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Reentry to U.S. with an expired visa is possible in certain circumstances

Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) will allow reentry to the U.S. with an expired visa if certain conditions are met.  This provision is often referred to as the “contiguous country rule.”  For this blog post to make sense, it’s important for the reader to understand the difference between a couple of key immigration terms including the difference between  “visa” and “status.”  If you are not clear on these terms, review our previous blog before continuing:   Common Misconceptions Regarding Visa and Status.
So assuming a foreign national has valid status in the U.S. (including F, J, H, E, A, B, C, I and L), CBP may automatically extend the validity of expired visas at ports-of-entry to the U.S.  This allows an individual to travel to the following places and return to the U.S. without acquiring a new visa:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Adjacent islands including Saint Pierre, Miquelon, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territories bordering the Caribbean Sea NOT including Cuba (for individuals in F or J status only).

In order to take advantage of the contiguous country rule, the traveler must meet the following conditions:

  • You have maintained and intend to resume your nonimmigrant status upon your return to the U.S.;
  • You did not apply for a new visa during the time you were outside the U.S.,
  • You have and carry a valid passport (with at least six months validity after your proposed return date), an unexpired I-94 card, and a current Form I-20 or DS-2019 if you are a student; and
  • You are not otherwise required to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility.

Other important things to know:

  • Do NOT surrender your I-94 card when exiting the U.S.  You will need it to reenter.  Bring a photocopy along in case the CBP Officer demands a copy.
  • Do NOT apply for a new visa while you are outside the U.S.  without realizing you won’t be able to reenter the U.S. under this provision.  If you apply for a new visa, you will have to wait until your new visa is issued in order to be admitted.
  • As of the writing of this blog (October 14, 2013), citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba are not eligible for this provision.
  • If you have changed your visa category in the U.S. from the category you were originally admitted under (for example, an F student now holds H-1B), you can still use this provision but you must show your original visa and proof of your new status at the port-of-entry.

This is a convenient, though technical, provision.  To protect your status, contact one of our Immigration Attorneys to schedule a consultation to determine if you qualify for this provision.