa is. Since his I visa is valid for 5 years, he is allowed to use the visa for 5 years to travel in and out of the US.
Let's look at another example which highlights the difference between a US visa and the I-94 card:
A Citizen of China who wishes to enter the US as an H-1B professional cannot get an H-1B visa that is valid for more than 12 months. If a Chinese Citizen has an H-1B approval notice that is valid for 3 years, he or she can be admitted for the length of the approved petition, regardless of the expiration listed on the visa. This means that the individual must travel to the US within 12 months of being issued the visa. After entering the US he or she will be able to stay till the end date on the approval notice. He or she would only need to depart the US on or before the date specified in his or her I-94 form.
Now that we have a general overview of the Form I-94 and the visa let’s look at the specifics and the differences between visa and I-94.
A Step-by-Step Advice For Successful H1B Filing
The Form I-94, also known as the Arrival/Departure Record, serves as evidence that a nonimmigrant has entered the country legally. It indicates how long the nonimmigrant may stay in the US during that visit. It is the I-94 expiration date – and not the expiration date of the US visa – that controls how long a nonimmigrant may legally remain in the US.
Generally, a new I-94 record with a new date is issued each time a nonimmigrant legally enters the US.
If a foreign national either needs to remain in the US for longer than the time granted, or decides they want to change their status and remain in the US beyond the I-94 expiration date, he or she must file an application for an extension of stay or a change of status with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The Form I-94 serves as the arrival/departure record for foreign nationals admitted to the US as nonimmigrants. This document is created by US Immigration when the foreign national is inspected upon arrival at a US port of entry. The I-94 form indicates the date of arrival, status granted (i.e., F, J, H, L, etc.), and length of authorized stay. The I-94 is an official record of admission and permission to remain in the US.
It is extremely important that you clearly understand the difference between a visa and the I-94. The major differences between visa and I-94 are as follows:
Foreign nationals who enter the US under the visa waiver program (VWP) are not entitled to change their status or extend their duration of stay in the US. They must depart within the 90-day period allowed for the visa waiver visitors. Moreover they may not simply travel to a contiguous country in order to exit and reenter for a "new" 90-day period. Proof that you are willing to obey US immigration laws and follow the dates on I-94 or visa appropriately (i.e., applying for an extension rather than just staying past your I-94 expiration date) will be important if you want to travel to the United States in the future.
If you want to stay longer than the date authorized by your I-94 card, you must apply for an extension of stay with the USCIS.
It is generally advisable to file for the extension request at least 30 days before the I-94 expiration date.
The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely in the discretion of the USCIS (you have no right to stay beyond the date on your I-94 card). In some cases, you may not be eligible to apply for an extension.
If the USCIS approves such an application, they will issue an approval notice, the bottom portion of which is a new I-94 form for the foreign national, reflecting the extended period of authorized stay.
If you discover after entry that the I-94 was issued with an error, you should go, if possible to the port of entry where you entered, and if not possible, to the nearest CBP Deferred Inspection Office with proof of entry or admission and the I-94 record, and request a corrected I-94.
If the incorrect I-94 Arrival Departure Record was issued by USCIS you must contact USCIS.
If the Immigration Officer at the local office is not convinced that the I-94 record was issued in error, he or she may advise you to file a Form I-102, Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant
Arrival/ Departure Document. This is why it is so important to take the time to check your I-94 information for accuracy as soon as it is available. A quick check can save you several hours of frustration later in your trip.