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Student Visa vs. Student Status: What is the Difference?

January 27, 2016

A student visa is a travel document you receive from a U.S. consulate or embassy before you enter the United States. Your student status is what you must maintain after you are granted entrance into the United States.

Both your visa and status reflect your primary purpose for coming to the United States. As an F-1 or M-1 student, this purpose is to complete a full course of study at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.

U.S. consulates and embassies issue visas, and the type of student visa you receive depends on your course of study and the SEVP-certified school you attend.

However, a student visa does not guarantee entrance into the country. You must present your visa and other travel documents to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at a U.S. port of entry. A CBP officer may interview you further to determine whether or not you may enter the United States.

If you are permitted to enter the United States, the CBP officer will provide you with an admission stamp in your passport or a paper Form I-94, "Arrival and Departure Record." The Form I-94 includes information about when you were admitted and how long you can stay in the United States. For more information about the Form I-94 and the arrival process in the United States, visit the CBP website.

Once you are admitted into the United States, your visa may expire. However, you may remain in the country until the departure date that CBP stamped on your passport or Form I-94 as long as you maintain your status. Maintaining your status means that you perform certain actions and follow rules that help you fulfill your purpose for coming to the United States.

For an F-1 student, you will likely be admitted to the United States for a “duration of status.” This means you can stay until 60 days after your program or optional practical training end date, which is listed on your Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

Do you have general questions about the difference between a student visa and student status? Ask us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #StudyintheStates.

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