I went to the German consulate in Chicago today to apply for a Schengen visa so that I can attend a workshop in Munich about Ge detectors in October. My application was not accepted because the expiration date of my H1-B visa was in August. I was very angry about that because I asked the human resource office at USD whether I needed to update my H1-B visa. They said no, my H1-B visa should be valid until 2017, which was shown in my I-94 and I-797 forms.
A bit more search on Google revealed that they were both right. But they were talking about different things. USD was talking about my visa status, while the consulate was talking about my visa stamp on my passport. One needs to have a valid visa to stay inside US. My H1-B visa is valid until 2017, meaning that I can stay inside US legally until 2017 with this visa. The expiration date of this visa status is written in the I-94 and I-797 forms. On the other hand, one needs to have a valid visa stamp on his/her passport to enter US. The valid dates of the visa stamp can be different from the ones of the visa status. It is determined by the reciprocity table between US and one’s home country. Mine was only valid for 1 year. My PhD supervisor in Germany once had a visa stamp valid for 5 year!
The problem for me is that even though my visa status is valid until 2017, my visa stamp expires way before. I can stay in US without problem but whenever I go abroad for a conference, I need to apply for a new visa stamp to get into US again. The ironic part is that I cannot apply for a new visa stamp inside US, because that is the job of a US consulate abroad. It basically means that I have to give up most international conferences because I cannot stay abroad for months just to wait for a new stamp from a US consulate - I need to teach and conduct research at USD!
I learned my lesson the hard way. Hope the post will help someone else to avoid going through the same painful process. Check your visa stamp before planning your international trips!