An addendum to visa versus authorized stay: “automatic visa revalidation”

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.

8 thoughts on “An addendum to visa versus authorized stay: “automatic visa revalidation””

  1. Thank you very much for this useful information.
    I am currently in mexico for the purpose of visa stamping. My current h1b visa has expired. However due to the delays world wide in issuing US visas I am stuck here as my appt has been rescheduled to July 7th.
    I am wondering I am eligible for automatic revalidation of my visa and hence enter the US as I don’t want to wait in mexico until I get my new visa. I have only submitted the DS 160 and paid the interview/appointment fee but haven’t appeared for the interview.
    I am not very clear on the interpretation of the exception to the automatic revalidation rule which talk about pending application.


    1. Hi JK. I was wondering if you were able to use automatic revalidation after submitting your DS160, but before interviewing at the consulate. I will be in a similar situation soon. Thank you!

  2. Why can’t renew visa to us ? I don’t understand if there is a good reason makes me feel stuck with out my partner . I can’t wait I’m concern . I just want be together. Why you keep people apart like that. Grown adults should be able make own decissions . it makes me want to move to another country. One that don’t need visas . you know india has a visa waiver for. US citizens. But. US doesn’t have them on waiver List. Why Not? I’m in tears daily now. All because of visas .

  3. I feel discriminated against because of visas is discriminating who can be here and who they chose not to. What if they just want to live here and have the american dream ? What’s so important about visas that the reports and passport doesn’t all ready do? its so much paperwork and costs money just to be happy. I’m just trying to find out what to do because I can’t read all this and then I have to deal with the ones that ruined it for the good people.who are only wanting a good life and visa holds that up so long. And still have to hope they get it after all the reading etc… I’m trying not to be frustrated but it is very painful to be away from a loved one. Very. Please I want to be together and have no one help us with it.

  4. Im still trying to figure it all out im waited too long already I just want and need my love one with me and my love one wants to be with me .

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