What Is the Difference Between Visa & Status?

Office Locations

Proudly Serving Dallas, FT.Worth, San Antonio, Houston.


OFFICE 1700 Pacific Ave. #3750, Dallas, TX 75201


OFFICE 851 Grainger St. Ste 107 Fort Worth TX 76104


OFFICE 110 Broadway St. Ste 370, San Antonio, TX 78205


OFFICE 815 Walker Street, Ste 945, Houston, TX

Is There a Difference Between a Visa and a Person's Immigration Status?

If you are an immigrant in the U.S. or are applying to become one, you may be familiar with the terms visa and status.  People often use both terms interchangeably, but there is a clear distinction between them under U.S. immigration laws.

A visa allows you to travel from your home country to the U.S. Your immigration status, on the other hand, refers to your classification or standing within the immigration system after you are granted entry into the U.S. 

If you’ve already been issued a visa, you may find that the visa contains details about the immigration status you’ll assume upon entering the U.S. But that doesn’t make them the same. Awareness of their differences is essential as it can help you understand your rights and obligations as a visa holder and maintain legal status in the U.S.

This guide highlights a few of those differences to keep you informed and guide you throughout the immigration process. Keep reading to learn more.

Differences Between Visa and Status 

They Serve Different Purposes

As stated earlier, a visa is an entry document that allows foreign nationals to board a plane and seek entry at a U.S. border or port of entry. It takes the form of a stamp and is printed by a U.S. consular officer on a foreign national’s passport after the officer has found them eligible for a visa.

However, having a valid visa does not guarantee that you will be granted entry into the U.S. When you arrive at a port of entry with your visa, you will be screened by a Customs and Border Control (CBP) officer to determine if your travel documents are in order and your visa matches your intent for traveling to the United States.

For example, if you have a tourist visa and the CBP officer discovers that you intend to seek employment in the U.S. or do anything other than being a tourist, they would deny you entry into the country. But if everything is in order, you’ll be admitted into the U.S. and assigned an immigration status depending on your visa type and reason for visiting the U.S.

Essentially, a visa allows you to travel to the U.S., but legal status gives you the right to remain in the U.S. lawfully.

They Are Classified Differently 

U.S. visas are broadly classified into two categories 

  • Non-immigrant visas 

  • Immigrant visas

Non-immigrant visas are issued to foreign nationals who intend to come to the U.S. to study, as tourists, to work for a limited time, or conduct any other temporary business. In contrast, immigrant visas are issued to those who qualify for and intend to take up permanent residence in the country.

On the other hand, the types of immigration status include the following; 

  • U.S. citizens

  • Lawful permanent resident 

  • Conditional permanent resident

  • Non-immigrant

  • Undocumented status (for those not legally admitted into the U.S.)

  • Status issued based on humanitarian grounds such as asylee/refugee

The type of visa you have could be an indicator of the status you’ll be assigned when you enter the U.S. For example, if you have a non-immigrant visa, you’ll be assigned a non-immigrant status when granted entry into the U.S.

Each status comes with its own rules for staying in the country. For instance, some allow you to work temporarily, while others prohibit employment.

The consequences of violating the rules for your status can be very severe and may lead to deportation. Therefore, knowing the legal conditions of your specific status is important. An immigration lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations based on your immigration status.

They Have Different Validity Periods

Every visa has a validity period within which the holder can appear at a U.S. port of entry and seek admission into the U.S. Once the validity period expires, the visa can no longer be used, and the person would need to obtain a new visa to seek entry into the country.

However, if the visa expires after the person has already gained entry into the U.S., that doesn’t mean that their stay in the U.S. is illegal.

Their stay only becomes unlawful if they exceed the validity/authorized period they were given when they were assigned a valid immigration status.

For example, person A has a tourist visa that expires within 30 days from when it was issued. A arrives at a port of entry two weeks before the visa expires, is admitted into the U.S., and is authorized to stay for one month. The visa would expire before A’s one-month stay ends. But A would still maintain legal status as long as they do not stay beyond one month.

Not Every Foreign National Needs a Visa, But Every Foreign National Must Acquire Legal Status in the U.S.

Generally, people from countries such as Canada that have certain treaties with the U.S. do not need a visa to travel to the U.S.

However, upon their arrival at a port of entry, they must declare their duration of stay and will be assigned an immigration status on that basis. 

Nevertheless, if they intend to relocate or reside in the U.S. permanently, they would need to obtain a visa before traveling.

The Procedure for Obtaining Each Is Different

Immigrants who wish to obtain a visa and travel to the U.S. must apply for a visa with the U.S. Consulate in their home country. The application process is known as Consular Processing.

In contrast, status is given when a person is legally admitted into the U.S. Upon admission, the authorities will generate an I-94 entry record as proof of the person’s valid status.  The I-94 document will state the terms of the person’s admission into the U.S. And how long they are permitted to remain in the country.

A person can also acquire a new status when they transition from non-immigrant to lawful permanent resident through a process known as adjustment of status. If you wish to upgrade your status in this manner, you can consult an immigration lawyer to learn how the process works and confirm your eligibility.

How an Immigration Attorney Can Help

As you begin the U.S. immigration process, visa, and status are just two of the complex terms you may encounter. It is important that you fully understand the terminologies applicable in your case to ensure you get the best out of the immigration process.

An immigration lawyer can help clarify the complexities of the immigration process and represent you throughout your case.

With their knowledge, they can help you understand the conditions of Your Visa or immigration status so you know how to conduct yourself once you’ve attained your goals.

Reach Out to Reputable Immigration Attorneys at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law

Although a visa and status are different, they have one thing in common: the procedure to obtain both is complex and filled with several hurdles you must overcome.

Our experienced immigration lawyers are current with the latest visa and immigration status requirements. They can represent you and provide quality legal advice to help you make informed decisions throughout the immigration process.

So, if you have further questions about your case, do not hesitate to contact us. Let us share your concerns and help clarify your rights/options under the law.