Approval Notice (I-797)
The I-797 Approval Notice is the main document to prove that a USCIS petition has been approved. In the employment-based visa context, it is a legal document sent to the petitioner (employer). If the beneficiary (employee) already is in the U.S. and applying for a change of status or extension of stay, a Form I-94 is attached to the bottom of the I-797A. If the beneficiary is not in the U.S., an I-797B is issued, which does not included a Form I-94. The I-797 Approval Notice reflects the following information:
- The petitioner/applicant's name
- The visa status “Class”
- The validity dates of the approval notice
- Name, date of birth, and country of citizenship or country of birth of the beneficiary
Employees must present the I-797 Approval Notice to apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate and when requesting to enter the U.S. Keep your document safe! If the I-797 is lost, it will require a USCIS application and fee, and it may take months to receive.
Other employment-based visa types: O-1s also receive an I-797 Approval Notice upon approval. E-3 and H-4 visa holders may or may not have an I-797 Approval Notice, depending on whether a petition was filed with USCIS (not required in all cases).
"Immigration status" refers to a person's legal eligibility to be in the country. An individual who is "maintaining status" is legally in the U.S. and eligible for benefits of whichever status they maintain. An individual who fails to meet the terms and conditions of their immigration status may be "out of status" and at risk of removal from the U.S.
Current immigration status is documented on the Form I-94 which is obtained in one of two ways:
- An individual comes to the U.S. in one non-immigrant status (such as F-1, J-1) and subsequently is approved for a "change of status" to another visa category, or receives an extension of the same non-immigrant status, after filing an application with USCIS. In this case, the Form I-94 is printed on the bottom of the I-797 Approval Notice from USCIS (see sample I-797A above), OR
- An individual presents his/her immigration documents at a U.S. port of entry and is granted non-immigrant status by Customs & Border Protection (CBP). In this case, the Form I-94 can be accessed online (see the sample I-94 from CBP).
Individuals may have multiple Form I-94s, but the one issued most recently determines the current status and end date. H-1B employees generally remain in status as long as they maintain their employment with the employer who petitioned for the H-1B, and until the expiration date shown on the most recent Form I-94 and I-797 Approval Notice (whichever is earliest).
If you have traveled or will be traveling internationally, your passport expiration date may have an effect on the end date of your immigration status. Upon entry, Customs and Border Protection may determine the I-94 expiration date based on either your I-797 Approval Notice end date, or the passport expiration date, whichever is earlier. If the "Admit Until Date" on your I-94 expires before the end date on your I-797 Approval Notice, contact us immediately.
Duration of Status (D/S)
Certain non-immigrant statuses, including F and J visas, are notated with “D/S” as the Form I-94 expiration date, rather than a specific date. This means that the individual continues to maintain status as long as other immigration documents remain valid (for example, an I-20 and/or EAD for F-1/F-2 status, DS-2019 for J-1/J-2 status), and as long as they continue to meet all requirements of their non-immigrant visa status.
In order to be admitted to the U.S., a non-immigrant must present a valid visa and passport along with the appropriate supporting documents required for the immigration status being requested. See information about applying for an H-1B visa. The employee may continue to reside and work in the U.S. following expiration of the visa stamp as long as the immigration status (Form I-94) has not expired. Visas may only be issued at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, and therefore cannot be renewed or replaced within the U.S.