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Immigration, even for a short stay, always involves some complications. It can be difficult to understand the difference between visa expiration dates and how long you’re allowed to stay in the country. You might think these are the same, but they are actually quite different. This blog will explain the differences to help you prepare if you are thinking about applying for a visa, as well as what happens if you overstay your visa. Keep in mind that a New York City immigration attorney is just one call away.

Visa Versus Permission to Enter the Country

Visas are stamps or stickers inside a passport. However, having a visa doesn’t mean that the owner of the passport is allowed to enter the United States. It only informs immigration authorities that your application was checked over by a consular worker at a United States Embassy or Consulate. That consular worker decided you were eligible to go to a United States port-of-entry, like an airport, seaport, or land border.

Once you arrive at a port-of-entry, immigration officers belonging to the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will review your information again to make the final determination regarding whether you can enter and for how long you can stay. It is the port-of-entry immigration officer who can approve your entry into the country; the consular worker alone cannot.

What Happens if I Overstay My Visa?

On your visa, you should see two dates, one of which is the issuance date and one of which is the expiration date. Don’t forget that your visa validity is how long you are allowed to travel to a United States port-of-entry.

The visa expiration date is shown on the visa along with the visa issuance date. The time between visa issuance and expiration date is called your visa validity. Visa validity is the length of time you are permitted to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States.

The law is different depending on which country, visas might be issued for a single entry or for multiple entries. Single entries will be noted on your visa stamp or sticker under the column marked “Entries” and marked “1.” You will be able to use that visa from the issuance date, until the expiration date comes up. Visas for multiple entries will be marked under “Entries” with a number or just the letter “M,” indicating multiple or unlimited entries. Similarly to single entry visas, a multiple visa can be used within its visa validity period as many times as the number on the visa denotes so long as the visa hasn’t expired and you are within the number of entries permitted. If you use a multiple entry visa, you must remember that each use of the visa must be for the same purpose of travel.

Visas do not guarantee that you will be allowed into the country, nor does a visa expiration date mean you are allowed to stay until the expiration date in the country. It is important to emphasize that entering the United States and how long you may remain here is decided by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at the port-of-entry when you arrive there.

Visas can also be voided and the period of visa validity can be canceled, particularly if you overstay the time the immigration officer allowed you to remain in the country. If you file a non-frivolous application to extend your stay, it is possible your visa won’t be canceled.