Visas and Immigration

In this section, you will find information related to various visa categories and immigration statuses. Please use the navigation links on the left to select the category/status which applies to you.

Visa Vs. Status - What Is The Difference?

You may hear people talk about "visa status." In reality, "visa" and "status" are two different and separate things. It is very likely that you will have the same category of visa as your category of status, but not necessarily. We will discuss both here to help clarify the difference between the two.

So what is a "visa"?

A visa is a stamp in your passport which gives you permission to travel to the United States and request admission in a particular status category. Note that being issued a visa stamp does not guarantee that you will be admitted to the United States, even if you have been admitted previously. For this reason, there is always some amount of risk - however small it may be - involved in traveling outside the United States and attempting to return. Your ISS advisors can help you prepare for traveling in ways that decrease your risk, but they cannot assure you for certain that you will be admitted to the United States - this is ultimately decided by the immigration officers at the U.S. port of entry when you actually arrive.

We often refer to a visa as being like a key - just as a key only really matters when you are at your front door trying to enter your house, the only time a visa really matters is when you are at the port of entry, asking to come in to the United States. For that reason, your visa stamp can expire while you are here in the United States, and this is not a violation of your legal status. It simply means that the next time you leave the United States, you will have to apply for a new visa stamp before you can return to the U.S. in the status category matching the visa.

So what is "status"?

Your non-immigrant (or permanent resident) status in the United States is your legal standing in this country. If you are admitted to the United States by the immigration officers at the port of entry (or if you are granted status by the immigration service after you have already entered the country), you are given a particular "status." This status determines what rules, policies, benefits, and restrictions apply to you during your time in the United States. Like your visa stamp, your status is classified by a letter-and-number system. For example, students are in the "F-1" category, exchange visitors are in the "J-1" category, and so on.

Remember that different categories of status may have very different rules - just because your classmate or colleague is "international," do not assume that you may do everything that he/she is permitted to do in the United States. You must always be sure to familiarize yourself with the regulations which apply to your current status, and follow those rules. Failure to do so may result in a violation of your status, which means that your status is "lost," and you no longer have the benefits and protections of being in good standing in the United States.

It is also important to note that in the United States, you are responsible for knowing and following the rules and regulations which apply to your particular status. The immigration authorities will not accept ignorance as an excuse for a violation of your immigration status! This is why it is extremely important for you to take initiative and responsibility in learning what you must do to maintain your valid immigration status, and to consult your ISS advisor BEFORE doing something that might affect your immigration status adversely. We are here to help!