How Long Will Your U.S. Visa Allow You to Stay?

The immigration laws mandate maximum initial stays and limits on extensions.

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Every category of U.S. nonimmigrant (temporary) visa has its own rule as to how long you will be permitted to stay in the United States. Don’t be confused by expecting this to be the expiration date on the visa that you receive at the U.S. consulate in your home country – that date merely shows the last day upon which you can use it to enter the United States. The exact date upon which you must DEPART the U.S. will be shown on the I-94 card that you receive (after filling out the top part of the form, most likely while in flight) from the Customs and Border Protection officer who greets you and permits your U.S. entry.

Below is a quick summary of how long various types of visa holders (shown by their letter designation) are normally allowed to stay.

In situations where derivative status is allowed, most often for spouses and children, you can assume that they will be allowed the same length of stay. However, if your children marry or turn 21, they will lose their visa eligibility and must either apply to change to a new status or depart the United States.

  • A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, G4 diplomats, government representatives, and staffs: “Duration of Status,” (D/S), meaning you can remain in the U.S. for as long as U.S. Secretary of State continues to recognize you as a member of the diplomatic category. You do not need to apply to extend your stay.
  • A-3 and G-5 domestic staff members: Up to three years. You can apply for extensions in two-year increments.
  • B visitors for business or pleasure. No more than six months (with exceptions). You can apply for extensions of stay if your reasons are consistent with the terms and conditions of your original status.
  • C-1, transit through the United States. No longer than meets the definition of immediate and continuous transit while passing through the United States. No extensions except in emergencies.
  • C-2 representatives to the United Nations: The duration of your mission at U.N. Headquarters. You do not need to apply to extend your stay. A C-2 cannot travel beyond the 25 mile radius of the U.N. district without first applying for and receiving a change of status to another nonimmigrant category.
  • C-3 government representatives in transit: Maximum of 29 days; no extensions.
  • D crewmembers: Maximum of 29 days. No extensions of stay or changes to another status.
  • E treaty traders and treaty investors: Initially given a two years’ stay. Extensions can be authorized in two-year increments.
  • F academic students: Duration of status (D/S), meaning for as long as you remain enrolled, full-time, in an educational program at an approved school; are making normal progress toward completing your course of study; and are in compliance with all the terms of your F-1 status. You’re allowed a 60-day grace period to prepare to leave the United States. No extension application needed.
  • H-1B temporary workers in specialty occupations and distinguished fashion models: Depends on the labor certification and the proposed period of employment; but most H-1B workers are initially granted a three years’ stay. Extensions are allowed up to a maximum total stay of six years (with exceptions).
  • H-1C registered nurses: Only until your current visa expires. No extensions allowed.
  • H-2A temporary agricultural workers: Initial maximum of 12 months, with extensions of up to a year possible, limited by an overall maximum of three years.
  • H-2B temporary skilled and unskilled workers: Initial maximum of 12 months, with extensions of up to a year possible, limited by an overall maximum of three years.
  • H-3 trainees: The length of the proposed training program, plus up to ten days before and after the start and end dates. If the initial program was designed to last for a shorter period than this but has been continued, the employer may request an extension from USCIS, up to the maximum authorized stay.
  • I representatives of foreign information media: “Duration of status” (D/S), meaning you can remain in the U.S. for the length of your assignment.
  • J exchange visitors: Depends on the type of program or appointment, with the maximum total time in J-l scholar status equal to five years, and that for short-term scholars no more than six months. Extensions allowed only in exceptional cases.
  • K-1 fiances of U.S. citizens: Ninety days, with no extensions. (However, USCIS may accept an application to adjust status from a K-1 applicant who is out of status, but who married the U.S. citizen as intended.)
  • K-3 spouses of U.S. citizens: Up to two years initially, or until the I-130 visa petition filed by the U.S. citizen spouse has been approved by USCIS and the immigrant can apply for a green card. Extensions are allowed if USCIS hasn’t yet approved the I-130.
  • L intracompany transferees: Initial maximum of three years; extensions of stay allowed based in increments of up to two years.
  • M vocational students: Length of the vocational program as shown on your SEVIS Form I-20, up to a maximum of one year, plus a 30-day grace period in order to prepare to depart the United States. If your vocational program will extend beyond the date indicated on your I-20 and I-94, you can apply for an extension.
  • NATO personnel: “Duration of Status,” (D/S) meaning you can remain in the U.S. for the length of the NATO assignment, as coordinated with the U.S. Department of Defense. You need not apply to extend your stay.
  • O persons with extraordinary ability and their support personnel: The time period necessary to accomplish the event or activity, up to three years, plus up to ten days before the validity period of the visa petition and up to ten days after the petition expires.
  • P athletes, entertainers, and artists: The time period necessary to accomplish the event or activity, up to three years, plus up to ten days before the validity period of the visa petition and up to ten days after the petition expires.
  • Q participants in an international cultural exchange program: The time period necessary to accomplish the event or activity, up to a maximum stay of 15 months.
  • R clergy and religious workers: The time period necessary to accomplish the activity, with a maximum initial status of three years. Extensions are allowed, subject to a total maximum stay of five years.
  • S informants: Maximum initial stay of three years, plus extensions if supported by a law enforcement organization.
  • T victims of trafficking: Four years initial stay, you may be eligible to apply for a green card after three years.
  • TN, TD NAFTA professionals from Canada:  Up to one year initially, plus extensions of stay in 12-month increments, with no overall maximum.
  • TN, TD NAFTA professionals from Mexico: Initial stay up to the validity period of the TN2 visa application, plus extensions of stay in 12-month increments, with no overall maximum.
  • U victims of crimes assisting law enforcement: Four years initial stay, with extensions allowed if a certifying agency that your presence in the U.S. is required to assist in the criminal investigation or prosecution.

To learn more about individual visas, see the "Temporary (Nonimmigrant) Visas to the United States" page of Nolo's website. For personalized advice and assistance with the extension application process, consult an experienced immigration attorney.

by: , J.D.

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