December 9, 2014 Douglas Lightman

Visa vs I-94: What’s The Difference?

Although a “visa” and an I-94 are similar in that they relate to a foreign individual’s primary purpose in the U.S., they are in fact not the same. This similarity has led to confusion over which term applies in certain situations, which we will attempt to clarify in today’s blog post.

Understanding the difference between a visa and I-94 is important to knowing your responsibilities and rights during your stay in the U.S. It’s also the determining factor in the rules you must abide by while on U.S. soil.


An I-94 outlines the parameters that foreign individuals must comply with during their temporary stay in the United States. Every foreigner is given an I-94 when they enter the U.S., which is used to define how long they may remain in the U.S. and what they’re allowed to do. Depending on the specific visa status associated with the I-94, there will be a set of defined parameters which outline the foreign individual’s allowed activities.

Examples of these parameters are as follows:

  • Freedom and latitude to stay in the United States as long as the primary purpose originally undertaken continues
  • The rights necessary to engage in said primary purpose of the underlying visa status
  • Protection under the law, including local, state, and federal laws

Along with certain rights, the I-94 status carries with it specific responsibilities:

  • Obeying and complying with all laws of the United States
  • Complying with all regulations in support of engaging in your primary purpose as per the underlying visa status
  • Upon completion of the primary purpose or before the end of your admission period, applying for a Change of Status for a different primary purpose or immediately returning to your original country


A visa is essentially an authorization attached to a passport that grants permission to submit an entry request to the U.S. under a specific visa status. A visa is only issued by a U.S. Consulate, which can be located in a U.S. Embassy or separate office. U.S. Consulate offices are always located in foreign countries; they’re never found in the United States.

Many immigration authorities liken a visa to a “key” to that particular country. Once the visa is accepted and admission into the country has been granted, the visa will not be needed until the foreigner has departed and re-entry is requested. A visa is necessary to gain admittance to any port of entrance, like an airport.

While a visa and I-94 are indeed different, they work in concert to define and clarify a foreign visitor’s rights and responsibilities in the country. Understanding how they work together is a key first step in being granted admission into the United States for work and other worthwhile endeavors.

For more information regarding a Visa and I-94, contact Lightman Law Firm at (212) 643-0985 or submit a consultation request online.

Lightman Law Firm was recently honored as New York’s 2014 Immigration Law Firm of the Year by Acquisition International. Additionally, founding attorney, Douglas Lightman, was named a “Rising Star” by Lightman Law Firm also carries a 4.9 rating on Google Reviews.

Douglas Lightman

The award-winning Lightman Law Firm was founded by Douglas M. Lightman, Esq. Mr. Lightman has extensive experience in immigration law and international matters through both work and personal experience.Prior to forming Lightman Law Firm, Mr. Lightman spent several years at an international tax consulting and compliance firm where he focused on international tax consulting and cross border transactions. Mr. Lightman is a United States trained lawyer who received his law degree from Brooklyn Law School and is a member in good standing of the Bar of the State of New York and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the world's largest organization of immigration lawyers.To discuss your possible case with Mr. Lightman or another immigration lawyer from Lightman Law Firm LLC, call (212) 643-0985 or fill out the consultation request form on your right. A representative of our firm will contact you shortly upon review of your request.