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Traveling with an Expired US Visa Under Automatic Visa Revalidation? Do’s and Don’ts Foreign Nationals Should Consider When Returning to the United States After International Travel

11 Dec

Foreign nationals generally need to possess valid travel documents to travel to the United States. However, under an esoteric regulation called “automatic visa revalidation,” individuals with an expired visa may be able to seek readmission to the country. The regulation is so obscure that even some U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and airline attendants might not be familiar with the rule. Below you’ll find some helpful do’s and don’ts to facilitate return travel to the United States with an expired visa under automatic visa revalidation.

What is “Automatic Visa Revalidation?”

Automatic visa revalidation allows some foreign nationals with valid Forms I-94 (Arrival/ Departure Records) and expired nonimmigrant visas to travel to Mexico or Canada—and only those two countries—for trips lasting 30 days or less and return to the United States without being issued a new visa. The regulation even allows a previous visa in a different category momentarily to be considered “converted” to a different classification for the limited purpose of reentry if you have changed your status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

In addition to traveling to Mexico or Canada, students and exchange visitors in F and J nonimmigrant status may also travel with an expired visa to most, but not all, “adjacent islands” in and near the Caribbean Sea.

Do’s

DO know the law and travel with a copy of the law. The regulation for automatic visa revalidation can be found at 22 CFR § 41.112(d). Travel with a copy in case you need to show it to an officer. Keep in mind, nationals of some countries may need a separate visa to travel to Canada or Mexico, or to an adjacent island if you are in F or J status. Visit the Foster “Visa QuickCheck” tool from our homepage to determine whether you need a visa to visit these places.

DO arrive at a major airport, not the border, and travel on a major U.S. airline. CBP officers at large, international airports tend to be more familiar with automatic visa revalidation than CBP officers at the border, so you’ll be less likely to encounter problems there. Similarly, attendants from U.S. airlines are usually more familiar while employees of Mexican airlines are usually less familiar and may be more hesitant to even let you board the flight. If necessary, ask to speak to a supervisor. Don’t panic if the CBP officer is unfamiliar with the regulation. You can ask to speak to a supervisor who should be more experienced on the matter. As always, be respectful, even if the officer isn’t.

DO allow ample time between flights. You might be sent to secondary inspection upon your initial entry into the United States, so allow enough time if you have a connecting flight.

Don’ts 

DON’T apply for a new U.S. visa. Automatic visa revalidation only allows reentry into the United States if the individual has not applied for a new visa at a U.S. consular post abroad. Therefore, you should not apply for a new visa if you want to return to the United States under the automatic visa revalidation rule. Any steps taken in the visa application process, even the mere completion of a DS-160 application, could be considered an affirmative step to apply for a new visa and should be avoided.

DON’T surrender your Form I-94 when you depart the United States. You’ll need to present your unexpired Form I-94 when you seek readmission to the United States, so, for individuals who have been issued an original hardcopy, don’t surrender it when you depart. In addition, you’ll need to travel with a valid passport and your expired visa. Students and exchange visitors in F and J status will also need their current Form I-20 or DS-2019.

DON’T visit other countries. It is not permitted to travel to a third country via Mexico or Canada, or from an adjacent island if you are in F or J status. For example, you can’t fly to Mexico City and from there fly round trip to Paris, returning to the United States from Mexico City. 

The tips above should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any specific questions about seeking readmission to the United States with an expired visa under automatic visa revalidation, please contact Foster LLP at 713-229-8733 (Houston) or at 512- 478-9475 (Austin), or visit our website at www.fosterglobal.com.