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Visa vs. I-94 Expiration Date: How Long Can I Stay In the United States?

Many people often get confused about which date controls their ability to stay lawfully in the United States. Our clients often ask what the difference between a visa expiration date or an I-94 expiration date? Which one controls my ability to stay in the United States?  

It is essential to differentiate and know which date allows you to maintain a lawful presence in the U.S. The worst thing you can do is overstay and begin accumulating unlawful presence.

I-94 

Generally, the I-94 is what governs the time in which you are allowed to stay lawfully inside the United States. You’re given this upon every entry into the United States on a non-immigrant visa. Now, recently they moved to not issuing the little white cards. Instead, you have to go online with your passport information to find out the date. I-94 usually controls the time frame you are allowed in the United States. We say “usually” because there can be instances where it does not control your stay, which we will explain later in this article. 

Visa 

The visa is the actual document you’re given that allows you to present yourself at a port of entry or an airport and seek admission into the United States. However, you have to remember that just because your visa expiration date is far in the future does not mean that it is the date or time you’re allowed to have status inside the United States. A classic example of this is a tourist visa. Most tourist visas are given for ten years. However, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to stay inside the United States for ten years. It means that you can present yourself at an airport or port of entry for the next ten years and ask for entrance to the United States under the status. If they allow you entry, they will give you an I-94, and the date on there will determine how long you can stay in the United States. You also have to keep in mind that they can deny you entry, even though you have a visa.  

USCIS Approval Notice 

Anybody inside the United States has to have status. You cannot have status outside the United States. Sometimes people look to change or extend their status from inside the United States by filing a petition. In that case, you might have a unique circumstance where if your new petition for change of status is approved, then that date controls your lawful presence. Not your I-94. 

Likewise, you can have the reverse scenario where you have an approved petition approval notice for a far-off date. But when you leave the country, come back in for different reasons. It could be something called reciprocity. The officers at the port of entry give you less time on your I-94 to be in the United States than the time you have in your petition notice. Which one of those two control?

Here’s a general rule that you can always pretty much take to the bank. 

The document that controls your status is the one most recently issued. 

If there’s a conflict between documents, whether the I-94, your petition approval notice, you go with the one that was most recently given.

The worst thing you can do is overstay your permission and begin accumulating unlawful presence, which could potentially block you from getting visas in the future. And even worse, you could have a bar of up to 3 or 10 years if you overstay. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any questions at 512-474-4445.

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