One of the most common mistakes made by foreign nationals is assuming that “visa” and “status” are the same thing. They are not! This can be a detrimental mistake, so it is imperative to understand the difference.
A visa is a sticker that is issued in one’s passport. The visa can only be obtained from an embassy or consulate. Visas are not issued inside the United States of America nor is it issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The visa can be thought of as an invitation to enter the U.S. Once a person has been issued a visa in their passport, they can board a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft and head to the U.S. Upon arrival, the visa will be inspected by customs and the customs officer will determine whether or not the person is allowed to enter the U.S.
This is where “status” comes in to play. Once an individual presents themselves at a port of entry, the customs officer will determine what type of status to grant and also the duration of that status.
Let us look at an example. Suzy from Spain arrives in the U.S. Upon landing at the airport, she presents herself to customs for inspection and admission. The customs officer notices Suzy has two U.S. visas issued in her passport; an F-1 student visa and a B1/B2 visitor visa (yes, it is possible to hold multiple visas). The officer proceeds to ask Suzy what her purpose is for this visit. Suzy explains that she is coming to visit the theme parks because she happens to be a Disney enthusiast. At this point, the customs officer stamps Suzy’s passport and grants her a six-month status under her B1/B2 visa.
Although Suzy’s B1/B2 visa is good for ten years, she is only permitted to stay in the U.S. as a visitor for a maximum of six months. Remember, it is the status (I-94) that determines duration of stay, NOT the visa!
**THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO BE LEGAL ADVICE. EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT. YOU SHOULD CONSULT AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY TO DETERMINE HOW THIS GENERAL INFORMATION IMPACTS YOUR SPECIFIC CASE.