By: David H. Nachman, Esq., Managing Attorney, Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group, P.C.
This is the season to be jolly . . . but it is also the season when international travel can be a folly. Many foreign nationals will be traveling outside the U.S. during the holidays. This holiday travel usually extends from the end of November through the middle of February. Of course, for some, holiday travel often seems to entail a visit to the friendly Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. For others, holiday travel may entail a visit to the U.S. Consulate Office in a home or third-country.
The NPZ Law Group has posted many instructional videos on the internet which you can view on YOUTUBE about some of the nuances of international travel and seeking visas at U.S. Consular Offices. We recommend these videos for those who will be traveling. If you do not have time to view those videos, there are a few basic tips that will help to ease any potentially unpleasant international travel/return issues to the United States.
First, and most importantly, not everyone is authorized to travel. It is critical that you realize that U.S. and Canadian immigration travel policies change with little or no prior notice. The NPZ Law Group’s immigration and naturalization lawyers and attorneys encourage you to check with a qualified immigration law practitioner prior to departing from the U.S. Remember that “your” case is NOT like the case of the person you may have read about in a blog-site on the internet. Each case (such as yours) presents its own specials facts and circumstances.
There are several basic documents required for travel and re-entry to the U.S. It is important for you to remember that these documents may also have to be carried by members of your family who may be traveling with you. A brief checklist of the documents you may need to have with you is as follows:
• A passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of intended departure from the U.S.
• A valid U.S. visa (if required).
• An original Form I-797, Notice of Approval (required for nonimmigrant petition based cases, sometimes copies are acceptable).
• A valid advance parole travel document for pending adjustment of status applicants (or a valid H-1B/H-4 or L-1/L-2 visa) (be sure that this document will be valid at the time of planned entry).
• A valid Lawful Permanent Resident Card (the “green card”) for U.S. lawful permanent residents (be sure that this document will be valid at the time of planned entry).
As we have previously announced on several occasions and in our videos on YOUTUBE, the CBP has a new automated Form I-94 system at air and sea ports-of-entry (POEs). A paper I-94 Form is no longer provided to travelers in their passports. Instead, a CBP admission stamp is issued in the passport. Each traveler is reminded to print the I-94 Form (arrival/departure record) following possible admission to the U.S. The way to do this is to sign-in at the CBP website and to go to //www.cbp.gov/I94.
It is important to print the Form I-94 each time you travel. The I-94 Form for the most recent entry is only active until your departure. Therefore, if you do not print it before you leave, the only way you may be able to retrieve a copy of the electronic I-94 Form will be to place a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA) with CBP. The problem with the FOIA request is that it is costly and it can often take many weeks for the government to respond to such a request.
If you have been in touch with your immigration lawyer or attorney and you are aware that you have to apply for a visa in your home country (or in a third-country) then you will want to be aware of some of the following information to make your visit to the consulate office a little easier:
• Nonimmigrant (NIV) appointments at many consular posts worldwide are backlogged during the holiday season – you can check visa processing times online at //travel.state.gov.
• Most applicants between ages 14 years and 79 years must have an in-person consular interview – there are special rules for waivers of the interview process that you can also check online.
• While it is generally “discretionary”, travelers who qualify may want to consider Third Country Processing (TCP) at U.S. consular posts in Canada or Mexico or in other countries that they may be visiting.
• The dates and times for Consulate Appointments can be checked online at //travel.state.gov/content/travel.html
• For U.S. Consular Posts throughout the world, links can be found at //www.usembassy.gov/
• Stay abreast of “special” developments with regard to “security” and/or “diplomacy” that may impact the processing times for visa in certain countries.
Please note that TCP processing at consular posts or at border posts is “discretionary” to the U.S. Department of State or to the CBP. The process of TCP is quite complex and it is recommended that you consult with a qualified immigration law professional before undertaking such a process on your own.
Our office has been involved in cases where individuals have tried to do TCP on their own only to later find that their cases ended-up resulting in issues of denial, inadmissibility and delays. If you are considering TCP at a U.S. Consulate office abroad, you will want to acquaint yourself with the procedures for security clearances/administrative processing pursuant to INA section 221(g).
Failing to consider the possibilities for delays and/or denials in visa processing for you and the members of your family can result in an inability to rejoin your School, Program, Employer in a timely manner. Our advice to our Firm’s clients continues to be: “Know before you go”! Do not fail to plan for any and all travel contingencies. It is always best for you to be aware of how the administrative process works so that you do not find yourself with an inability to return directly to the U.S.
From the perspective of the immigration law practitioner, we continuously strive to completely review and understand an applicant’s U.S. immigration history and status, properly prepare the visa application forms and supporting documents, and be available to assist the applicant to understand the entry and/or visa process. This includes an in-depth understanding of the individual’s immigration history and if he or she or any members of the family have had an interaction with a Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) in the U.S. or abroad.
Again, it is always best to “know before you go” to avoid any issues that could potentially arise with your (or your family’s) travel to the U.S. For more information about travel to the U.S. or about the U.S. Visa Application Process, please feel free to contact any of the U.S. or the Canadian Immigration Lawyers at the Nachman Phulwani Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group, P.C. at [email protected] or by calling us at 201-670-0006 (x107). Ease of travel is likely to reduce holiday stress!