As most individuals in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the holidays are approaching, many nonimmigrants (e.g. H-1B, L-1, TN, O-1, E-2, etc.) are deciding to finally travel back home to see their friends and relatives after being apart for nearly 2 years. For those traveling internationally, please keep in mind the following tips before traveling in these unprecedented times.
- 1) Vaccination: As of November 8, 2021, most foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. are required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. Certain limited exceptions exist for minor children not yet eligible for the vaccine, individuals for whom vaccination is medically contraindicated, etc. If you are not yet fully vaccinated, make sure to get vaccinated before travel, as it takes weeks to get fully vaccinated and access to vaccination varies abroad.
- 2) Passport: Your passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months beyond the date of return to the U.S. and should not expire before the end date on your I-797 approval. Having a passport that expires ahead of the expiration date of your underlying status will result in Customs & Border Protection (CBP) shortening the period of time on your I-94 record upon return to the U.S.
- 3) Visa: Except for Canadians, all nonimmigrants should have a valid unexpired visa to return to the U.S. If your visa has expired or will be expiring before your return, you will need to schedule an appointment to get your visa renewed at a U.S. Consulate abroad before returning to the U.S. There is no way to renew a visa stamp in the U.S. As a result of the pandemic, however, U.S. Consulates have not yet resumed routine visa services and there are significant delays scheduling visa appointments worldwide. Schedule your visa appointment as soon as you decide to travel and plan for the unknown, including the possibility of having your appointment cancelled or having your visa stuck in administrative processing for weeks or months. In some instances, if you are renewing the same type of visa that was previously issued to you, you may qualify for visa issuance without an interview. If you do need to renew your visa, contact your immigration attorney at least 2 weeks in advance of your travel to ensure that you have the necessary documentation for your visa appointment and to return to the U.S. Furthermore, let us know if you are traveling to get married and your spouse will be applying for a dependent visa (e.g. H-4, L-2). We will help you prepare for your appointment.
- 4) Arrests & immigration violations: Do not travel abroad without first speaking to your attorney if you have any arrests or U.S. immigration violations. Your ability to return may be challenging depending on the nature of the violation, as in some cases you may be found inadmissible to the U.S.
- 5) Pending change of status & adjustment of status applications: Do not travel abroad without first speaking to your attorney if you have a pending application to change your status (e.g. I-539 or I-129) or an adjustment of status (I-485) application. In some of these cases, your travel abroad may result in an abandonment of the application, depending on your underlying status and the timing of your travel.
- 6) COVID-19 test: Fully vaccinated travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 3 days of boarding a flight to the U.S. Remember to also carry with you evidence of your vaccination.
- 7) I-94: Your status in the U.S. is determined by the period of admission on your I-94 record, and not based on the expiration date of your visa stamp. Be sure to check your I-94 record after you arrive in the U.S. to ensure that you were admitted in the correct status and for the full admission period sought based on your I-797 approval notice. Remember that CBP may cut your admission short if your passport is expiring before your I-797 approval notice, and failure to check your I-94 may result in inadvertently overstaying your period of admission. Please remember to send your visa and I-94 record to your attorney so that they may track your status in the U.S.
Remember that U.S. consular officer and CBP border officials have broad discretion in issuing visas and admitting foreign nationals into the U.S., so please connect with your attorney well in advance of any travel to ensure you are well prepared and are carrying the necessary documentation to return. If you have any questions about international travel as a nonimmigrant, please contact the attorneys of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan at 312-427-6163 to schedule a consultation.