Frequently Asked Questions
- Do I need a new visa if I change my immigration status in the United States of America?
- What's the difference between my visa and my status?
- What is the significance of my I-94 record?
- What do I do if my I-94 record cannot be found at www.cbp.gov/i94?
- When can I enter the US?
- What are my tax obligations while I'm in the US?
1.) Obtaining status within the US – a change of immigration status:
If you are already in the US, it may be possible to obtain a change of your immigration status to your new status without leaving the US, and without the need to apply for an H-1B visa at the US embassy or consulate. Generally, ISS will request that your immigration status be changed when your H-1B petition is approved by USCIS. If the change of status is approved, there is no need to leave and re-enter the US to start your H-1B status.
2.) Visa versus Status:
While people often conflate the terms "visa" and "status," they mean different things. The term "visa" refers only to the sticker you receive in your passport (see image above). It contains several pieces of information, including your picture and your requested "status." It also contains an expiration date and the number of times the visa may be used—often visas are issued for 1, 2 or multiple entries. However, the visa serves a limited purpose; it grants you permission to apply for admission at a US Port of Entry. While many individuals coming to the US will receive a visa that is valid for the entire period of intended stay, many others receive visas that are only valid for a few months. Once you are in the US, the visa serves no real purpose and does not necessarily reflect your status—especially if you obtained a change of immigration status. Therefore, while the visa may expire while you are in the US, as long as your underlying immigration status as indicated on your I-94 card remains valid, you may remain in the US and engage in the activity permitted by your immigration status. If you obtained a change of immigration status, your visa will be for a different status than the status you currently hold. This is very common and is not a problem. However, to re-enter the US after a stay abroad, you will need a valid visa for the appropriate status. This means that if your visa has expired while in the US, or if you have changed your immigration status, you will need to apply for a new visa. It is not possible to apply for this new visa while in the US; you can only apply for a US visa at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad.
3.) The I-94:
When entering the US, you will receive an I-94 record. In the past, the I-94 was a paper document stapled to your passport. Since the recent regulation change, the I-94 record now consists of the entry stamp in your passport. You can – and should – download a paper version of your I-94 record at the CBP website. This paper record is among your most important documents, as it will indicate your immigration status in the US as well as the maximum period you may remain in the US in that status. Whenever you receive a new I-94, please provide a copy of the paper I-94 from the CBP website to ISS.
If there is a discrepancy between your various immigration documents, the I-94 record controls. For example, if you have all the necessary H-1B documents, but your I-94 record indicates you are in a different status, you would not be in H-1B status. Also, once your I-94 card "expires," your status will end, even if your other documents remain valid.
To stay beyond the "expiration date" on your I-94 card, you will either have to leave and re-enter the US (so that you will receive a new I-94 card) or a change/extension of your immigration status has to be requested.
Each time you receive a new I-94, it supersedes your previous I-94—even if the new I-94 has an earlier "expiration date." Finally, unlike the case with several other immigration statuses, such as F-1 or J-1, there is no grace period after the end date of your H-1B status; once your H-1B status ends, you will have to leave the US.
4.) What do I do if my I-94 record cannot be found on the CBP website?
Unfortunately, not all I-94 records can be found on the CBP website. The main reason for this is that the data entry is not done in a consistent fashion or because a data entry error was made when you entered the country. Because you will likely need a paper copy of your I-94 record from the CBP website to apply for many benefits in the US, it is important that you have access to the relevant record.
If you cannot find the record based on the information as it is written in your passport, please try any or all of the following:
- If you have multiple given names, enter all of them under the “First (Given) Name” entry with a space between the names
- If your passport number consists of both letters and numbers, e.g. AA123456, enter it with a space on the CBP website, i.e. AA 123456.
- Use an arrival date that was 1-3 days prior to or after your actual arrival into the US
- Sometimes, there is a discrepancy between your name spelling on your visa, your airline ticket, your passport biographical information page and the machine readable section of your passport (at the bottom of the biographical information page). Use these spelling variations.
If none of this works, you should call the “deferred inspection” office at the airport where you entered the US. The officer there may be able to assist you over the phone. If that does not work, you may have to visit a deferred inspection office in person. (The closest is at the Charlotte international airport). Before you do, please contact ISS.
5.) When can I enter the US?
How early you may enter the US, depends on your immigration status. Assuming you have the relevant visa stamp in your passport – unless exempt – you may enter the US as early as 10 days prior to the official start date of your I-797 Approval Notice if you are coming to the US in H-1B or O-1 status. If you are coming to the US in J-1 status, you may enter as early as 30 days prior to the start date indicated on your DS-2019 form. If you are coming to the US in TN, or E-3 status, there is no regulation permitting you to arrive early.
If you attempt to enter the US prior to the earliest permitted date, you may encounter issues at the port of entry and you may not be admitted to the US. Please note that your visa stamp does not have a start date; rather it has an issue date.
6.) What are my tax obligations while I'm in the US?