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What is an I-94, and Why is it Important?

If you came to the United States with a visa, you are probably very aware of when your visa expires.  After all, obtaining your visa was a difficult process, probably involving lengthy paperwork and an interview at an embassy or consulate overseas.  If your visa was issued for an extended length of time (in some cases, up to 10 years), you may have believed that it gave you the right to enter the United States and stay for as long as your visa is good.  While this belief is common, it is also incorrect.  Your visa only sets forth the time period during which you can enter the U.S..  It does not control the length of stay on any particular visit.  For that purpose, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues arriving visa holders an Arrival-Departure Record, also referred to as an I-94.  The I-94 is usually a small white piece of paper which can be fastened inside your passport.  It states what date you arrived in the U.S., and, more importantly, by what date you have to leave.

Staying beyond the date allowed in your I-94 is a serious matter.  Even if you had a valid visa, overstaying your I-94 makes you “out of status” and in violation of U.S. immigration law.  Overstaying your I-94 may cause your visa itself to be voided.  Also, if you overstay your I-94, you may have difficulty in the future in getting another visa or in being admitted to the U.S. once you arrive.

If your I-94 is close to expiration, you should take all necessary steps to extend your stay before the I-94 actually expires.  If your I-94 has expired, you should not rely on your visa for your legal status.  Doing so could be a costly mistake that could cause you trouble in the future.

If you have further questions on this topic, or if our firm can assist you with your immigration issues, please feel free to contact us at (423) 402-0608.

Originally published 2006, updated 2011