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 reenter the United States. Understanding your immigration obligations can help minimize delays on reentry.
WHAT INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS 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.
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. Canadian citizens are not generally required to have a valid visa to enter 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.
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 underway 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, 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.
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. Notify International Programs if there is an error on your I-94 record.