Status Documents and Admission
+ What is a visa?
A visa is an entry document. It is issued by the Department of State (“DOS”) at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The visa contains the class symbol which indicates the type of visa that you have (e.g. B1/B2, F1, H1B, L1, J1, etc.). A visa can be issued for a single, two, or multiple entries. The number of entries determines how many times you can use the visa to enter the U.S. during its validity period. You must have a valid visa to enter the U.S. country, unless you are from a visa-exempt
It is important to understand that having a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. The possession of a visa does mean that you have the proper document to enter the U.S. or that an airline will allow you to board the plane. The decision of whether to admit you rests on the shoulder of the immigration officer at the port of entry, which is a part of the CBP (Customs and Border Protection). A lot of people are turned away at the airport even though they have valid visas, because the CBP officers decide that the person’s visa is inappropriate for what he/she plans to do.
+ What is your status?
Your status is noted on your I-94 admission record. For example: A tourist is on B2 status. An international student is on F1 status. Your status determines what you can do in the U.S. It is important to confirm that you have been admitted in the correct status. A person may present an H1B visa to enter the U.S. but the officer at the airport may inadvertently admit him/her on a B2 visitor visa.
A person can also receive status on their I-797 approval notice. If you are already in the US, the I-797 can also extend the I-94. Under certain circumstances, you can change status within the US through an application to USCIS.
+ What is the significance of the I-94 admission record?
The I-94 admission record can be obtained online via this site: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/ It shows you your status and how long you can remain in the U.S. It is the key evidence of your valid status in the U.S. Every time you enter the U.S., you should download a copy of your I-94 admission record to verify your admission status and duration you can stay in the U.S.
If you change your status inside the U.S., it will not be reflected in the online database, however the rule of thumb is that the last action is what counts. If you extend your status through USCIS, that is the last action and the I-94 is valid. If you subsequently leave the US and return, the electronic I-94 is what will govern.
+ Do I need all three documents?
To stay in the U.S., you should have a valid I-94 and valid status. You can remain in the U.S. with an expired visa if the I-94 and status are valid. However, if you leave the U.S. you will need to visit a U.S. embassy to obtain a new visa in order to enter in the proper status, for the proper amount of time.