These materials are provided solely for informational purposes and are not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.
What is a visa stamp, and why does someone need a stamp even after the immigration service has approved a petition on her behalf?
A visa stamp is the physical visa that is placed in the foreign national's passport by the U.S. Department of State after an interview with a Consular officer. During the interview, the Consular officer will determine whether a foreign national is admissible to the U.S. The process to obtain a visa stamp from an American Consulate or Embassy abroad varies by country. Wait time for appointments and processing requirements vary, and can be particularly onerous depending on the country and whether the consular officer determines that a security background check is warranted. Generally speaking, the applicant first makes an appointment with the appropriate consulate, submits the required application forms electronically, and appears for an in-person interview with the U.S. Consulate. Please note that a visa stamp cannot be obtained from within the U.S.
The USCIS just approved an H-1B visa petition for a future employee currently living abroad. Is she now authorized to start work?
No. Before entering the U.S., the employee must utilize the petition approval notice to obtain a visa stamp in her passport through a U.S. Consulate in the country of her domicile, residency or nationality. In certain circumstances, applicants may obtain visa stamps at consulates in countries other than their country of nationality.
My employer just filed a petition to extend my status in the United States, and the petition has been approved. However, the visa stamp in my passport has now expired. Do I need to apply for a new visa stamp in order to remain in the U.S. in authorized status?
No. Employees are not required to renew their visa stamps in their passports in order to remain in authorized status in the U.S. However, return from international travel requires a currently valid visa stamp. Where international travel is contemplated after a visa stamp has expired, a new visa stamp must be acquired at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Please note that visa stamps cannot be obtained from inside the United States.
I am in H-1B status in the U.S. but I have changed employers since I last traveled. My visa stamp is still current but it shows a different employer. Is a new visa stamp upon my next international trip required?
For H-1B and O-1 holders, a currently valid visa stamp annotated with a previous employer’s name will suffice. (Please note that this is not the case for an L-1A foreign national.) At the port of entry, the traveler should present the currently valid visa stamp together with the most recent original approval notice for the current employer as well as proof of ongoing employment in order to reenter the U.S.
I would like to travel home for a vacation but my visa stamp has expired. What should I do?
Where a visa stamp has expired, or will expire prior to the date of intended re-entry, a new visa stamp will typically be required. Please visit the U.S. Consulate website for information on the documentation needed for this process or contact WSM for assistance.
In summary, visa status is issued by the USCIS and authorizes temporary employment and presence in the United States. Visa acquisition (evidenced by a visa stamp in a passport) is issued by the Department of State through U.S. Consulates and Embassies abroad and authorizes but does not guarantee admission into the United States.