In my previous post on the distinction between visa and authorized stay, I had stated that, unless you are a citizen or a permanent resident (Green Card holder), you need to have a valid US visa if you’re entering the United States as a student or temporary worker, even if it is a re-entry. However, you don’t need a valid US visa to stay in the United States. Recently, I discovered an interesting exception to this rule: “automatic visa revalidation” for people who make short trips to Canada and Mexico lasting less than thirty days. Here are here are official US government pages on the subject, and here and here are more details from the University of Washington and Murthy Law Firm respectively.
Basically, this allows people on some types of visas to re-enter the United States with an expired visa but a valid I-94 (Arrival Record Card). The following conditions are necessary:
- The person’s absence from the United States was 30 days or less.
- The person did not visit any countries other than Mexico or Canada in that period.
- The person does not have a pending (or rejected) application for a new visa.
- The person is not a citizen of one of the countries designated by the US as a state sponsor of terrorism. This includes Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan (more information here).
Additionally, the usual checks applied at a port of entry also apply here (for instance, those on the “F” student visa need to have an up-to-date travel signature, those on work visas need a letter from their employer indicating that they are still employed).
The typical use cases for this are:
- People with family or other connections in Mexico and Canada can make short trips to visit family and friends back home.
- Those engaging in tourism or sightseeing have their life made somewhat easier: a US student or temporary worker can go for a brief vacation in Mexico.
- Those going for short academic or business trips, such as attending conferences, can do so.
The most interesting aspect, to me, of automatic visa revalidation is that it does not allow you to make a short trip to renew your visa. This means that somebody making a short trip to Mexico or Canada to renew an expired visa is taking the risk of being locked out of the US.
Why might those who have a pending application for visa renewal be excluded from automatic visa revalidation? This sheds a little more light on the observation from my preceding post that it is not possible to renew a US visa in the United States. I suspect that the same reasons apply: applying for a new visa should really be done in a context where a rejection can be used to credibly foreclose the person’s return or continued stay in the United States. If people with pending applications are allowed to return, then you might end up with a situation where somebody whose visa has been declined is legally present in the United States.
In fact, as the Harvard International Office explains, even if you have a currently valid US visa, applying for a new one as a Third Country National in Canada or Mexico makes you ineligible for re-entry into the United States until your new visa is approved:
Harvard students and scholars who hold F or J visas should not plan to travel to Canada or Mexico to apply for a visa from a U.S. consulate without consulting their HIO advisors in advance. Any Third Country National (a person applying at a U.S. consulate/embassy in a country other than his/her own) who applies for a visa in Canada or Mexico must have the application approved before returning to the United States. If the applicant is unable to get approval of the new visa application in Canada or Mexico, s/he will not be permitted to reenter the United States. The applicant may need to travel to his/her home country directly from either Canada or Mexico to apply for the proper visa in order to reenter the United States.
Featured image credit: H-1B wiki
PS: Co-blogger Michelangelo alerted me to a similar provision called “advanced parole” that is relevant for asylum applicants and might be used for DACA/DAPA recipients. See the USCIS page on Form I-131 for more. Michelangelo might do a blog post on the subject. I’ll link to it once it is published.