As an H-1B employee, you and your dependents are responsible for obtaining the necessary documents required for re-entry into the U.S. after international travel. If you leave the U.S., there is never a guarantee that a new visa will be issued after expiration of a previously issued visa, or that you will be allowed to re-enter the country. The risk of being refused a visa or being denied entry to the U.S. should be weighed against your desire to continue academic or professional activities in the U.S.
If travel is planned around the time when an H-1B petition will be filed with USCIS, please discuss your travel plans with your scholar advisor at OISS in advance.
Documents Needed to Enter the U.S.
The following documents are required to enter the United States:
- Valid Passport: If your passport will expire soon, you must renew your passport before re-entry to the U.S.
- Original Form I-797, Approval Notice for H-1B status.
- Valid H-1B visa in passport: If your visa has expired or will expire before returning to the U.S., you must renew the visa at a U.S. consulate while abroad. (Canadians are exempt from this requirement.)
- Although not required, it is recommended that you have a letter from your department confirming your employment.
Applying for an H-1B Visa Overseas
All visa applications require a valid passport, an original Form I-797 approval notice, visa processing fee, visa reciprocity fee (if applicable), and a completed visa application (i.e., Form DS-160). Every person applying for a visa abroad, whether in the home country or third country, must have an interview at the U.S. consulate. Because the processing times and procedures for the visa application vary at each consulate, it is important that you visit the website of the consulate where you will be applying to see what other documentation is required.
Information on U.S. consular office procedures for processing visa applications can be accessed through the U.S. Embassy website.
View information on the visa reciprocity fee for your country.
Form DS-160 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application) can be found on the designated consulate’s website.
Security Checks/Administrative Processing
All visa applicants will undergo security checks, commonly referred to at consulates as administrative processing. Security checks can delay or even result in the denial of a visa. Because of this, you should apply for the visa well in advance of the date you wish to travel to the U.S. The State Department has its own reasons for running security checks on applicants, and there is no way to predict with certainty who will be subject to these checks.
Note that we are seeing lengthy delays due to security checks for some individuals who are applying for visas while outside the U.S. In most cases, the delays are for individuals from China, India, Cuba, Iran, Sudan or Syria who are in science, technology, mathematics or engineering fields.
Applying for a Visa in a Country other than your Home Country
Persons applying for a visa in a country other than their country of citizenship are referred to as Third Country Nationals (TCNs). Visas may be necessary for travel to a third country. If you are applying for a visa in a third country, you will need to contact that country’s consulate in either the United States or abroad to determine if a visa or other documents are necessary for entry.
Although some consulates accept visa applications from TCNs, the process will likely be more time-consuming because the consular officer must take extra measures to verify the applicant’s relationship to his or her home country and to the U.S.
Visit the U.S. consular office procedures for processing visa applications.
Automatic Visa Revalidation
Persons in H-1B status who travel for less than 30 days solely to Canada or Mexico are eligible for an automatic extension of their visa at a port of entry. As a person in H status, your visa can be “extended” to the date of re-entry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. consulate before your re-entry to the U.S. Please note that persons in H status are only eligible for automatic visa revalidation in Canada and Mexico and not in the adjacent islands.
When traveling to contiguous territory by air, you should keep your I-94. Airlines will wish to collect your I-94 upon departure, but you will not qualify for automatic visa revalidation if you cannot present the I-94 at the time of reentry to the U.S.
To be eligible for automatic visa revalidation at a port of entry, you must have:
- Your I-94 endorsed by a CBP officer to show a valid period of stay in the U.S.
- A valid passport.
- A previously valid visa for H status or another status.
- A current Form I-797 Approval Notice.
Some individuals are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation. For restrictions, please visit the Department of State website.
After You Re-Enter the U.S.
All H-1B employees and their H-4 dependents should check their electronic I-94 information upon re-entry to the U.S. The I-94 record end date should match the end date of the H-1B I-797 approval notice. Sometimes, H-1B employees are given a 10-day grace period on the I-94 record (an extra 10 days after the end date of the I-797 approval notice). I-94 information can be checked at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov.
If your I-94 record has another date (before the end date on the I-797 approval notice), you should contact the OISS immediately.
Employees are encouraged to send their international scholar advisor a printout of their new I-94 information after every arrival in the U.S.
Maintain a Travel Folder
Time spent outside of the U.S. while your H-1B petition is valid is not considered to be time spent in H-1B status. If necessary, time spent outside of the U.S. may be added on to the length of time you are allowed to remain in the U.S. in H-1B status, by submitting an H-1B extension application to USCIS. You should maintain a travel folder with the documentation that may be required for recapture of H-1B time. The recapture of time spent out of the U.S. is granted at the discretion of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and is based on the documentation submitted. There is no guarantee the request will be approved.
In order to prove that you were outside of the U.S., here is a list of suggested documentation for your travel folder:
- Boarding passes
- Travel itineraries
- Receipts from plane tickets
- Frequent flyer mile records from airlines
- Copies of past I-94s
- Passport entry and exit stamps to other countries and the U.S.
- Rent contracts, transcripts or employment records for stays in other countries
Dependents applying for an H-4 visa will need to submit a copy of the main applicant’s Form I-797 Approval Notice when applying for an H-4 visa, as well as documentation of the relationship to the H-1B (i.e., birth certificate, marriage certificate). Dependents will need to show their valid passports with valid H-4 visas in order to enter the U.S.