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What is the Difference Between an I-94 and a US visa?

by | Mar 16, 2021 | Migration

One of the most common areas of confusion with US immigration is the difference between an I-94 Entry/Departure Record and a Visa label.  However, this is likely the most important detail to understand regarding all US immigration.

The visa stamp or label in your passport serves as the “key” to travel to the United States.  A valid visa label, along with a valid passport, are always required when traveling into the US.  Visa validity dates are determined by several factors including the visa category and nationality of the visa applicant.  Visas can only be obtained at US Consulates located outside of the United States.  In most situations, an in-person appointment must be scheduled in order to receive a visa prior to travel to the United States.

The I-94 Arrival/Departure Record is given upon each entry into the United States for all non-US citizen or non-legal permanent resident.  The I-94 status can be based several factors including the individual’s visa classification, the visa’s validity, the passport’s validity.  An I-94 can be obtained online on the US Customs and Border Protection’s website.

The I-94 status controls how long someone can stay in the United States.  It is critical for visa holders to review their I-94 status after every single entry into the United States as occasionally information can be inaccurate or have a surprising expiration date of one’s immigration status.

For example, someone may have an E-3 visa that is valid for 2 years; however, when they enter the US, if their passport expires in 6 months, there is a good chance that the I-94 status will be limited to 6 months’ validity.  In this example, the I-94 will govern how long the E-3 visa holder can remain in the US – only 6 months!  They would be required to leave the US before the I-94 expires OR file an extension of status with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service prior to the expiration date.

Applying for a US visa is usually the first step to come to the United States.  Once you receive a US visa, you can travel to the US and seek admission.  However, the CBP Officer at the airport determines how long you can stay in the US by issuing your I-94 Arrival Record.

If you have any questions regarding a visa application, the I-94 record, or how to extend your stay in the United States, please reach out to our US team.