About Your Visa

One of the most common sources of confusion is the difference between your visa and your status. The information should help you better understand these terms.

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What is a visa?

A U.S. visa is an entry document. You can apply for an entry visa only at a U.S. consulate or embassy outside the United States. It is placed on a page in your passport and certifies that the consular officer has found you eligible to apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry in a particular classification, such as F-1 student, J-1 research scholar, or H-1B assistant professor.

The CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer makes the final decision on whether you are eligible to enter the U.S.with the visa  and determines the length of time you may stay.

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What is status?

You obtain status through admission to the U.S. at a port of entry, or through approval of a change of status application in the U.S. by the immigration agency, USCIS.

When you present your passport, visa and supporting documents when you arrive in the U.S. you are admitted in a nonimmigrant status that matches the classification of the visa in your passport. This is also referred to as “visa status” or "immigration status".

Once you have obtained your status,  you need to be aware of what you need to do---and not do-- to maintain your legal status as a student or a scholar.

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Things to know about a U.S. visa

The visa expiration date is the date until which you can re-enter the U.S. in the same classification with valid, unexpired supporting documents. The period of time you may remain in the U.S. is connected to the end of an academic program, or authorized period of research or employment.

The entry visa is not tied to how long you may remain in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are maintaining status, it's irrelevant. If, however, your visa is expired when you leave the U.S. to travel abroad, you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to return in the same status

If you need to get a new passport and have a visa that is not yet expired in the invalid passport, you can travel with both passports.

If you lose a passport, you cannot replace the visa in the United States. You will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.

If you have visited the U.S. for different purposes, you may have more than one visa in your passport. However, you can have only one status while you are in the United States.

What to know more? Learn about the reciprocity agreements.