When planning travel outside the U.S., it is essential to make sure you have the proper documents prior to leaving the country. The U.S. Government has imposed strict visa issuance and admission policies and has granted immigration and consular officers broad authority to initiate lengthy background and security checks, conduct personal interviews with visa applicants, and closely scrutinize documents at the port of entry. Heightened security checks are possible at each stage of travel. The following information should assist you in making the necessary arrangements Keep in mind that if you are traveling to a country other than your home country, you may need visa to enter that country. Information in foreign embassies in the U.S. are available at http://www.embassy.org/.
Travel Documents and Passport Validity
Well in advance of traveling internationally, you should verify that your passport and visa are valid for reentry into the U.S. details follow regarding the documents necessary for each visa type. Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of admission to the U.S., although some countries have a treaty with the U.S. whereby a passport is considered o be valid for an additional six months past its expiration date.
In addition to the following documentary requirements for each visa category, all non-immigrants should carry the following documents when traveling internationally:
- The original U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-797, Approval Notice of H-1B, E-3, or O-1 (or TN for those who received an extension from USCIS) status, or the endorsed DS-2019 for J-1s and J-2s;
- A recent letter from the employing department verifying employment, or a letter confirming the J-s's affiliation with the department in the case of an honorary appointment;
- Most recent paycheck stub for employees, or proof of financial support for those who are not UW employees;
- Any employer identification (UW-Whitewater employee ID card)
- Passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of anticipated stay in the U.S.;
- Valid un-expired visa (unless visa exempt such as Canadians).
Visa Issuance at U.S. Consulates
If a new visa stamp will be needed for re-entry, it is essential to contact the U.S. consulate ahead of time to verify the specific documents they require, as different consulates have different requirements. Also, all consulates now must conduct personal interviews with all visa applicants. Interview waivers are granted only in very limited cases, such as for applicants who are under age 16 or over age 60, and applicants for revalidation of a visa in the same classification which expired less than 12 months prior t the application. This is causing extensive delays at many consulates. An appointment for an interview should be scheduled as far in advance as possible. Contact information for U.S. consulates can be found at: http://usembassy.state.gov/. Information on the wait time to schedule an interview appointment at a specific consulate can be found at : http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/tempvisitor_wait.php.
Security clearances are also exacerbating delays. Every application is run through a name check. People with common names such as Smith, Wang, or Gonzalez may find their applications take longer, as their name may rigger an alert that the authorities need to pursue further. Background information also may delay the application, including: foreign travel history, education, military service, weapons and combat raining, membership and contributions to charitable organizations, and other details.
Anyone who is engaged in a field that is considered to be sensitive will be subject to a Security Advisor Opinion (SAO), which can take a few weeks to several months. Individuals involved in high technology, engineering, the sciences or work with products or services that have both commercial and military applications will be closely scrutinized.
In order to attempt to minimize the delays associated with administrative processing the visa application, it would be wise to take another letter which addresses the following issues:
- Goals of research and practical applications
- Funding sources and amounts of any U.S. government to be used to support research
- Any export-controlled technology and/or information to be shared
- If participate in or access to U.S. projects, sponsor, where such research is open to non-U.S. citizens.
This letter should be on letterhead and contain the contact information of the department.
Since October 2004, all consulates have implemented a biometrics requirement on visa applications. All applicants undergo digital photography and fingerprinting. At the U.S. port of entry, the biometrics will be read by a scanner.
Entry into the U.S.
Non-immigrants and even permanent residents are likely to face substantial delays when entering the U.S., as government officials are subjecting documents to much greater scrutiny. Your identity and the validity of your visa will be checked against law enforcement databases. Non-citizens should schedule ample time between their arrival time in the U.S. and any connecting flights.
It is more important than ever to have all necessary documents when applying for entry to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is being much less lenient when a document is missing or expired. They will no longer parole a person into the U.S. to get it straightened out. Inspectors at the port of entry on longer have parole discretion and they have the full authority to deny entry to those who do not possess all necessary documentation. Even minor technical deficiencies can result in the traveler being denied entry and having to return home.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) made the consequences of immigration status violations even more severe than before. People who have remained beyond their authorized stay in the U.S. must obtain every new e-entry visa in their home country, rather than a third country. Furthermore, remaining in the U.S. for a significant period of time beyond the authorized period of stay can result in being barred from re-entry for up to ten years. For these reasons, it is very important tot check your documentation ahead of time. If you have ever stayed beyond your authorized stay in the U.S., you may wish to consult with a competent immigration attorney prior to traveling outside the country.
You should also check the expiration date of your I-94 every time you re-enter the U.S. before leaving the immigration inspection area to be sure it is correct. Also check the I*-94s of any dependents traveling with you as well s those who travel separately to be sure they were admitted for the duration of the principal's stay.
J-1 Scholar and Dependent J-2 Travel
J-1 Scholars must obtain an endorsement from the Center for Global Education on their DS-2019 in order to re-enter the U.S. after travel outside the country. J-2 dependents need a separate DS-2019 in order to enter, and it must be endorsed for re-entry when they travel.
Travel While an H-1B Petition is Pending
The H-1B application is a three step process. The first two steps, the prevailing wage request and the Labor Condition Application, are filed with the Department of Labor and do not have any affect on your current immigration status. In most instances, you may travel during this time, but you should consult with the Center for Global Education before undertaking any travel.
If you do travel during this period, be sure to give your new I-94 information to the Center for Global Education so that the final step can be filed with the updated information. Once the Center for Global Education as filed the third step of the H-1B application with USCIS, travel outside the U.S. including to Canada or Mexico is limited.
Change of Status Applicants:
If you are applying for a change of status, you may travel during the first two steps of the H-1B application provided:
- You are maintaining your current status;
- It will still be valid when you plan to re-enter the U.S.;
- you have a valid visa in your passport for that status (unless visa exempt, such as Canadians); and
- You obtain the proper documents and/or signatures (if required) prior to leaving the U.S.
If you do not have a valid visa in your passport, you may still travel, but you will need to obtain a new visa for re-entry. You should consult with the sponsor of your current visa regarding documentary requirements before traveling.
Once the petition has been submitted to USCIS, you cannot travel outside the U.S. until your petition is approved by USCIS, the original I-797 approval notice is sent to you and the consulate has been notified of the approval electronically by USCIS through the Petition Information Management Systems.
Extension of Stay and Amended Petition Applicants.
If you are currently in H-1B status, you may travel during the first two steps of the H-1B application provided your I-4797 will still be valid on the date you plan to re-enter the U.S.
The effect of travel when a petition for a straight extension of stay with no change in the terms and conditions of employment or an amended petition is pending with USCIS is less clear cut. A USCIS policy memo states that an applicant for extension of stay does not abandon the request by traveling. However, a policy memo does not hold the weight of a regulation and can be changed at any time without notice, and prior policy stated that the petition indeed would be abandoned. In addition, the more recent memos does not address amended petitions. Therefore, the Center for Global Education advises anyone who ahs a petition pending at USCIS to refrain form traveling until the petition has been approved. If you must ravel, you need to be aware that, at a later date, USCIS may consider you to have abandoned the extension request and any time in the .S. after your re-entry could be considered to be unauthorized.
In either case (change of status or extension of stay), if you leave the U.S. after your I-94 has expired but before USCIS has approved the petition, be sure to take the USCIS receipt notice (I-797C) with you s proof of having filed a timely petition. Otherwise, your visa could be automatically voided and you might have to obtain every new visa in your home country , unless a Department of State official determines that you qualify for a waiver of this requirement. If your previously authorized stay as expired, you must wait for the USCIS approval and obtain a new visa at the US. Consulate in order to return. Should you need to travel for urgent reasons while the petition is pending with USCIS , be sure to consult with the Center for Global Education prior to your departure.
H-1B Portability Provisions:
The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act (AC21) grants H-1Bs greater flexibility to change employers. Non-immigrants who hold valid H-1B status may start to work with a new employer upon the filing of a new petition to USCIS. AT UW-Whitewater, the USCIS receipt for the I-129 is the required proof of having filed the petition. USCIS has not published implementing regulations yet, but the have issued interim guidance on processing H-1B applications for re-admission to the US who travel while the new petition is pending In order to be re-admitted, the H-1B must have:
- A valid H-1B visa (unless visa exempt, such as Canadians);
- A copy of the previously issued I-94 card;
- An unexpired I-797 approval notice for the previously approved employment; and
- The I-797 receipt notice for a timely filed application for H-1B status (filed before the prior H-1B expired for the new employer).
NOTE: This does not apply to petitions for a change of status to H-1B, an extension of stay, or an amendment of previously approved employment. It only applies to applications for new employment with a new employer.
H-4s may also benefit form these portability provisions and must meet the same documentary requirements for re-entry as the H-1B.
It is best not to attempt to re-enter until you have the I-797 receipt notice for the new employer. USCIs might be able to verify in its computer system that a petition has been field if you do not have the receipt notice, but if they can't you will not be admitted. If your prior work authorization has expired when you wish to reentry, you will not be admitted.
O-1s, E-3s, and TNs
The same travel restrictions apply to individuals who are applying to USCIS for either a change of status to O-1, E-3, or TN, or who are applying for an extension of stay. O-1s, E-3s, and TNs cannot benefit from the H-1B portability provisions.
Travel While in H-1B, E-3, or O-1 Status
Individuals who do not yet have an H-1B, E-3, or O-1 visa issued at a U.S. Consulate abroad in their passport must obtain a visa to re-enter the U.S. unless they are re-entering from either Canada or Mexico after a stay there of less than 30 days (see Automatic Revalidation below). Procedures and documentary requirements vary form one consulate to another, so it is wise to contact the consulate or check the Department of State's website (http://usembassy.state.gov/) prior to making an application so as to ensure that you have all necessary documentation and to see if any special security checks would be needed (see "Security Checks" below). In general, you will need:
- Original form I-797 Notice of Approval
- Copy of form I-129 (and the Labor Condition Application for H-1Bs)
- Documentation of prior immigration status while in the U.S.
- A letter from the department confirming continuing employment (the same dates on form I-129)
- Passport that is valid at least six months beyond your anticipated re-entry date
Other documents may be required, depending on the consulate, such as:
- Former J-1s/J-2s may need proof of having received a waiver of the two year home residence requirement, or having complied, or of not having been subject to it
- Former international students may need an original set of their transcripts
- C.V. and/or diploma
- Complete cop of H-1B, E-3, or O-1 petition
- Prior year's pay stubs
- Most recent tax return
Individuals who have an expired H-1B, E-3 or O-1 visa issued at a U.S. consulate in their passport must follow the same procedures as those who do not yet have an H-1B, E-3 or O-1 visa in their passport. The State Department has eliminated visa re-issuance within the U.S. All visas must be obtained at consulates outside the country. Applicants are encouraged to apply in their home country; Canada and Mexico have very limited capacity to accept visa applications from third country nationals. Furthermore, if the visa is denied, the individual may not return to the U.S. under automatic revalidation.
Documents needed for entry into the U.S. in H-1B, E-3 or O-1 status
- Valid passport
- Valid visa
- Valid I-797 Notice of Approval
- Recent letter from the Department confirming on-going employment which includes position title, job responsibilities, salary, and dates of employment.
Dependent H-4, E-3, and O-3 Travel
Dependent spouses and minor children (under age 21) must obtain an H-4, E-3, or O-3 visa to enter the U.S. In order to obtain the visa, they will need:
- Valid Passport
- The primary beneficiary's original I-797
- Poof of their relationship to the primary beneficiary (marriage or birth certificate)
- A letter from the primary beneficiary promising to provide support for the family member(s) and copies of a bank statement
- A letter from the primary beneficiary's department indicating the position title, salary and dates of employment
As with the primary beneficiary's application, each consulate may have different requirements. It is wise to contact the consulate or check the Department of State's website (http://usembassy.state.gov/) before going to ensure that all documentary requirements are met.
Be sure to check the I-94 of all dependents after they enter the U.S. Some port of entry officials admit the dependents for the validity of the visa rather than the principal's I-797 Approval Notice. In some instances, the visa is valid for a shorter period of time than the I-797 and if the discrepancy is not noticed in time, they could fall out of status.
NOTE: H-4 and O-3 dependents may not be employed under any circumstances in the U.S. E-3 dependents may file form I-765 to request employment authorization from USCIS. Family members who have a valid immigration status independent of the primary beneficiary (F-1, J-1, H-1B etc.), do not need to obtain a dependent visa.
Special Issues Related to Travel
Possession of appropriate registration documents
Immigration law requires all non-U.S. citizens to carry "at all times" the appropriate alien registration documents. All permanent residents should carry their I-551 Permanent Resident card, and non-immigrant (such as J-1 Exchange Visitor or an H-1B employee) should carry their valid passport and valid I-94, Arrival-Departure Record. While it may not be essential while walking on campus, it is particularly important when traveling I the U.S., even by train or bus.
Domestic Travel (Travel within the U.S.)
Travel, especially airline travel, has changed dramatically in the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Check-in times are longer and documents are being scrutinized more closely and more frequently. Under tighter security measures taken after the terrorist attacks, some airlines have questioned individuals seeking to board a domestic flight and Immigration Officials have been called to examine their documents.
Since everyone who is not a U.S. citizen must carry with them their passport and proof of their valid immigration status at all time, it is especially important whenever there is a plan to travel, even within the continental United States, to take these documents with you. This also includes Permanent Residents, who should carry their "green card".