Having a US visa does not guarantee you entry to the US, and the validity period of your visa is unrelated to your authorized period of stay in the US. You can think of your visa validity period as the timeframe during which you are allowed to board a plane and ask Customs & Border Patrol to admit you. Your authorized period of stay is how long you will be allowed to stay in the US after being admitted.
What Is a Visa Validity Period?
When you are interviewed by a US consular officer at a US embassy or consulate abroad and the officer approves you for a visa, that visa will be placed in your passport with both an issue date and an expiration date printed on it. Your visa validity period extends from the visa’s issue date to the expiration date, during which time you may use the visa to travel to the US border and request permission to enter the US. Keep in mind, however, that having a valid visa does not guarantee you entry to the US. Instead, a valid visa only allows you to travel to a port of entry (POE), including land borders, international airports, and seaports, to ask that you be allowed to enter the US. At the POE, a Customs & Border Control (CBP) officer will decide whether or not to allow you entry, and also issue you an authorized period of stay.
Many B visas, for example, are granted with a validity period of 10 years. This does not mean that you are able to remain in the US for 10 years after being admitted on your 10-year B visa. Instead, it means that you may travel to a US POE and request permission to enter the country anytime within the 10-year visa validity period. Additionally, many visas are issued for “multiple entries,” which means you can travel to the US multiple times within the visa validity period. For example, if you have a B visa that is valid for 10 years and allows for multiple entries, you may travel to the US border and ask to be admitted more than once within that 10 year period. Some individuals even make more than 20 trips to the US on their multiple entry B visa that is valid for 10 years as long as they are complying with the rules of the B visa. After someone is admitted, their authorized period of stay becomes important to understand.
What Is an Authorized Period of Stay?
An authorized period of stay is the length of time you are allowed to remain in the US after entering. This is determined by the CBP officer who interviews you at the border. The officer has sole authority to decide how long you need to be granted in the US to accomplish your purposes. Most of the time, the authorized period of stay is fairly standard for each visa. For example, most people who enter on a B visa are given a 6 month authorized period of stay, and most people who enter on an E2 visa are given a 2 year authorized period of stay. This decision is at the discretion of the CBP officer, and you will find your authorized period of stay on your passport stamp, or your Form I-94, which can be found online or may be given to you by the CBP officer. Some visas allow for a “Duration of Status” (D/S) authorized period of stay, which means you are permitted to stay in the US as long as you are engaged in activities consistent with the visa you entered on. This is usually the case for F, J, and M visas, which are for educational programs. Someone on an F visa who is admitted for Duration of Status will be permitted to remain in the US as long as they are a student in F1 status and have not violated the terms of their visa.
Be very careful that you do not stay in the US past your authorized period of stay. Even staying one day beyond your authorized period of stay will automatically cancel your visa. If you stay beyond your authorized period of stay for more than 180 days, you will be banned from the US for 3 years. If you stay beyond your authorized period of stay for more than 1 year, you will be banned from the US for 10 years.
How Are They Related?
Your visa validity period and authorized period of stay in the US are generally not related. For example, just because your visa is valid for a long time does not mean that CBP will allow you into the US for a long time. If you have a B visa that is valid for 10 years, it does not necessarily mean that you can enter the US for a longer amount of time than if you had a B visa that was valid for only 2 years. The reverse is also true; a B visa that is valid for a short time does not mean that you will only be granted a short stay in the US.
Additionally, a visa that is about to expire does not necessarily impact the length of time a CBP officer will grant you in the US. If you arrive at a US border with a currently valid B visa that is set to expire in the next few days, that does not mean that CBP will bar you from entering the US or grant you a shorter amount of time in the US, though they always have discretion to do so. As long as you are at the border within your visa validity period, you may be granted an authorized period of stay that lasts longer than your visa. For example, if your B visa’s validity period ends next week, CBP could still grant you a 6-month authorized period of stay in the US. It is fine if your visa expires while you are in the US during your authorized period of stay, as long as you leave the US before your authorized period of stay is over.
The State Department maintains a visa reciprocity chart that displays the visa validity durations typically granted based on the country in which you’re applying for a visa. While it isn’t a guarantee that your visa will be valid for the same amount of time on the chart, it can be helpful to get a sense of how long your visa, if granted, may be valid. Select your home country from the menu on the left of the screen, and then select the letter of the visa you are applying for.
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Disclaimer: This post is attorney advertising. It is meant as general information only, and is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. We suggest you set up a consultation with us before acting on anything you read here. Past results do not guarantee future outcomes; every case is unique and must be analyzed individually.