When you file an application for a visa with the Department of Homeland Security, the process can be long and frustrating. You must complete forms, pay fees, submit to investigations, attend interviews and provide evidence to support your application. At the end of the process, if you have been successful, Form I-797 arrives --- the last step in the application process.
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The Department of Homeland Security now has authority over visa applications. Within the DHS, the United States Customs and Immigration Service, or USCIS, takes the application, examines the evidence you submitted, and carries out the background check. At the end of the process, the agency issues Form I-797, also known as a Notice of Action.
Form I-797 is printed out on heavy bond paper, and has the look of an official certificate. The form has a large text box, which explains the action that the USCIS has taken; in most cases, it simply explains that your petition has been approved. The form also lays out the specific terms of the visa or status you have just been granted. It's important to remember that the form does not always mean approval; it simply means action has been taken. That action may be a denial of your application.
The form carries important information, including your receipt number (a serial number referencing your application) and your "A" number, which is the basic identifier you use when communicating with the USCIS. It will also carry the Case Type (identifying your petition), your name, the name of the individual or organisation filing the petition, the date of receipt of the petition, the notice date, and the type of notice.
Form I-797 is also issued if you have simply requested a change your non-immigrant classification, or if an employer has submitted a visa application on your behalf. If the visa was for the purposes of employment (such as an H-1B), the form will identify the entity for which you are authorised to work. The form serves as your work authorisation if your employment is temporary.
If you lose the Notice of Action, you may apply for a duplicate by filing Form I-824. This form is used to replace lost documents; note that the original petition or application must still be in effect for you to obtain a duplicate. If your visa was valid for a limited time, and has now expired, you will not be able to obtain a duplicate Notice of Action.
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