If you are a foreign national planning to travel abroad this summer, now is the time to make sure you are prepared, from an immigration perspective, to depart and re-enter the United States. Understanding your immigration obligations can help minimize delays on re-entry.
WHAT INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS SHOULD DO NOW
Before you travel abroad, make sure to do the following:
Check your passport validity.
In general, your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of admission to the United States. This is to ensure that you will be able to leave the United States at the end of your stay and proceed to your home country or another country. There are some exceptions to this rule. Many countries have an agreement with the United States under which a passport is deemed valid for an additional six months past its expiration date so that the passport holder can return to his or her country of citizenship.
If you have questions about whether your passport is valid for re-entry, contact your designated immigration professional.
Check your visa to make sure it is valid for re-entry to the United States.
When you come back to the United States after international travel, the visa stamp in your passport must reflect your current non-immigrant visa status, it must be unexpired, and, if the visa has a limited number of entries, it must have a remaining valid entry available on the intended date of re-entry to the United States. Canadian citizens are not generally required to have a valid visa to enter the United States, unless they are E-1 or E-2 non-immigrants.
Under certain circumstances, if you are making a short trip of 30 days or less to Canada or Mexico and have a valid I-94 arrival record, you can re-enter on a previously issued visa even if it has expired. But if you have applied for a new visa while in Canada or Mexico or if you are a citizen or national of Cuba, Iran, Sudan or Syria, you must wait to obtain the new visa in order to re-enter the United States.
If you are an adjustment applicant, find out whether you need advance permission to travel before you leave the United States.
If you are an applicant for adjustment of status to permanent residence, you may be required to obtain advance permission to travel – known as advance parole – in order to leave the United States while your adjustment application is pending.
If you already have a valid H-1B, H-4, L-1A, L-1B or L-2 visa, you may re-enter the United States on that visa, without the need for advance parole. Family members in H-4 and L-2 status who have worked in the United States should be cautious when travelling, however, and obtain and use an advance parole for re-entry to the United States.
Is a change or extension of your status pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services?
Travelling abroad while your extension application is pending should not jeopardize your application. But if you have a change of status application pending, you should avoid international travel until it is adjudicated. USCIS will consider the change of status request to be abandoned if you depart the United States while it is pending. Though the underlying non-immigrant petition could still be approved, you would need to depart the United States, apply for and obtain a new visa, and re-enter to take up the new status.
If you are planning business or tourist travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, make sure you comply with program requirements.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens and nationals of designated countries to enter the United States for up to 90 days of business or tourist travel without a visa, provided that they meet specific registration and passport requirements. If you’re planning to travel under the VWP, you will need to have an e-Passport and a valid registration in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least 72 hours before your departure for the United States.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT U.S. CONSULATES AND U.S. PORTS OF ENTRY
Plan for possible visa issuance delays at U.S. consulates.During the summer, U.S. consulates overseas are busier than ever and may have reduced hours, limited appointment availability or both. If you will apply for a new visa while abroad, check the relevant consulate or embassy for specific information about appointments, application procedures and processing times.
Plan for possible security clearance delays during the visa application process. The U.S. consulate may require your visa application to undergo additional security checks based on your country of nationality, whether your name is similar to an individual listed in a U.S. government security database, or whether your job or degree is in a high-technology field, among other reasons. If a security clearance is required, your visa cannot be issued until the clearance has been completed. Because this process is confidential, the consulate will not confirm that a security clearance is under way but may indicate that “administrative processing” is required. Security clearances can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or more. The government will not expedite a security clearance.
At the U.S. port of entry, be prepared for security screening procedures.
When you return to the United States, you will need to go through the Biometric Data Collection System (formerly known as US-VISIT), a check-in process where your fingerprints, photograph and travel documents are scanned against U.S. national security and police databases. You may also be subject to intensive questioning about your immigration status, travel history, the purpose of your visit, background, employment and other issues.
It is important to remain patient during these procedures and answer all questions clearly. If you do not understand a question, ask for clarification. If you are detained at the port of entry, you are not entitled to legal representation, but you should ask for permission to call immigration offices if the need arises. You should explain that contacting immigration will allow us in turn to contact your employer if further information is required.
Obtain your Form I-94 arrival record. Once you have been cleared by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at an air or sea port of entry, your passport will be stamped to show the date and class of admission, and the expiration date of your authorized stay. Your immigration information and duration of stay will also be entered into CBP’s online I-94 arrival record system. The expiration date on the passport stamp and on the I-94 record marks the expiration of your eligibility to remain in valid legal status in the United States.
After your arrival in the United States, you must obtain a printout of your online I-94 here. You should send a copy to your immigration professional and retain one for your records. Notify your immigration professional as soon as possible if you note any errors in your I-94 record.