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This question is more on history than on current issues, but I didn't know what would be a more appropriate place to ask it.

Visa laws in the US are pretty crazy and differ from most other countries. First of all, the validity of visa here is not equivalent to the validity of the visa status. It is typical here for a student to get a visa, which is valid for 1-3 years, and be admitted to a 6 year program, during which it is legal to stay in the US, but a re-entry would require getting a new visa.

Moreover, it is not possible to obtain/change the US visa while staying inside the country, yet it is possible to change the status.

What are the historical roots of this weird system? Has it been like that in other countries as well (and they changed it), or is it a totally US thing?

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    Strictly speaking, the "status" one has is more precisely called "immigration status," since it may or may not be related to a visa, and as you note it is independent of the visa's period of validity. Commonly, however, people use "visa status" or even just "visa" to refer to immigration status. The UK system has similar complications that may frustrate those who seek to use precise terminology, where "entry clearance" and "visa" have slightly different meanings, and there is some confusion between "leave to enter" and "leave to remain."
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 9:33
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It is not particularly weird, although probably different from many countries.

The situation is similar in Canada where the border officer grants status upon entry and the validity of visa itself can be different (although nowadays most visas are granted for either 10 years or at least the duration of study/work).

First of all, the validity of visa here is not equivalent to the validity of the visa status.

The distinction between visa (entry authorization) and immigration status is made in a number of countries. Many countries (e.g. China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Iran) allow the duration of authorized stay to be different from the visa validity, e.g. you can enter on the last day of your visa validity and be admitted for more than one day.

In a number of countries (in particular many within EEA/Switzerland, also China and South Korea, and probably more), for certain situations, an alternative status document (residence permit) must be applied and obtained for a legal stay, although these documents can usually be used for entry as well.

Moreover, it is not possible to obtain/change the US visa while staying inside the country, yet it is possible to change the status.

Most countries above do allow visa application (or application for re-entry authorization) to be made within the country though. The impossibility to obtain an re-entry authorization inland might be somewhat exceptional for the U.S., someone else may have more knowledge or examples.

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  • I’d also add that this concept will eventually go away, as the trend is to get rid of physical visas altogether, thus making it possible to perfectly align visas and status. So far I’m only aware of Australia doing this.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 28 at 8:05
  • @JonathanReez if you look backward in time the trend is also fairly consistent. Even though many countries have, as noted here, an "alternative status document," often called a "residence permit," that is acquired on the country's territory, there is still a distinction between residence permits and visas. This too seems to be blurring; I recently learned that one Schengen country (Sweden?) is now granting residence permits abroad instead of long-stay visas. As you go farther back in time you see less equivalence between permits and long-stay visas.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 9:38
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    There is an exception to the rule about obtaining US visas within the US: A and G visas may be renewed within the US. These categories cover those with diplomatic immunity of one degree or another in connection with their service as diplomatic or consular agents or as officers or employees of international organizations duly accredited to the US. (If I recall correctly, this exception does not include A-3 and G-5 visas, which cover domestic employees of those with another class of A or G visa.) These are handled by the State Department in Washington or by the US mission to the UN in New York.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 9:46
  • You are likely thinking of Finland which issues a residence permit for all long stays and doesn't issue D-visas in any significant volume (if at all).
    – Lll
    Sep 28 at 15:11
  • @phoog the Czech Republic also issues residency permits in consulates abroad for many types of long stays.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 28 at 15:44

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