Difference between Visa and Form I-94

A lot of travelers confuse the essential purposes of a visa and the I-94 stamped at the port of entry. The two serve separate purposes and cannot be interchanged. The United States immigration system has a two-point check-in when coming into the country. (This varies depending upon the mode of travel, i.e. by air/water or land.) The visa allows you to travel to the United States. Form I-94 allows you admission into the United States. Read on to know the essential differences between the two and the significance of each.

Visa

  • The traveler, if not exempted by the visa waiver program will need a visa in order to travel to the US.
  • The visa does not guarantee entry into the US.
  • This should be applied for and obtained at a US consulate in his parent country.
  • This visa, once granted is printed onto the passport.
  • This comes with a period of validity and the applicant can travel to the US only until it expires.
  • The visa granted depends upon the purpose of the visit.
  • A visa could be for a single visit or multiple entries which allows you to travel to the US multiple times for the same purpose without having to apply for a new visa.
  • Visa expiration is independent of the duration of your stay.

Form I-94

  • Form I-94 acts as an evidence of lawful admission to the US and an official record of authorized length of stay.
  • The I-94 is received at a port of entry and granted by an officer of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • This officer determines the duration of your stay.
  • You could also be denied entry based on the evaluation of this officer.
  • Overstaying the date of expiration stamped on the I-94 could lead to deportation, cancellation of the visa and/or denial of any future visas.
  • If entering the US Port of entry via land, a paper form of the I-94 determines the dates of stay, if granted entry.
  • If entering by air or sea, an electronic I-94 is generated and can be accessed at www.cbp.gov/i94. You can print a copy for your records to ensure you are aware of the duration of stay.
  • Should you need to prolong your visit, the stay stamped date on I-94 can be extended by applying to USCIS with Form I-539.
  • If there is a change of visa status, like from F1 student visa to H1B employment visa, the I-94 needs to be updated via Form I-539.

Related Links

For those who have currently applied for this visa or are planning to apply for the visa in the future, here is some useful information on the process.