What is a Visa and When is it Required?

To attend a sporting event as a spectator, a ticket is required for admission. Similarly, a U.S. visa is required for a foreign national to seek entry to the United States. There are two types of visas: 1) immigrant visas; and 2) nonimmigrant visas. Immigrant visas are issued for individuals who seek to enter and live permanently in the United States. Nonimmigrant visas are issued for persons seeking to enter and remain in the United States on a temporary basis.

Upon being admitted to the United States, Custom and Border Protection (CBP) issues an Arrival and Departure Record, known as the I-94. The I-94 indicates an individual’s immigration classification and for how long they can stay in the United States. Nowadays, the I-94 is usually generated electronically. It is important to always check one’s I-94 after entering the United States to make sure the I-94 does not contain an error. An I-94 error can be corrected through a process called deferred inspection. 

A common misconception is that a person’s visa must always be valid. A valid visa is only required when seeking to enter the United States. A foreign national does not need a valid visa if he is already lawfully in the United States and in lawful immigration status. For example, Joe is currently in the United States and Joe’s I-94 is valid through October 15, 2021. Joe’s U.S. visa expired on December 31, 2018. Joe does not need to travel outside the United States and obtain another visa because Joe is already in the United States in lawful immigration status. Lastly, in limited circumstances and through a process known as automatic revalidation, travel outside of the United States with an expired visa does not require obtaining a new U.S. visa.[1]

A visa’s expiration date indicates the last day a person can use a particular visa to seek entry into the United States. A person located outside the United States with an expired U.S. visa must apply for a new visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The process of applying for a visa will vary depending on the particular U.S. embassy or consulate. Generally, a person must attend a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. It is important to consider a number of factors when deciding where to apply for a visa. One of these factors is whether the consular officer will be familiar with the type of documents presented at the visa interview.

For example, Joe will need to attend a visa interview the next time he travels outside of the United States. At his visa interview, Joe will need to present education certificates and transcripts from schools located in Joe’s country of citizenship. It would be best if Joe attended his visa interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy located in Joe’s country of citizenship because the consular officer would be familiar with Joe’s education certificates and transcripts and understand what they represent. On the other hand, Joe could run into processing delays if he attended his visa interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy not located in his country of citizenship and the consular officer was not familiar with Joe’s education certificates and transcripts.

[1] For more information on visa revalidation, please see this article from our website.

By Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor advises employers and individuals on all aspects of U.S. immigration law, with a particular focus on nonimmigrant visas. His practice includes filing petitions and applications for immigration benefits, responding to requests for evidence issued by government agencies, and drafting motions and appeals.