What is Automatic Visa Revalidation?
The automatic revalidation rule, also called automatic visa revalidation rule, is a US immigration policy that allows certain nonimmigrants to re-enter the US with an expired US visa after visiting Canada or Mexico for a period of thirty days or less.
And if you are a nonimmigrant in an F or J visa status, the automatic revalidation rule allows you to re-enter the US with an expired F or J visa after visiting Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands in the Caribbean for a period of thirty days or less.
Some of these Adjacent Islands in the Caribbean include countries such as Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Saint-Pierre, and Trinidad.
For a complete and updated list of countries defined as adjacent islands, visit the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
US nonimmigrant travelers who wish to use the automatic visa revalidation rule must have in their possession an unexpired admission stamp or paper form I-94 at the time they seek to re-enter the US.
Automatic Revalidation and Change of Status
The automatic visa revalidation rule is also applicable to nonimmigrants in the US who’ve changed their status but have not obtained a new US visa for the new status.
For example, if you successfully changed your F-1 status to an H1B status but have not obtained an H-1B visa...
You’ll be able to re-enter the US with an expired F-1 visa to be admitted into the H-1B status...
Or you could re-enter the US with your current F-1 visa into an H1B status.
Who is eligible for Automatic Revalidation
So, now let's talk about some required documents you must have in your possession to be eligible to re-enter the US using the automatic visa revalidation.
Anyone planning on using the automatic visa revalidation must present a valid admission stamp at the US Port of Entry.
In the case of someone who entered the US at a land border crossing, you'll need to present a valid paper form I-94.
This admission stamp or paper form I-94 must show that your duration of stay in the US is unexpired.
You must have a valid passport and an expired US visa. It is okay if your current passport does not contain your expired US visa.
For nonimmigrants in the F and J status, you must provide a valid form I-20 or valid form DS-2019 respectively. These forms must have a valid travel signature.
Most importantly, you must have been absent from the US for a period of 30 days or less while visiting Canada or Mexico or an Adjacent Island in the Caribbean - if you are re-entering the US in an F or J status.
In the case that you've been approved for a change of status but have not obtained a new visa for the new status, you must present a Form I-797 Notice of Approval at the time of your re-entry into the US.
Finally you must have been in good standing and had maintained your US status at the time of your departure from the US.
Who is NOT eligible for Automatic Revalidation
Now let’s talk about the category of nonimmigrants who are not allowed to use the automatic visa revalidation rule.
Nonimmigrants from Countries Listed as State Sponsors of Terrorism
Nonimmigrant travelers from countries listed as State Sponsors of Terrorism are not allowed to use the automatic visa revalidation. The United States Department of State maintains an updated list of countries listed as State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Nonimmigrants Who Traveled Outside of Canada, Mexico, or an Adjacent Island During the 30-day Absence from The US
Nonimmigrants who travel outside of Canada, Mexico, or an Adjacent Island during their thirty-day absence from the US would not be allowed to re-enter the US using the automatic revalidation.
For example, let's say a nonimmigrant traveler with an expired H-1B visa completes a 30-day travel itinerary, involving a trip to Canada, followed by a trip to France, and finally returning to Canada.
This traveler would not be allowed to re-enter the US under the automatic visa revalidation rule despite returning from Canada.
Nonimmigrant Who Applies for a US Visa During the 30-Day Absence
Applying for a US visa in Canada, Mexico, or an Adjacent Island country during your 30-day absence from the US immediately disqualifies you from using the automatic visa revalidation rule to re-enter the US.
In the event that you apply for a US visa during your 30-day absence and your visa is rejected, you would have to obtain a valid visa to re-enter the US.
Automatic Visa Revalidation Experience
So now you know what the automatic revalidation is, let's answer the million dollar question of what you can expect at the US Port of Entry when using the automatic revalidation rule.
Re-entering the US Port of Entry using automatic revalidation is very similar to the entry experience of someone with a valid US visa.
The US Customs and Border Patrol Officer at the Primary Inspection booth would inspect your travel documents and would request you provide any other documents required for your visa to be revalidated.
Be prepared to answer questions about your trip and your nonimmigrant status.
If your primary inspection is successful, your passport will be stamped, indicating a visa revalidation date of the current date.
Travel Tips when Using Automatic Revalidation
Here are the six travel tips to keep in mind when traveling using the automatic visa revalidation rule.
These tips are from my personal travel experience, and I present them here for educational purposes. As a disclaimer, this is not legal advice, I am not an attorney and I encourage you to seek the counsel of an attorney for personalized legal advice.
1. Have in your possession a printed article from the Department of Homeland Security's website that explains the automatic visa revalidation rule
You always want to have such an article in your possession anytime you encounter a US customs official or an airline representative who may not be familiar with the automatic revalidation.
You can checkout this webpage from the Department of Homeland Security’s webpage that explains the automatic visa revalidation.
From my travel experience, I found it easier to explain the automatic revalidation rule to an airline representative who was not familiar with the rule by simply providing a printout from the Homeland Security’s webpage that explained the automatic visa revalidation.
2. Contact your airline to learn of any restrictions against travelers using the automatic revalidation
This one I learned in hindsight. You see some airlines might have very strict policies that prevent anyone with an expired visa from even attempting to board a flight to the US, and so you want to be aware of this information before planning your trip to depart the US.
3. Do not surrender your I-94 to any airline representative who asks you to
If you happen to have a paper form I-94, you must not surrender your I-94 to any airline representative who asks you to. This is because during your re-entry to the US, a customs official will need to see your paper form I-94 in order to admit you back into the US.
4. Have in your possession a Form I-797 Notice of Approval if you're changing your status
This one applies to non-immigrants who may have applied for a change of status and have been approved for a change of status but have not obtained a visa for the new visa status.
If you've been approved for a change of status but have not obtained a new visa for your new status, you would want to carry your Form I-797 notice of approval during your re-entry to the US.
5. Obtain a valid Travel Signature if you're in an F or J status
If you are in the F or J status, you should contact your designated school official (DSO) and obtain a travel signature prior to your departure from the US.
Remember that depending on your enrollment status, your travel signature may be valid for 1 year (for full-time students) or 6 months (for students on post-completion OPT).
6. Be polite when interacting with airline representatives and customs officers
Last but not the least is to be polite and courteous when dealing with an airline official or US customs officer who may not be familiar with the automatic visa revalidation rule.
If you happen to come across an airline official or a US customs officer, who’s not familiar with this rule, you should politely ask to speak with a supervisor or someone more experienced who may be familiar with the rule.
I must also recommend that when you make your travel itinerary to return to the US using the automatic visa revalidation rule, you should leave more time on your schedule for clearing customs and immigration.
This way you could exercise patience when dealing with airline representatives and customs officers and not panic about missing your flight.
DISCLAIMER: This article and any content on this website is designed for general information only and is NOT legal advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy or validity of any legal information in this article. If you need personalized legal advice, you should seek the counseling of a licensed attorney.