Many people think that once their visa expires, they must immediately apply for a new one or they will have to leave the US. But if you qualify and fulfill some requirements, you might be eligible for automatic visa revalidation.
What is the Automatic Visa Revalidation?
If a person travels to Canada, Mexico, or the US adjacent islands with the exception of Cuba for less than 30 days, they can re-enter the US even if their visa has expired. The person seeking revalidation must also have a valid Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, which is endorsed by DHS. The Automatic Visa Revalidation is also known as the Contiguous Territory Rule.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have designed the program to make revalidation and extension of nonimmigrant visas easier.
The US adjacent islands and territories are as follows:
|Bermuda||Bonaire||British Virgin Islands|
|Saint Eustatius||Saint Kitts-Nevis||Saint Lucia|
|Saint Maarten||Saint Martin||Saint Pierre|
|Tobago||Turks and Caicos Islands||Other British, French, and Dutch territories or possessions bordering the Caribbean Sea|
With the revalidated visa, the person can then remain in the US for the duration of the extension. The visa is revalidated for the same period of time that it was valid the first time. Through automatic revalidation, you will get the same visa you had before. You cannot request to have a new visa or change status through this process. You must abide by the same visa rules you had before.
What are the Eligibility Criteria for the Automatic Visa Revalidation?
The requirements to be eligible for automatic visa revalidation are as follows:
- You must have a US nonimmigrant visa which has expired.
- You must have travelled to Canada, Mexico, or any of the US adjacent islands.
- Your travel must not be for more than 30 days.
- You must have a valid admission stamp on your Form I-94.
- You must have an authorization for your current status such as a Form I-129 for non-immigrant workers or Form I-20 for F-1 visa students.
- You must not have a pending or rejected new visa application.
- You must not be from a country which is a state sponsor of terrorism. These countries are:
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
Automatic Visa Revalidation Ineligibilities
You are not eligible for an automatic visa revalidation if you are in the following situations:
- You have an expired Form I-94;
- You have applied for a new visa and it has not been issued yet;
- You have applied for a new visa which was denied;
- You were not in the US for more than 30 days;
- You travelled to a different country than Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island;
- You are from a terrorism designated country;
- You have an F-1 or J-1 visa student visa and travelled to Cuba;
- You have an M-1 visa and travelled to another country except for Canada and Mexico.
How to apply for Automatic Visa Revalidation?
To get the automatic revalidation, there is no specific application process. You do not need to send in any forms to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You also do not need to go to a US Embassy or submit supporting documents. These are processes which you must follow if you are applying for a new visa and you are outside of the US in your own home country.
But if you are already in the US and your visa is close to expiring or it has already expired but you are in the grace period, you can apply for visa revalidation.
Travel outside of the US
The first step is to travel outside of the US to Canada, Mexico, or the US adjacent islands. You must be careful though, Canada or some of the adjacent islands might require a visa to let you in the country. So if you need a visa for Canada, make sure you first apply for that.
Once you leave the US, the countdown begins. You can only stay for up to 30 days and no more than that. You can stay and visit the other countries or islands, or you can just cross the border and attempt to reenter.
Show the required documents at the US port of entry
When you are at a US port of entry from Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands, you must have the following documents:
- A valid passport with a US nonimmigrant visa. The visa can still be valid or expired. If you have a new passport without a visa, you must bring your old passport which contains the US visa.
- A valid Form I-94 which has not expired yet.
- If during your time in the US, you have received an extension or change of status, you must bring your Form I-797, Notice of Action.
- If you are on an F-1 or M-1 visa, you must have your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrants which was issued by the school or institution you are attending.
- If you are on a J-1 visa, you must bring your DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status issued by your program sponsors.
- If you have dependents, such as a spouse or children who are also seeking automatic revalidation, you must also bring the same documents for them too.
The officers at the US port of entry will then review your documents and your information. They will specifically pay attention and ask whether you respected the law and your visa rules during your time in the US. Your criminal record must be clean to increase your chances of re-entry. If you have been sent to jail or committed a crime, then your chances of getting the automatic revalidation will be quite low.
Wait for the decision of the CBP officers
After reviewing all the available information, the officers will make a decision. It is up to these officers of the CBP whether to allow you to enter or not. They have the authority and are allowed to make a judgment whether you are fit to re-enter the US. Just because you have all the documents, it does not guarantee that you will get approval for automatic visa revalidation.
If the CBP officers approve your visa revalidation, you may enter the US. Your nonimmigrant visa is now valid for another same period as your previous one. So if your visa was valid for only 2 years, your revalidation is valid for an additional 2 years.
Do Visa Waiver Program Citizens Qualify for Automatic Visa Revalidation?
You only need to go through the automatic visa revalidation process if you have a nonimmigrant visa. If you are in the US because you qualify for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), then you do not need to do this. You may not automatically extend the validity of your VWP, but if you travel out of the US and re-enter, it will be counted towards the time you are allowed to stay with a VWP.
What Can I Do If My Revalidation is Denied?
If the CBP officers deny your visa revalidation, you will not be able to enter the US again. You can stay in a foreign country (Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands) until you travel back to your home country.
Once in your home country, you can then apply again for a US nonimmigrant visa. In this case, you will have to go through the process of applications again, including submission of forms, getting the supporting documents, the visa interview at a US Embassy, and waiting for processing. Only after you get a valid visa can you travel to the US again.
Tips and Considerations for the Automatic Visa Revalidation
When you are collecting the documents for the automatic visa revalidation, you must pay close attention to the Form I-94. For the visa revalidation, you will need a paper Form I-94. If you entered the US before April 30th, 2013, the US authorities will have given you a paper Form I-94. This is the one that you must give to the CBP officers when asking for automatic revalidation.
However, if you entered the US after April 30th, 2013, the US authorities will have given you an electronic Form I-94. When attempting to enter the US again for visa revalidation, the CBP officers will be able to verify your status electronically. But, it is strongly recommended that you print a copy of the electronic Form I-94 and carry it with you.
Additionally, you can only apply for an automatic visa revalidation if you are entering the US through a sea or air port of entry. It is not advisable that you try to enter the US for revalidation through a land port of entry. So it is better for you to buy an airline ticket to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands rather than try to enter through land and have your revalidation denied.