WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT :
In most non-immigrant cases, when a person is 'admitted' to the U.S., he/she will receive a white piece of paper called Form I-94 from the inspecting immigration officer.
Many aliens do not realize that the information contained on the I-94 (and NOT the visa stamp placed into the passport by the US Consul) determines the length of time they are allowed to stay in the country.
The U.S. Immigration system - dual reviewing.
Many aliens are confused by the fact that their visa stamps and I-94's seem to give different information regarding their allowed time of stay. The explaination is that a person seeking to enter the U.S. is subject to review by two different U.S. government agencies:
1. Consular review. The consulate reviews the visa applicant's eligibility and determines the timelength of the visa's validity. The 'visa validity period' granted depends on a number of factors and differs depending on the consulate's location. The visa stamp itself is not a guarantee of entrance into the U.S. It merely enables the visa holder to make the trip (purchase plane tickets, etc.) in an attempt to enter the U.S.
2. INS review. Before allowing a person to enter the country, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) conducts its own review of the visa holder's eligibility, usually at the first airport the enter within the U.S. (NOTE: The US INS now has 'pre-flight' inspection stations in Japan, Canada and Ireland.) If approval is granted, the immigration officer will determine the authorized period of stay in the U.S. The time allowed depends chiefly on the visa category involved and INS policy rules. Quite often, especially in the case of B-1/B-2 visas, there is no relation to the amount of time described on the visa stamp. It might be longer, or shorter.
Basically, the validity of the visa stamp determines the time available for the visa holder to attempt entry into the U.S.
The I-94 form, on the other hand, is the document that determines the visa holder's status once he/she is inside the U.S.
NOTE: The I-94 should NOT be confused with the I-94W, which is printed on green paper and is issued to people who arrive in the US without visas, pursuant to the Visa Waiver Program (WT/WB classifications.)
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