International Travel Requirements and Advisories

It is important that any foreign national wishing to travel internationally plan ahead to ensure they have the required documents for re-admission to the United States. Please review the requirements below, which are separated based on the U.S. immigration status of the traveler. Advisory: This is general information. Anyone with specific questions or concerns should contact their attorney in advance of departure from the U.S. and in advance of purchasing non-refundable tickets.

I-94 Admission Document

I-94 Admission Document

Which document controls my immigration status in the U.S.?

The I-94 admission/ departure record controls your status when you are in the U.S.  The I-94 will reflect your nonimmigrant classification and the period of admission to the United States.

How do I get an I-94 document?

When a change or extension of status is approved, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues a new I-94 document with the approval; it is attached to the bottom of the Form I-797 Approval Notice.   Please detach this I-94 and staple it into your passport.  When you depart the U.S., you should turn all I-94 documents in your possession in to the airline.

An I-94 document is also issued when you enter the U.S. after international travel, unless you are traveling with a multiple entry I-94 document.[1]   A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer will record your date of entry, class of admission and authorized period of stay will be recorded on a Form I-94 Arrival / Departure Record.  The I-94 may be in paper or electronic format.

Paper I-94s

Until further notice, travelers entering the U.S. through a land port of entry continue to be issued a paper I-94 card, which should be stapled to your passport.

Electronic I-94s

Since April 30, 2013, CBP has generated electronic I-94 documents upon arrival for those entering the U.S. through an air or sea port of entry.  Instead of the paper I-94 document, you will receive an admission stamp in your passport.   You can access and print a hard copy of the I-94 document containing your admissions information at www.cbp.gov/i94.  This site also provides your travel history, although it may not reflect all admissions and departures from the U.S.

What happens if the I-94 expires while I am in the U.S.? 

Unless a petition to change or extend status has been filed with USCIS prior to the expiration date of the I-94, if the I-94 expires while you are in the U.S. you will be considered unlawfully present in the U.S., and any work authorization tied to your visa status will expire as well.   For this reason, it is very important to review the I-94 document for accuracy each time you receive a new one. 

Regardless of the end date of the nonimmigrant H-1B petition as noted on the Form I-797 (Approval Notice), the expiration date on the most recent I-94 marks the end of your lawful admission to the United StatesErrors on I-94 admission documents are not uncommon, and must be corrected right away to avoid a potential negative impact to your immigration status in the U.S.

Note that the end date on the I-94 may be limited to the expiration date of your passport. It is therefore advisable to renew your passport well in advance of the expiration date if possible.

Whether you receive an electronic or paper I-94 document, we recommend that upon each entry to the U.S. you ensure the admission expiration date and visa classification (for example, H-1B) are correct.  If your I-94 information is recorded electronically, please ensure that the information contained on the I-94 print-out is consistent with the annotated stamp placed in your passport.  Please contact your LAC attorney as soon as possible if the expiration date does not coincide with the expiration date on the Form I-797 (Approval Notice) or if you believe there may be any other errors.

[1] Each time you reenter the U.S. following international travel, CBP should create a new Form I-94 record.  Exception:  In many cases a Canadian citizen may be issued a “multiple entry” I-94 card which may be re-used for travel between the U.S., Canada and Mexico provided that each trip outside of the U.S. is only to Canada or Mexico and for a period of less than 30 days.  In this case, a new I-94 document is not generated upon each admission to the U.S.

Nonimmigrants (with no I-485 filed) - Canadian

What documents does a Canadian citizen with a U.S. nonimmigrant status need in order to enter the U.S. after international travel?

Canadian citizens in most nonimmigrant statuses (for example B, H, L, O, TN) do not need a valid visa stamp in order to return to the U.S. after international travel.  These individuals can travel with:

  1. Valid Canadian passport; and
  2. Original I-797 approval notice evidencing nonimmigrant status, if applicable. (Individuals in B, TN, O-3, blanket L, and H-4 or L-2 status may not have an approval notice).

Note that the visa stamp exemption only applies to Canadian citizens. Canadian landed immigrants (Canada’s equivalent to the green card) must obtain visa stamps.

Nonimmigrants (with no I-485 filed) - All nationalities other than Canadian

All nationalities (other than Canadians) require the following documents:

  1. Valid passport;
  2. Valid original I-797 approval notice evidencing nonimmigrant status, if applicable. (Individuals in B, TN, O-3, blanket L, and H-4 or L-2 status may not have an approval notice); and
  3. Valid visa stamp in the same category as your current status.[1]

How to obtain a visa stamp

There is no method to obtain a visa stamp from within the U.S.  The option of visa revalidation within the U.S. was discontinued a number of years ago.  Visa stamps must now be obtained at one of the U.S. Embassies or Consulates abroad. 

Generally, the following documents are required in order to obtain a new visa stamp from a U.S. Consulate abroad:

  1. Valid passport (with at least 6 months of validity left);
  2. Original Form I-797 Approval Notice for the nonimmigrant status (H-1B, TN-2 (Mexican), O-1; etc.);
    1. LAC provides the original approval notice, as well as the copy of the petition, to the individual or employer at the time of approval.
  3. Copy of the underlying nonimmigrant petition;
    1. LAC provides the original approval notice, as well as the copy of the petition, to the individual or employer at the time of approval.
  4. Online submission of Form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form, photo, and relevant fees;
    1. Machine readable visa issuance fee. Fee varies based on visa type. See https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/fees-visa-services.html.
    2. For some nationalities, an additional reciprocity fee may be required. See https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/fees/reciprocity-by-country.html

 

In addition to the above required documents, we recommend having the following documents available:

  1. An original university degree and/or transcripts. Especially advisable for H-1B, TN-2 and Blanket L-1B applicants;
  2. Two recent paystubs; and
  3. A brief letter from the sponsoring employer which confirms you remain employed pursuant to the terms and conditions of the approval issued on your behalf.

 

The above are the documents generally required.  However, it is very important to check the website of the Consulate at which the individual will be applying, as some Consulates require additional information.  See http://usembassy.state.gov for processes and procedures at all U.S. Consulates worldwide.

 

What do my family members need to obtain a visa stamp?

 

The spouse and/or children under 21 of the principal applicant may obtain a dependent visa upon presentation of the above documents and proof of relationship to the principal applicant (original marriage or birth certificate).

 

Advisories:  Visa Stamping Procedures

 

Processing times fluctuate at consular posts based on workload, security concerns, and other issues.  Wait times to obtain an appointment tend to increase during peak travel periods (summer holidays; end of year holidays).   It is therefore important to schedule appointments well in advance of any travel.   

See https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html for current wait times at each consular post.

 

It is important to schedule enough time abroad to allow for the visa issuance post interview.

See https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html for current processing times from interview to visa issuance.

Note that the above site provides both the wait time to obtain an interview, and the wait time post-interview to receive your passport back with the visa in it.  However, there is a caveat for applications selected for “administrative processing.”  This usually refers to heightened security checks, or other factors which require the consular officer to do additional research prior to approval.  Administrative processing can take weeks; there is generally no mechanism to expedite the process; and the consular officer cannot tell you the reason for the processing.

 

If you apply for a visa and visa issuance is delayed for any reason (most commonly due to administrative processing), unless your old visa is still valid you may not return to the U.S. (for example, in visitor status) unless/ until the new visa is issued.

 

Most individuals can apply for a nonimmigrant visa at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the world (but see advisory below) although the Consulate retains discretion to restrict applications from out-of-jurisdiction applicants.  It is generally best for the individual to apply in their home country, where the consular officer can more easily verify information if necessary.

 

PIMS:  Petition Information Management Service. Prior to approving a visa application U.S. consular posts must verify the approval of the petition via the PIMS database.  Even if you are in possession of the original I-797 approval notice, the consular officer may not issue the visa until confirmation of the approval is obtained through PIMS.   If PIMS has not been timely updated, this may cause a delay in visa issuance, usually of no more than two days.

 

Advisories:  Applying for Visa Stamping in Canada or Mexico

 

Citizens of Iran, Sudan, Syria, North Korea and Cuba are not eligible to apply for a visa in Canada or Mexico.

 

Third country nationals (non-Mexican, non-American or non-Canadian citizens) who may be subject to a heightened security check (due to nationality, education/employment profile, or prior interaction with law enforcement) are strongly advised not to apply in Canada or Mexico, where they will have to remain for a prolonged period of time if visa issuance is delayed.

 

Many U.S. consular posts in Mexico and Canada restrict which third country nationals may apply at their posts, although Canada tends to be less restrictive than Mexico.  It is very important to review the restrictions listed on the websites prior to departing the U.S.

 

Both Mexico and Canada require entry visas for many nationalities. It is advisable to contact a Canadian or Mexican Embassy in the United States to determine if this requirement applies to you.

 

 

Applying for Visa Stamping in Mexico

 

The U.S. consular posts in Mexico do not accept change of status cases; they will only accept applications from those seeking renewal of a visa that was initially issued in their home country, in the same category.

 

For example, an Indian national who previously received an H-1B visa in his/her home country could apply for a new H-1B visa in Mexico. However, an Indian national who previously received an F-1 visa in his/her home country and changed status to H-1B in the U.S. could not now apply for an H-1B visa in Mexico.

 

Applicants who cannot apply in Mexico include the following:

 

  1. Applicants for B-1/B-2 visas, including renewals, are not accepted from third country nationals who are not resident in Mexico.
  2. Applicants who entered the U.S. with a visa issued in their home country and changed status with USCIS and who seek a new visa in the new visa category.
  3. Applicants who entered the United States in one visa category and are seeking to re-enter the U.S. in a different visa category.
  4. Applicants who have been out of status in the U.S. having violated the terms of their visas or having overstayed the validity indicated on their I-94s.
  5. Applicants who entered the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (also known as ESTA).

 

 

[1] Exception to valid visa stamp requirement:  There is an exception to the visa stamp requirement for some trips to Canada or Mexico of less than 30 days.  If you would like to travel under this provision, please contact an attorney prior to departure from the U.S. to ensure you are eligible to re-enter the U.S. without a valid visa stamp.

Adjustment of Status (I-485) Applicants: Individuals who have filed an I-485 and are maintaining H or L status

Adjustment of status (I-485) applicants: Individuals who have filed an I-485 and are maintaining H or L status

What are the travel restrictions once an I-485 is filed?

Generally, an applicant for adjustment of status must have a valid advance parole document prior to departure from the U.S.  Failure to travel with an advance parole if it is required will result in the automatic abandonment of the adjustment application.

There is an exception to the advance parole requirement for those maintaining H or L status (H-1B, H-4, L-1A, L-1B, L-2).  If the following conditions are met, these individuals do not need an advance parole document in order to travel.  Instead, they can elect to travel with their H or L documents and valid passport.

Individuals who:

  1. Are maintaining H or L status prior to departure from the U.S.;
  2. Will resume employment with the same H or L employer;
  3. Are in possession of a valid H or L approval notice; and
  4. Are in possession of a valid nonimmigrant visa (if required).

If I use the advance parole document to enter the U.S., can my family members still use their H-4 or L-2 documents to enter the U.S.? 

No.  If the principal applicant uses the advance parole document to enter the U.S., his/her dependent family members must also use the parole document; they no longer have the ability to enter in H-4 or L-2 dependent status.

If I use a parole document to enter the U.S., do I have to switch to an EAD for work authorization?

No.  Despite entry using a parole document, the principal applicant can resume employment in H or L status; it is not necessary to convert to an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) after admission to the U.S. on a parole document.

What if I use the EAD document to work?  Do I have to use the Advance Parole document to travel?

Yes.  If an individual in H or L status uses an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work, they will be required to have an advance parole document in order to travel.

What if I don’t use the EAD to work, but I do have one?

Mere possession of the EAD does not trigger the requirement to travel using a parole document; only use of the EAD to work will impact the individual’s H or L status.

In short, individuals who are maintaining H or L status have two options for travel documentation:

Option 1:  Travel with a valid passport and valid advance parole document; or

Option 2:  Travel with a valid passport, valid nonimmigrant visa, and valid original nonimmigrant petition approval notice (Form I-797)

Adjustment of Status Applicants: Individuals who have filed an I-485 and hold a status other than H or L

Adjustment of Status (I-485) Applicants

In Nonimmigrant Statuses other than H or L (for example, TN, E, O)

What are the travel restrictions once an I-485 is filed?

Individuals in other nonimmigrant statuses (for example, B, E, F, J, O, TN) may not depart the U.S. until the advance parole document is issued, or the I-485 will be deemed abandoned.

In addition, individuals in statuses other than H or L may be travel restricted earlier in the green card process, before the I-485 is filed.   These individuals should discuss international travel with an attorney prior to making travel plans.

Do I have to have an advance parole document prior to departing the U.S.?

Yes.  You MUST have a valid advance parole document prior to departure.  International travel without this document will result in the automatic abandonment of the pending adjustment of status application.

Once I have used the parole document to travel, do I have to use the EAD to work when I return to the U.S.?

Yes.  If you are re-admitted to the U.S. using an advance parole, you must use an EAD to work; you may no longer work pursuant to the nonimmigrant status you held prior to departure.