Visa versus Status
OK, this is simple but confusing, largely because the terms "visa" and "status" are erroneously used in conjunction with each other by the media, by politicians and government officials, by lawyers, by educators, and even by international student advisors. Yet, there is a very distinct difference between the two terms and it is essential that the international student advisor understand this difference.
A "VISA" is an entry document issued to a foreign national by the U.S. Department of State at a diplomatic visa-issuing post abroad (embassy or consulate office). This document, which is placed in the person's passport, gives the individual consideration for admittance to the U.S. However, possession of a valid visa does not guarantee permission to enter the country. The determination of admissibility is left to the discretion of the examining immigration officer at the port of entry.
There are many different classes of visa; each one respectively issued for a specific purpose of presence in the U.S. It is possible for someone to have more than one type of visa. Length of visa validity varies depending upon the visa classification and the diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and the country in which the visa is being issued. Likewise, visas may be valid for a single entry, dual entry, or multiple entries. Regardless, once the person is admitted into the U.S., the validity of the visa has no bearing upon their legal presence. A visa may expire or even be cancelled at the time of entry, but as long as the person has gained legal admittance, they may remain in the U.S. until their "status" expires. On the other hand, an expired visa cannot be used to reenter the country other than in the case of automatic revalidation when traveling to Canada, Mexico, and certain adjacent Caribbean islands for a period of 30 days or less, if the person is eligible for this benefit. Besides this noted exception and a few specified visa classes, a visa can only be obtained outside of the country and someone with an expired visa will need to apply for a new one in order to be readmitted if they leave the U.S.
When an individual is legally admitted to the country, they acquire "STATUS". This term refers to the condition of legal presence within the country, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service regulates it. Just like visas, there are many categories of status, which are defined by non-immigrant classification designations. Generally speaking, the type, or classification, of visa used for entry into the country will determine this designation, and thus, the person's status. Occasionally, though a person will be classified in a status that is different from their visa category. The I-94, received at the time of entry, will indicate the designated status as well as the expiration date of that status.
A student in F-1 or J-1 status may legally remain in the country for "Duration of Status", which will be indicated as "D/S"on their I-94. This means that as long as the person is doing what the regulations specify they need to do to maintain their F-1 or J-1 status, then they have status until they are done with their specified academic program, plus an additional allowable period (60-days for F-1; 30 days for J-1) to prepare for departure from the country. Other status types, such as B-2 (tourist), will have a specific expiration date for their status, and they must depart the country by the specified date or face possible legal consequences, including potential deportation and/or being barred from future admittance to the U.S.
It is sometimes possible to change from one status to another while inside the U.S. by making application to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. A change of status from within the country, however, does not change the visa. Therefore, traveling out of the country after changing status necessitates acquiring a new visa of the class corresponding to the new status to use for reentry, if retaining that status designation upon return to the U.S. is desired. Similarly, it may also be possible to obtain a different status by simply reentering the country using a visa type corresponding to the category of intended status.
Clearly, failure on behalf of the international student advisor to comprehend the distinction between visa and status may result in misadvising with potential dire repercussions to the student.
Source: Written by Mike Ediger, KU Int'l Student & Scholar Services