Event Date: Feb 16, 2016
Post Student Years: Immigration Options – The Pennsylvania State University
- Non-Immigrant Status
- H-1B Requirements
- H-1B Alternatives
- Introduction to Permanent Residency
Green Card Quota Backlogs
WHAT IS THE “QUOTA BACKLOG”?
The Immigration and Nationality Act sets limits on how many green card visas may be issued each Fiscal Year (October 1 through September 30) in all visa categories. In addition, in the employment-based area where immigration is based on employment and not family relationships or investment, nationals of each country may obtain immigrant visas (i.e., a green card), in different preference categories (i.e., EB-1, EB-2, EB-3). The law further provides that no one country may have more than a specific percentage of the total number of visas available annually. If these limits are exceeded in a particular category, for a particular nationality, a waiting list is created and applicants are placed on the list according to the date of their case filing. This date is called a “Priority Date”. The priority date is the single, most important, factor in any immigration case.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT EMPLOYMENT-BASED PREFERENCE CATEGORIES?
Employment-Based First Preference (EB-1)
Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2)
Employment-Based Third Preference (EB-3)
WHAT DOES EB-1 MEAN?
Employment-Based First Preference (EB-1) includes: (1) Persons with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business and athletics (persons who have risen to the top of their profession); (2) Outstanding professors and researchers; and (3) Multi-national executives and managers.
WHAT DOES EB-2 MEAN?
Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2) includes: (1) Members of professions holding advanced degrees (Master’s or Ph.D.) (The position must be one that requires a Master’s or Ph.D. to perform the duties – the degree held by the individual does not determine whether or not it is an EB-2, rather it is the company’s job requirements. Additionally, the immigration regulations provide that a job which requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree PLUS five years of progressively responsible experience will be considered equivalent to a Master’s level position and will qualify for EB-2.); and (2) Persons of exceptional ability in the sciences, art or business. Persons of exceptional ability are those who have a degree of expertise above that which is ordinarily expected
WHAT DOES EB-3 MEAN?
Employment-Based Third Preference (EB-3) includes: (1) Professionals and skilled workers (bachelor’s degree or two years of training). The position must require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or two years of training.
WHAT DOES “OTHER WORKERS” MEAN?
Other workers include positions that require less than two years of experience.
WHAT IS THE “PRIORITY DATE”?
If your category is employment-based and requires a labor certification, the priority date is established on the date a labor certification is filed under PERM. If your category is employment-based but does not require a labor certification, then the priority date is established on the date USCIS receives the I-140 Immigrant Visa Petition. However, the priority date does not attach to your case until the I-140 has been approved.
WHY IS THE PRIORITY DATE IMPORTANT?
In order for an individual to obtain an immigrant visa, a visa number must be available to you. This is referred to as the priority date being “current”. The priority date is current if there is no backlog in the category, or if the priority date is on or before the date listed as current in the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin. This Bulletin is accessible at www.travel.state.gov. You may sign up online to have the Visa Bulletin automatically e-mailed to you by the State Department each month.
CAN I GET AHEAD ON THE QUOTA BACKLOG LIST?
There is no way to get ahead on the list, other than filing an Immigrant Visa Petition in a higher preference category, provided that the individual and/or their position meet the criteria to do so. Otherwise, the individual must wait until eligible to apply along with others on the list before proceeding with filing the last step in the green card process. The last step is accomplished by filing an application to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., or by obtaining an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad.
THE I-140 FILED ON MY BEHALF WAS BASED ON A LABOR CERT SUBSTITUTION. WHAT IS MY PRIORITY DATE?
The Priority Date is determined by USCIS. We will know the Priority Date upon issuance of an I-140 Petition Approval Notice.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE VISA CATEGORY BEING “U” (UNAVAILABLE) AND “MM/DD/YY” (QUOTA BACKLOG)?
Unavailable means that there are no more visas available at all for the month. If there is a date noted (i.e., 07-01-02), it is considered to be the cut-off date, and that means that there is a “quota backlog”. Only individuals who have a priority date earlier than the cut-off date may move forward with the permanent resident process.
WHAT DOES “C” MEAN?
“Current” – this means that there is no quota backlog in this category.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “CURRENT”?
If there is a “C” in your employment-based category on the Visa Bulletin, then there is no quota backlog and you may proceed with your I-485 adjustment application or immigrant visa application.
IF THE VISA BULLETIN SHOWS A DATE OF 6-1-02 AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS 6-1-02, IS MY PRIORITY DATE CURRENT?
No. In order for the priority date to be current, it must be a date prior to the date published in the Visa Bulletin.
HOW OFTEN DO THE BACKLOGS CHANGE AND WILL THEY IMPROVE?
The priority dates considered “current” in each category are updated monthly by the Department of State, and are published in the Department’s Visa Bulletin (available at http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/bulletin/bulletin_1360.html. The priority dates move forward and backward each month depending on the number of cases processed by the Department of State and by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. While large movements do sometimes happen in order to use all of the available immigrant visas each year, we predict that backlogs will continue to be an issue unless Congress makes more immigrant visas available for skilled foreign nationals.
THE CUT-OFF DATE CURRENTLY LISTED IS FIVE (OR THREE AND A HALF, OR TWO) YEARS AGO. DOES THIS MEAN THAT IT WILL TAKE FIVE (OR THREE AND A HALF, OR TWO) YEARS BEFORE THE PRIORITY DATE WILL BECOME CURRENT?
No. It all depends on how many visas are used. Please see the answer to the above question.
I HAVE AN APPROVED I-140 PETITION WITH MY PREVIOUS EMPLOYER AND MY CURRENT EMPLOYER IS SPONSORING ME NOW FOR A GREEN CARD. WHAT IS MY PRIORITY DATE?
You may use the Priority Date attached to the approved I-140 Petition. The Priority Date will be printed in the top portion of the Form I-797 Approval Notice. You may use this priority date when you are eligible to file your adjustment or immigrant visa application based on your current employer’s green card process.
VISA AVAILABILITY IS BASED ON COUNTRY. IS THAT COUNTRY OR CITIZENSHIP OR COUNTRY OF BIRTH?
Your country of birth is what determines your country of chargeability.
MY SPOUSE WAS BORN IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY THAN I WAS. SINCE THE I-485 IS BASED ON MY EMPLOYMENT, DOES MY SPOUSE’S COUNTRY OF BIRTH HELP ME?
Your spouse’s country of birth also may be used to determine chargeability. For instance, if you were born in India, but your spouse was born in France and there is a quota backlog for India, but no quota backlog for France in your preference category, you and your spouse may proceed with your immigrant process based on your spouse’s country of birth.
BOTH MY WIFE AND I WERE BORN IN INDIA AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT. OUR CHILD WAS BORN IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND THE PRIORITY DATE FOR THAT COUNTRY IS CURRENT. CAN WE USE OUR CHILD’S COUNTRY OF BIRTH FOR ELIGIBILITY?
No. You can use your spouse’s country of birth for eligibility. However, your child’s country of birth cannot be used.
I HAVE HEARD THAT ONLY THOSE INDIVIDUALS FROM INDIA AND CHINA ARE SUBJECT TO QUOTA BACKLOGS. I WAS NOT BORN IN ONE OF THOSE COUNTRIES. DO QUOTA BACKLOGS APPLY TO ME?
Yes. Quota backlogs can apply to everyone, regardless of where they are from. While the backlogs have typically affected some countries more than others, note that on the current Visa Bulletin, the backlogs apply to all countries for the EB-3 preference category.
MY EMPLOYER HAS A LABOR CERTIFICATION PENDING ON MY BEHALF. DO QUOTA BACKLOGS AFFECT THE PROCESSING OF THE APPLICATION?
No. The labor certification process is not affected by quota backlogs.
CAN I CHANGE THE VISA CATEGORY AND/OR REFILE THE LABOR CERTIFICATION TO GET AROUND THE QUOTA BACKLOGS?
Maybe. The visa category of a particular filing cannot be changed once the labor certification (or I-140 if there is no labor certification) has been filed. Sometimes, starting the application again if your position or qualifications has changed can result in the new application having a more favorable preference category; however, that strategy is not possible in every case.
THE LABOR CERTIFICATION FILED ON MY BEHALF WAS APPROVED. CAN THE COMPANY STILL FILE THE I-140 PETITION IF THE PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT?
Yes. The filing and adjudication of an I-140 is not affected by the quota backlogs.
MY I-485 WAS ALREADY APPROVED. HOWEVER, MY DEPENDENT’S APPLICATION IS STILL PENDING AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT. IS MY DEPENDENT’S APPLICATION AFFECTED BY THE QUOTA BACKLOG SINCE MY APPLICATION IS APPROVED?
Yes. Even though your case was approved, your dependent’s application is still based on your priority date. USCIS cannot approve the dependent’s application until the priority date is current.
THE QUOTA BACKLOGS WERE NOT IN AFFECT WHEN I FILED MY I-485 APPLICATION. DOES A QUOTA BACKLOG AFFECT ME?
Yes. USCIS can work on the pending application. However, it cannot approve the application unless the priority date is current.
THE I-140 AND I-485 WERE CONCURRENTLY FILED AND BOTH ARE PENDING AT USCIS. WILL THE I-140 BE PROCESSED IF THE PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT AND THE I-485 CANNOT BE APPROVED?
Yes. USCIS will continue to process the I-140 and it can be approved regardless of the quota backlog
CAN I INQUIRE REGARDING THE STATUS OF AN I-485 CURRENTLY PENDING AT USCIS IF I AM SUBJECT TO A QUOTA BACKLOG?
No. Under USCIS guidelines, inquiries may not be made on a case unless the priority date is current.
IF MY I-485 APPLICATION IS STILL PENDING, AND MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT, WILL USCIS STILL ISSUE A FINGERPRINT NOTICE AND/OR RFE?
It may. USCIS can still process the case but cannot approve it until the priority date is current. Therefore, you may receive requests for evidence or biometrics appointments. It is important to comply with these requests. Even though the case cannot be approved, it can be denied for failure to provide information or show up for biometrics.
MY I-485 HAS BEEN PENDING A LONG TIME DUE TO SECURITY AND BACKGROUND CHECKS. ONCE THEY CLEAR, CAN MY CASE BE APPROVED IF MY PRIORITY DATE IS NO LONGER CURRENT?
No. Even though the only issue may have been the security and background checks, USCIS cannot approve the case until the priority date is current.
DOESN’T USCIS ASSIGN ME A VISA NUMBER WHEN THE CASE IS FILED?
No. Immigrant visa numbers are not assigned to a case until right before approval.
CAN I STILL OBTAIN EAD CARDS AND AP DOCUMENTS IF MY I-485 IS PENDING AND I AM NOW SUBJECT TO A QUOTA BACKLOG?
Yes. As long as you have a pending I-485 application at USCIS, you are eligible to apply for and receive EAD and AP documents.
MY ADJUSTMENT APPLICATION IS PENDING AND I RECENTLY MARRIED. CAN I ADD MY SPOUSE TO THE APPLICATION (I.E., CAN MY SPOUSE FILE THEIR I-485) IF MY PRIORITY DATE IS NOT CURRENT?
No. In order to add a dependent to the pending application, the priority date must be current.
MY BIOMETRICS HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN. HOWEVER, DUE TO THE QUOTA BACKLOG, THEY MAY EXPIRE. WILL USCIS REQUIRE ME TO REDO MY BIOMETRICS?IF THE CASE IS PENDING AT USCIS AND CANNOT BE APPROVED DUE TO QUOTA BACKLOGS, WILL I BE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE ANY UPDATED INFORMATION OR DOCUMENTS?
Yes. Biometrics results expire after 15 months. USCIS will review the fingerprints at the time that they are ready to complete the adjudication of the I-485. If the results have expired, they will send out a new biometrics appointment notice.
IF THE CASE IS PENDING AT USCIS AND CANNOT BE APPROVED DUE TO QUOTA BACKLOGS, WILL I BE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE ANY UPDATED INFORMATION OR DOCUMENTS?
USCIS may ask for updated employment information. However, new photos and medical exams should not be required.
IF I AM NOT ABLE TO FILE THE I-485 DUE TO QUOTA BACKLOGS, IS THERE ANOTHER WAY FOR MY H-4 SPOUSE TO OBTAIN WORK AUTHORIZATION?
An I-765 (EAD) application cannot be filed unless an I-485 is pending. Therefore, your spouse will not be eligible for an EAD card and will need to seek employment sponsorship for work authorization.
IF THE I-140 PETITION FILED ON MY BEHALF IS STILL PENDING AND MY PRIORITY DATE BECOMES CURRENT, MAY I FILE MY ADJUSTMENT APPLICATION?
Yes, if you have an I-140 Petition pending and your Priority Date becomes current, you and your dependents may file your adjustment applications as long as the Priority Dates remain current.
I AM RUNNING OUT OF H-1B TIME. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY H-1B STATUS IF THE QUOTA BACKLOG HOLDS UP MY GREEN CARD APPLICATION?
The AC21 legislation provided some relief in this area. If you have an approved I-140 and you are unable to proceed with the I-485 due to quota backlogs, the company is eligible to apply for extension of H-1B time, in increments of three years, on your behalf. Your dependent’s H-4 status may also be extended.
If you are not the beneficiary of an approved I-140 petition, you may still be able to obtain extensions, in one year increments, as long as the labor certification or I-140 petition have been pending more than 365 days.
IF I AM NOT ABLE TO FILE THE I-485 AND THEN LOSE MY JOB OR CHANGE JOBS, DOES AC21 PORTABILITY PROTECT ME?
No. In order to take advantage of AC21 portability, the I-140 Petition must be approved and the I-485 must be filed and pending over 180 days.
DUE TO THE QUOTA BACKLOGS, I WANT TO REVIEW MY OPTIONS FOR IMMIGRATING THROUGH A U.S. CITIZEN. I HAVE MINOR U.S. CITIZEN CHILDREN AND I HAVE A U.S. CITIZEN SPOUSE, CAN THEY SPONSOR ME FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCY?
Unfortunately, a child cannot sponsor you for a permanent residency until they are at least 21 years old. However, if you have a U.S. citizen child who is over 21 or a U.S. citizen spouse, please contact us to discuss your options.
H-1B Nonimmigrant Status For Professionals
Who may obtain H-1B status?
H-1B nonimmigrant status is available for individuals who are coming into the United States temporarily to perform services as a professional in a specialty occupation. Nonimmigrants who are currently in the United States in a legal status may be eligible to change to H-1B status. An H-1B petition must be filed by a U.S. employer on behalf of the intended employee.
What is a specialty occupation?
A specialty occupation is defined as one that requires a “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge.” The position must require a bachelor’s or higher degree (or foreign equivalent). Examples of specialty occupations include accountant, computer analyst, engineer, scientist, and architect.
What is involved in applying for H-1B status?
A Labor Condition Application (LCA) is submitted online with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Upon receipt of the certified LCA, the employer must then file the Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the H Supplement, Data Collection, supporting documentation, and a copy of the signed and certified LCA with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Upon approval, the employee may apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. Consulate, or will be granted a change of status if they are in status in the US.
What are the filing fees for H-1B status?
The filing fee is U.S. $460. Employers must also pay a $1500 ($750 for employers with 25 employees or less) “U.S. Worker Training Fee” to Department of Homeland Security for the initial petition they file and for the first extension they file on behalf of a particular employee. Employers are also required to pay a $500 “Anti-Fraud Fee” for the initial petition filed on behalf of a particular employee. Finally, if faster adjudication is desired, USCIS provides an option to pay an extra fee of $2,500 and obtain “premium processing” of an H-1B petition, which guarantees adjudication within two weeks of filing.
What documentation is required to file a petition for H-1B status?
The following documentation is required:
- An approved LCA from the DOL.
- Documentation that the job qualifies as a specialty occupation.
- A copy of the individual’s U.S. degree (bachelor, master or Ph.D.) and/or a foreign degree with evidence that it is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher. (A combination of education, specialized training, or experience that is equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree may be submitted to meet this requirement.)
- A copy of any required license to practice the occupation in the state of intended employment.
How may an individual determine if a foreign degree is equivalent to a U.S. degree?
An individual may request an evaluation from a reputable credentialing agency.
Is there a certain wage that must be paid to an H-1B employee?
Yes. The wage paid to an H-1B employee must be the higher of 1) the “prevailing wage” (generally, the average wage for the occupation in the geographic area in which the employee will be employed, or the wage set by a union contract for the position) or 2) the “actual wage” (the wage paid by the employer to other employees in the occupation with similar qualifications).
How does an employer determine the prevailing wage?
An employer may request a prevailing wage determination from the State Employment Service Agency (SESA) or may rely upon wage data from an independent survey if the survey meets the Department of Labor requirements.
May an H-1B employee work part-time?
Yes. An H-1B employee may work part-time if the employer petitioned for part-time employment and all other H-1B requirements are met.
How long does this petition process take?
It may take from 4 months to more than 6 months to complete the petition process once all of the required documentation is filed with the petition. USCIS provides an option to pay an extra fee of $2,500 and obtain “premium processing” of an H-1B petition, which guarantees review of your case in 15 days.
Are there any times of the year when new H-1B visas are unavailable?
Yes. In recent years, the quota or “cap” for H-1B visas has been reached as early as mid-May. When the cap is reached, no individual may obtain an H-1B until October 1 of the following fiscal year unless the individual is already in H-1B status and seeking an extension, change of employer, or addition of employer. H-1B petitions may be filed as soon as six months ahead of time, or on April 1 for an October 1 start date.
May an H-1B individual work for more than one employer?
An H-1B individual may work for more than one employer if each employer has properly filed an H-1B petition. All employees after the first H-1B employer can allow the employee to commence employment after the filing of the new H-1B petition.
How long may an individual remain in H-1B status?
In most cases, an individual may remain in H-1B status for a maximum of six years. The initial petition may be approved for up to three years, and subsequent requests for extensions may be approved for up to a maximum of six years. The six years cannot be extended by changing employers. In certain limited situations, the individual can obtain H-1B extensions beyond six years while a permanent resident case is pending.
What happens if the employment is terminated before the employee’s H-1B status expires?
If the employer terminates the employment for any reason and before the approved expiration date, the employer is responsible for notifying USCIS and providing return transportation of the employee to his or her last place of foreign residence. In this event, the employee loses legal status and may be required to leave the U.S. unless the employee finds a new employer willing to file a new petition on his or her behalf on a timely basis, or is able to obtain a different nonimmigrant status.
May an employee in H-1B status travel outside of the U.S.?
Yes, an employee in H-1B status may travel if the H-1B status is valid and he or she has a valid H-1B visa in the passport. If the employee does not have a valid H-1B visa, then the employee must obtain an H-1B visa abroad.
May an employee in H-1B status with a pending extension travel outside of the U.S.?
It is not recommended that an employee in H-1B status travel outside the U.S. while they have an extension petition pending. Traveling outside the U.S. while an extension petition is pending could result in the request for extension of stay being denied. If this happens, even if the H-1B petition is approved, it will be approved with consular notification. This means that the employee will have to travel out of the U.S. and return to the country using the H-1B approval and a valid H-1B visa, to effectuate the extension approval notice. Even if the H-1B petition is approved granting an extension of stay, and travel is not needed to effectuate the new approval notice, the employee will be issued different I-94 numbers on their H-1B approval notice and I-94 issued by CBP. This mismatch of I-94s could result in issues when trying to renew a driver’s license.
May an individual in the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa status change to H-1B without leaving the U.S.?
Yes, if he or she meets all of the criteria for H-1B status and is in valid nonimmigrant status.
How may an individual in a valid nonimmigrant status obtain or extend the validity of the visa in his or her passport?
Generally, individuals wishing to apply for nonimmigrant visas must make a personal appearance before a U.S. consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of the U.S. Most applicants apply in their home country while visiting there after changing status in the United States. In certain instances, an individual may have his or her visa issued in Canada or Mexico, or in another country than his or her home country.
What happens if an H-1B wants to switch employers?
If an H-1B nonimmigrant wants to switch employers, the new employer must file a petition for H-1B status with USCIS. The individual may commence work for the new employer when the new H-1B petition is filed. This only applies to employees already granted H-1B status with another employer.
What happens if an H-1B employee changes positions but remains with the same employer?
Unless the change in position is an insignificant change, a new LCA and H-1B petition will have to be filed.
What happens if the employer transfers the H-1B employee to another location?
In most cases, a new LCA and H-1B petition will have to be filed. There are some exceptions including if the relocation is not a permanent relocation but a short-term transfer.
Must an employer under take any specific recruitment for U.S. workers prior to filing an H-1B petition?
No, unless the employer has been found to be a willing violator of the LCA regulations.
What is the immigration status of an H-1B employee’s family in the U.S.?
A spouse and dependent minor children (unmarried children under the age of 21) of an H-1B employee are entitled to H-4 status. They may not accept employment in that status, but may study in the U.S. If the spouse is eligible for a different status than H-4 (including H-1B), the spouse may elect to enter the U.S. in that status rather than entering as an H-4. Spouses should note that an offer of employment from a U.S. employer is required in order to obtain most types of work-authorized nonimmigrant status.
May a spouse and/or dependent minor children in H-4 status obtain employment authorization?
Some H-1B spouses are eligible for employment authorization once the H-1B spouse has made it part of the way to permanent residence (a “green card”) through an employer. Spouses in H-4 status are not eligible to obtain employment authorization until the H-1B spouse has an approved I-140, Immigrant Visa Petition, in a category for which there is a backlog of immigrant visa processing, or until the H-1B spouse has completed six years in H-1B status and is able to obtain a further extension of his or her H-1B status. Children in H-4 status are not eligible for employment authorization.
May a spouse and/or dependent minor children in H-4 status obtain a Social Security Card?
Only individuals in H-4 status who also have employment authorization are eligible to obtain Social Security Cards. Other individuals in H-4 status may apply for a Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in some circumstances. This application is filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Passports, Visas and the I-94 Card
What is a visa?
A visa is a permit to apply to enter the United States. Visas are different from “status,” which is the length of time an individual may stay in the U.S. after admission. There are two types of visas, nonimmigrant and immigrant. The nonimmigrant visa is issued to individuals who intend to come into the U.S. for a temporary period of stay for a specific purpose. The immigrant visa is issued to individuals who intend to live and work permanently in the U.S. Such individuals obtain “green cards” after arrival and are called permanent residents.
Who needs a visa?
Most individuals coming into the U.S. for a temporary period of stay must obtain a visa. There is an exception for individuals who are nationals of countries which are included in the Visa Waiver Program. Such nonimmigrants are not required to obtain a visa to apply to enter the U.S. as a visitor for business or pleasure (B-1 and/or B-2 visa categories), if they are staying for no more than 90 days. In addition, citizens of Canada do not generally require a nonimmigrant visa unless they are coming to the U.S. as a Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor.
Is there a specific period of time for which a passport must be valid?
The length of the visa may be limited to the expiration date of the passport. In addition, U.S. immigration law requires that a foreign national’s passport be valid during all periods of time spent in the U.S., including the time during an extension of stay, so a person’s status may be limited to the validity of their passport.
How does an individual obtain a visa for entry into the U.S.?
If an individual is planning to travel to the U.S., he or she (and family members) should apply for their nonimmigrant visa(s) at the nearest U.S. embassy or consular post. Prior to applying for the visa, the applicant must obtain the necessary supporting documentation, which may include notice of the approval of a nonimmigrant visa petition by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Does a visa guarantee entry into the U.S.?
No. A visa is issued to an individual by a consular officer outside of the U.S. Having a valid visa does not necessarily guarantee a smooth entry into the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority to grant or deny admission to the U.S. In addition, CBP will determine how long an individual may remain in the U.S. This information is recorded on the I-94 card at the port of entry.
What is an I-94 Card?
The I-94 Card is also known as the Arrival/Departure Document. It serves as the registration form for individuals admitted to the U.S. as nonimmigrants. This document is created by CBP when the individual is inspected upon arrival in the U.S. The CBP inspector will endorse the I-94 with the date, place of arrival, status (i.e., F, J, H, L, etc.), and length of authorized stay. The individual keeps the I-94 Card as the official record of admission and permission to remain in the U.S. If an individual decides to remain in the U.S. beyond the date on the I-94 card, he or she must file a petition for an extension of stay with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When departing the U.S., an individual must surrender his or her I-94 Card except if travelling only to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands other than Cuba for a period not to exceed 30 days, in which case the individual may be able to use the I-94 Card to reenter the U.S.
Does an individual need a new visa every time he or she travels outside of the U.S.?
Not necessarily. An individual should examine the visa in his or her passport to determine the immigration status (H-1, L-1, J-1, etc.), number of entries permitted, and the expiration date. If the individual is reentering in the same immigration status and the initial visa has not expired and is valid for more than one entry, a new visa is not required. If he or she has changed status in the U.S. prior to departing or plans to reenter in a different status, a new visa is required.
How may an individual in a valid nonimmigrant status obtain or extend the validity of the visa in his or her passport?
Generally, individuals wishing to apply for nonimmigrant visas must make a personal appearance before a U.S. consular officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of the U.S. Most applicants apply in their country of nationality; however, some applicants may apply in Canada or Mexico, or in other countries outside their own.
What determines the length of validity of a visa?
A visa is a permit to travel to the U.S. and apply to enter the U.S. The Consular Officer may grant a visa for as little as one month or as long as ten years, depending on the classification of the visa and the treatment given by the individual’s country of nationality to U.S. visa applicants in similar classifications. The U.S. government’s “reciprocity schedule” for each country lists maximum validity of each type of visa for nationals of each country. The validity of the visa does not affect how long an individual may remain in the U.S. on any entry. Therefore, the date on the I-94 Card may be different from the date on the visa.
What determines the length of validity of my stay in the U.S.?
The duration of a nonimmigrant’s lawful stay is recorded on the I-94 Card created by CBP when the individual is inspected upon arrival in the U.S. It may be shorter or longer than the validity of the nonimmigrant’s visa. Nonimmigrants should note the date written on this card, as it governs the time they are “lawfully present” in the U.S.
If a visa has expired and an immigration status extension is in process, may an individual leave the country?
Yes. An individual may leave the U.S.; but, in most cases, he or she must remain out of the country until the extension is approved. Once the approval notice is received, the individual must apply for a new visa at the appropriate U.S. consular post.
What happens if a valid visa is in an expired passport?
The individual should keep the expired passport with the valid visa together with the new passport issued by his or her country of nationality. It is not required — although it may be convenient — to have the visa issued in the new passport.
May an individual travel to the U.S. on a business trip while awaiting a USCIS approval notice for a visa that allows employment in the U.S.?
An individual whose overseas position requires a trip to the U.S. may travel to the U.S. on a business visa (B-1) or under the visa waiver program, but he or she must not assume any of the responsibilities of the U.S. position while in that category. In addition, he or she must remain on the payroll of the foreign company.