Roman J. Lee

VISA AND STATUS - Part 1 By Roman Lee, Esq.

“Visa” is a form of travel documents issued by the US Department of State allowing foreign travelers to be admitted into the US. US Consulate is normally the foreign representative sub-agency to receive visa applications and to issue visas to foreign travelers. Visas are stamped in the foreign traveler’s passport. In legal definition, “visa” refers to the actual stamp in the passport. Other than individuals from one of the Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) countries, a currently valid visa is required in order for the traveler to arrive at a US border and international airport.

There are many categories of visa issued by US Consulates. Each visa has its unique set of requirements, conditions, and terms. Foreign travelers must obey and fulfill the terms and conditions of the visa category for which they applied at a US Consulate, and, throughout their stay in the US.

Visa only functions at the time of entering the US boarder or airport. Once the visa is inspected by an immigration inspector, then the foreign individual is authorized a “status” according to the visa presented to the inspector. After foreign travelers are admitted into the US, the visa had served its function –traveling authorization to the US.

“Status” in immigration context refers to foreigner’s immigration standing in the US. Status is authorized by the US Department of Homeland Security at the traveler’s request, either by the visa presented at a US border or by subsequent petition to change or extend status. For a foreign individual traveling to US with a US visa, the foreign individual’s immigration status is annotated on a Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Card, which was usually completed by the foreign traveler before they arrived at the US boarder or airport. For travelers traveling with one of the VWP countries’ passports, a Form I-94W card was used. However, since the implementation of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) in 2010, Form I-94W card is no longer being used for VWP travelers.

Upon the foreign traveler’s arrival at the US border or airport, an immigration inspector of the US Customs and Border Patrol, a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, examines the traveler’s visa, questions the purpose of the US trip, and, if the inspector is convinced that the traveler has and will comply with the terms and condition of the “visa”, the traveler will be accorded the appropriate “status” on the Form I-94 Card. The status reflected on the Form I-94 Card would specify what type of status (B, F, H, L, E, etc.) and duration of the status. How long can the traveler stay in the US is determined by the “status” rather than the “visa”.

To be continued…….

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