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Pack Your Bags and Your Documents—Holiday Travel Tips for Foreign Nationals

The busy holiday travel season is upon us. With it comes the potential for longer processing times and altered holiday schedules at airports and U.S. consulates and embassies abroad. Foreign nationals who plan to travel internationally between now and the new year should prepare in advance to minimize travel hiccups, especially if they must attend a visa appointment while outside the United States. In anticipation of these potential difficulties, below is a list of tips on preparing for international travel. 

Recommended International Travel Preparation List

Confirm Validity of Passport

Travelers must generally present a passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond their authorized period of stay in the United States.

Confirm Visa Validity

In order to enter the United States, international travelers must generally possess an unexpired U.S. visa. If a U.S. visa includes a limited number of reentries, a valid reentry must be available on the date of reentry for the traveler to be admitted to the United States. Thus, travelers who plan to travel abroad may want to confirm (prior to traveling) that the validity of their U.S. visas extends through their anticipated date of reentry and, if applicable, that they will have an unused reentry at the time of their return to the United States.  

Canadians may present a Form I-797 approval notice in lieu of a visa.

Book a Visa Appointment, if Applicable

Each embassy/consulate schedules appointments to renew nonimmigrant visas on a first come, first served basis, and wait times can vary by embassy/consulate. Travelers can check visa wait times by embassy/consulate on the U.S. Department of State’s website. Thus, travelers who need to renew their nonimmigrant visas while abroad may want to book their visa appointments in advance.

Travelers may schedule their visa interview at any embassy or consulate, but not all embassies/consulates grant visas to third-party nationals. To minimize the chance for travel complications, travelers may want to make their appointments with a consulate or embassy in their home country. Travelers should also note that the application process for a new visa can differ from one consulate/embassy to the next. They may want to confirm the process for the location of their choice before travelling.

Confirm Permission to Travel

International travel can have serious consequences on a traveler’s immigration status if not handled correctly. Examples of potential difficulties include the following scenarios:           

  • Travelers with a pending adjustment of status application risk abandoning their adjustment application if they do not apply for advance parole (advance permission) before leaving the United States. Travelers with a valid H or L visa may reenter on those visas and do not require advance parole.

    USCIS will generally view travelers with a pending change of status application who travel internationally before USCIS approves their change of status application to have abandoned their application.

  • Nationals of Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen are subject to travel restrictions imposed by Proclamation No. 9645, i.e., the travel ban, which may impact their ability to reenter the United States.  

Because of these potential issues, travelers should consider whether international travel is appropriate for them.

Pack Documents

  • In order to be readmitted to the United States, the traveler must present the following documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry:A valid passport

  • A valid visa

  • An advance parole document, if applicable

In addition, if attending a visa interview while abroad, travelers may want to consider bringing the following documents:

  • I-797 approval notice for current visa status or stamped I-129s (for L-1 blanket visa holders)

  • Copy of immigration documents

  • Employment verification letter

  • Travelers who must prove nonimmigrant intent when they reenter the United States may want to pack proof that they retain ties to their home country. Examples of documents that provide such proof include:

    • Copies of deeds, leases, etc. from the traveler’s home country

    • Bank statements of accounts that the traveler maintained in his or her home country

    • Letter from the employer that will employ the traveler upon his or her return

Make Travel Arrangements

Travelers who must attend a visa interview while abroad may want to consider scheduling their travels so that their visa interview is at the very beginning of their trip, leaving time for XYZ to process their visas before they schedule their return to the United States. This is especially important given that the embassies and consulates will likely be operating on a holiday schedule with reduced staffing and/or closings, which could lengthen processing times. Holiday schedules for each of the embassies and consulates are on the U.S. Department of State’s website arranged by country.

© 2019, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.


About this Author

Melissa Manna, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm, Raleigh, Immigration Practice Group Writer
Immigration Practice Group Writer

Melissa Manna is an Immigration Practice Group Writer. Her primary focus is writing and editing legal articles relating to immigration for the firm’s online and print publications, websites, and newsletters.

Prior to joining Ogletree Deakins, Melissa spent 9 years as in-house counsel at TowerCo, one of the largest independent wireless tower companies in the U.S., representing the company in all aspects of commercial real estate. During that time she managed due diligence, advised and implemented risk management solutions, and closed transactions...