With the holidays approaching, you may be traveling outside the United States. Before you finalize your travel plans, you should take the time to review the expiration of your passport and all your US government-issued travel documents to ensure your safe return to the United States. We have prepared the following recommendations for you to follow before you make your holiday travel plans. Please contact your attorney at J&H if you have any questions.
Holiday Travel Recommendations:
- Check to ensure your travel documents are valid (travel documents include passports, visas, and/or advance parole documents).
- If you need a new visa, book a visa appointment ASAP so that you can obtain a new visa stamp.
- If you need a new visa stamp, beware of the possibility of security clearance checks and that your return may be delayed. Make sure your manager knows that you are applying for a new visa stamp.
- If you are an adjustment of status applicant, ensure that you have a valid Advance Parole document unless you can use your H or L visa to return to the US. You must return to the US while your AP is valid.
- If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, ensure that you have the right documents to enter that country.
- All of these rules apply to any family members who maybe traveling with you.
- When you return to the United States, log in to the CBP website and retrieve your Form I-94 record to ensure that it is accurate. Please send a copy of your I-94 record to our office along with a copy of any new visa stamp. Please do this for each family member traveling with you as well.
Check to ensure your travel documents are valid.
First, check the expiration date of your passport, nonimmigrant visa stamp in your passport (e.g., H-1B, L-1, O-1, J-1, etc.), and your I-94 record. Please also check your spouse’s and children’s documents, if applicable. If you have an I-94 card, you will be required to surrender your I-94 card (either the white card in your passport or one attached at the bottom of the I-797 approval notice) to the immigration authorities when you depart the United States. You will, however, want to hold on to your USCIS Form I-797 Approval Notice. When you return to the U.S. be sure to present your Form I-797 Approval Notice and valid nonimmigrant visa stamp (unless you are a visa exempt Canadian). This will demonstrate that you are eligible for admission as a nonimmigrant for the period to which the petition is valid and that you are employment authorized. You should always carry the original Form I-797 Approval Notice on all international trips assuming that the USCIS issued one to you. (Please note that nonimmigrants in certain categories, such as those entering the US under a blanket L-1, E-2, E-3, or TN, will not necessarily have an I-797 Approval Notice, unless their employers had previously filed extensions of their nonimmigrant status with USCIS).
With respect to your nonimmigrant visa stamp itself, please make sure it is valid not only at the time you depart the US, but also for a meaningful period of time after you return from your international trip. Trips to Canada or Mexico lasting less than 30 days require no visa stamp for return to the United States. In this type of situation, you may return to the US using an unexpired Form I-94. However, if you apply for a visa stamp in Canada or Mexico, and your visa stamp application is subsequently denied or delayed, you cannot return to the United States with just your I-797 Approval Notice. You would need to wait outside the U.S. for a visa to be issued.
Finally, with respect to passports: please ensure your (and any family member’s) passport(s) is (are) valid for at least six months beyond your approved period of stay in the United States. If you do not have a passport valid for the full period of authorized nonimmigrant stay, please consider getting a new passport prior to your trip, if possible. Otherwise, it is likely that US CBP will “short change” your period of authorized stay upon return to the United States. That means they will not give you the full period of stay for which you were previously authorized. This is NOT an admission error. One cannot be admitted for a period that exceeds the validity of the passport expiration date. You should contact your country’s nearest Consulate to determine how to obtain a new passport as soon as possible. The passport validity date is the controlling date for your admission to the United States.
Booking a visa appointment to get a new visa stamp (if necessary).
You may need to apply for a new nonimmigrant visa stamp at a US Consulate, if:
(1) you have either never obtained a nonimmigrant visa stamp for your current employment category, or
(2) if your previously-issued nonimmigrant visa stamp expires before your intended return date to the United States.
You must apply for and obtain a new visa stamp before you return from your international trip. Please make sure to book your visa appointment as early as possible, even if you do not plan to leave the United States for several weeks from now. Consular appointments typically require personal interviews that can sometimes take weeks to obtain, due to high demand during holiday travel months.
Please note under the Department of State’s Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Waiver Pilot Program, certain individuals interviewed in conjunction with a prior visa application will be allowed to renew their visas without undergoing another interview. We recommend you check with the specific US Consulate where you will apply for your visa to verify availability and eligibility under this program.
Please note that consular appointments need not necessarily be made in your home country. You may make your visa appointment in Canada, Mexico, or another country, depending upon your circumstances. However, before making a visa appointment with a US consulate in a country besides your home country, please ensure to the extent possible that the post will accept your application. For example, US Consulates in Mexico will not issue an H-1B visa to an individual who was not previously issued an H-1B visa. This means that if you were previously issued an F-1 visa and are now applying for an H-1B visa, the U.S. Consulates in Mexico will not issue you the H-1B visa. Visa application processes at different US Consulates can differ from country to country. Therefore, please check with that specific Consulate for the necessary documents and procedures at the time of making your visa appointment. You can locate different US consulates around the world by checking the US State Department website (http://www.usembassy.gov/).
Beware of security clearance checks.
Anyone applying for a nonimmigrant visa takes a risk of delay resulting from “administrative processing” or “security clearance” delays. This is particularly but not exclusively true for nationals of India, Pakistan, China, and Russia. For the past year, we have seen many citizens of Israel also held up with these processing delays. Sometimes these delays can last days, weeks, or even months. The only way to ensure you never get delayed by security clearance checks is to never apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a US Consulate. This is not a viable option for most nonimmigrants, as it would require a halt to any international travel. There is no US Consulate (e.g., in Canada or Mexico) where you are more or less likely to receive a security clearance check. Security clearance checks can be, and have been, ordered at all US Consulates, depending upon the circumstances. Please plan your travel accordingly so that a delay in your return due to security clearance checks does not come as a total surprise to those expecting your timely return to the United States. Be sure to advise your manager that you intend to apply for a visa.
If you are an applicant for adjustment of status (I-485), you should renew advance parole early.
Individuals who have applied for adjustment of status (Form I-485) can travel internationally using an advance parole (AP) document. The AP must be issued and in your possession prior to your departure from the United States and it must be valid beyond the intended return to the United States from their trip abroad. The AP is the required document for travel once the AOS is filed except for those individuals who also are the beneficiaries of valid H-1B/H-4 or L-1/L-2 status and either have unexpired H-1B/H-4 or L-1/L-2 visa stamps in their passports or will apply for new stamps at a US Consulate before returning to the US.
If you were in O, E, TN, or any other status, not including H/L at the time you filed your application for adjustment of status, you MUST have a valid AP in your possession to travel internationally. If you travel without the AP (and are not eligible to apply for an H/L visa to return), departure from the US will result in your having abandoned your application for adjustment of status.
The USCIS can often take as long as three to four months to process an advance parole renewal application. Thus, it is wise to apply for renewal of any advance parole document within four months of its expiration date, to ensure that a new advance parole document will arrive before the existing advance parole document expires. Otherwise, you may not receive your new advance parole document in time to make your international trip.
Send a copy of your visa/I-94 record to J&H after you return to the US.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) will no longer issue paper Form I-94 cards at most U.S. air and sea ports of entry. Arrival and departure information is now automated, and can be accessed through a CBP website. The Form I-94 record provides evidence that international visitors, students and temporary workers have been lawfully admitted to the United States and indicates the date that the individual’s status will expire. While CBP will place an admission stamp into the passport, the traveler must log into the CBP site to obtain the Form I-94 admission record.
The Form I-94 card/record documents your lawful admission to the United States. It confirms the status under which you were admitted, and lists the date by which you must depart the United States. We need a copy of your most recent Form I-94 Card/Record if you have not already provided it to our office. To access your online Form I-94 arrival record you will need to input your personal details such as name, port and date of entry at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html. Please print out the record to Adobe Acrobat “PDF” format, and e-mail it to us. We need this for each family member!
In addition to updating us on your most recent Form I-94, please always be sure to update us on any address, phone, and e-mail changes. As you know, as a nonimmigrant visa holder working for a US employer, the I-94 record controls your ability to lawfully work and remain in this country. Our firm works with your employer to help ensure that this critical document is never allowed to expire without extension. While we are here to help, it is ultimately your legal responsibility to ensure your I-94 records (and that of any family members accompanying you) never expire while you are still in the United States. Because you have to now retrieve the I-94 data yourself, you will want to take extra care in this regard. Please be sure to log in to the CBP website listed above each and every time you travel, and send us a copy of the I-94 record you find at the website.
Thank you and enjoy your holidays!