Many people get confused about a US visa expiration date - and how it affects their immigration status. A visa expiration date is separate from a status - understanding this distinction is important to avoid accidentally breaking immigration laws.
What is a Visa Expiration Date?
When a visitor has a visa approved, the date on it is the time period during which the visa holder will travel to the US to ask for permission to enter the country. The border officer will then inspect the visa holder and decide whether to allow him or her to enter, and for how long.
What is a Visa Status?
A visa status is granted when the border officer allows a visa holder to enter the US. The officer will determine how long the visitor will be 'in status' before they either must leave the US or apply for an extension. The status expiration date is recorded as an I-94 number. The visitor must also follow any rules that a visa status carries (these typically follow the visa category - ex. an E-2 investor directing and developing a business), or will be 'out of status'.
Before 2013, the I-94 stamp with a handwritten expiration date was used in a passport to confer the time period a visitor would be in status. However, since then, US CBP has begun using a website for international travelers to check their I-94 date, travel history and compliance. The website may be found here.
It is important that travelers understand this difference - that a visa is a document which only confers a potential entry into the US, so its expiration date may lapse while the visitor is still legally in status within the US. It is important to stay in status by noting an I-94 date and ensuring that you depart the US or apply for an extension by that time. For that reason, it is best practice to print off your I-94 each time you travel to the United States.