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Posted April 17, 2019Stephanie Wedel - Sr. AssociateArticles



With summer approaching and foreign nationals planning to travel abroad, planning ahead to ensure you have the proper documents ready can lead to a smoother entry.

F-1 Students

F-1 students in OPT or STEM OPT with a valid EAD card, who DO NOT have an H-1B cap case filed with USCIS, should be able to depart the U.S. and re-enter, so long as there is a job/job offer. These travelers should carry:

  • A valid passport;
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp (unless Canadian). If your student visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp to reenter the United States as a student;
  • A current signed I-20;
  • A valid EAD card; and
  • A letter from your OPT employer that verifies your employment, approving the travel, and stating the expected date of return.

F-1 students with a pending H-1B cap case filed as a change of status, should consult with an immigration attorney about travelling regardless of whether the case is still pending or has been approved. Departure from the U.S. may result in the termination of the cap-gap status, as well as the inability to return to the U.S. until October 1st at the earliest, after approval of the H-1B.

Other Pending Cases with USCIS

Those with a currently pending case with USCIS should consult with their or their employer’s immigration attorney to determine any travel risks.

Individuals with pending nonimmigrant cases for change of status or extension of status generally should not travel abroad until the case is adjudicated. Leaving the U.S. while the case is still pending may result in the case being approved for consular processing thus requiring the individual to leave the U.S. and re-enter in order to “activate” the new approval.

Those with pending adjustment of status cases may need to have a valid advanced parole document to re-enter the U.S. Individuals on dual intent visas such as H-1B, H-4, L-1, and L-2 can return to the U.S. with their valid visa.

Visa Stamps

In general, nonimmigrants with an expired visa stamp will need to obtain a new one before returning to the U.S. There is an exception for those with a valid I-94 travelling only to Canada or Mexico for fewer than 30 days, who meet certain criteria, through a process called automatic revalidation. Citizens from Iran, Sudan, or Syria with an expired visa, as well as those who have applied and are waiting for a visa stamp, or had a visa denied, will need to obtain a valid visa stamp regardless of the length of stay in Canada or Mexico.

Those travelling to other countries or who plan to stay in Canada or Mexico for more than 30 days, should plan to obtain a new visa stamp before returning to the U.S.

It is also important that the visa stamp be valid for the correct visa category.

Appointments for visa stamping should be made as early as possible as appointments maybe be limited due to local and U.S. holidays. Each U.S. Consulate lists its holiday closures on its website, and estimate visa appointment wait times can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Citizens of Canada generally do not need a visa stamp.

Passport validity

Passports should be valid for the period of intended stay. If entering with a passport that expires before end date on the I-797 approval notice, U.S. Customs and Border Protection may shorten the new I-94 to match the passport expiration date. Individuals from certain countries must have passports valid for at least six months beyond the period of the intended stay. Most countries are exempt from this requirement.

Re-entering the United States

When returning to the U.S. on a nonimmigrant status we suggest carrying the following documents:

  1. Current passport
  2. Current I-797 approval notice
  3. Two most recent paychecks
  4. Signed employment verification letter confirming current position, wage, etc.

Additionally, individuals should be ready to answer basic questions posed by U.S. customs and immigration officials, such as:

  1. What is the name of your employer?
  2. What is your job title?
  3. Where do you work?
  4. How long do you expect to stay in the United States?

Individuals who plans to enter the U.S. via a land border can plan ahead and apply and pay for an I-94 online up to seven days prior to entry.

Upon returning to the U.S., foreign nationals should take a moment to obtain their most recent I-94 so they are aware of their status expiration date. Each person should also review their I-94 record for consistency with other immigration records. If there is an inconsistency please contact your designated Meltzer Hellrung attorney immediately for advice on correcting the mistake.

As always, if you or your employees have any questions about travelling, reach out to your designated Meltzer Hellrung attorney.