From Fragomen.com, 11/13/2014
If you are a foreign national planning to travel abroad during the upcoming holiday season, now is the right time to make sure you are prepared, from an immigration perspective, to depart and reenter the United States. Understanding your immigration obligations can help minimize delays on reentry.
WHAT INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS SHOULD DO NOW
Before you travel abroad this holiday season, 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.
Check your visa to make sure it is valid for reentry 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 nonimmigrant 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 reentry to the United States.
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 reenter 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 reenter the United States.
For additional information on visa requirements, click here.
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 or H-4 visa, you may reenter the United States on that visa, without the need for advance parole. Family members in H-4 status who have worked in the United States should be cautious when traveling, however, and obtain and use an advance parole for reentry to the United States.
Is a change or extension of your status pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services? Traveling 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 nonimmigrant petition could still be approved, you would need to depart the United States, apply for and obtain a new visa, and reenter to take up the new status. Find out additional information here.
If you’re 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 a valid registration in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least 72 hours before your departure for the United States. Find out more about VWP passport and ESTA requirements here.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT U.S. CONSULATES AND U.S. PORTS OF ENTRY
Plan for the possibility of visa issuance delays at U.S. consulates. During the holiday travel season, U.S. consulates overseas are busier than ever and may have reduced hours. 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. Detailed information about visa application procedures is available here.
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, 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 underway but may indicate that “administrative processing” is required. Security clearances can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or more. In general, 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 don’t understand a question, ask for clarification. I For detailed information about border procedures, click here.
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 U.S.
After your arrival in the United States, it is recommended that you check your online I-94 here. Retain a copy for your records. Notify Customs and Border Protection as soon as possible if you note any errors in your I-94 record.