This situation usually occurs when a visa holder’s passport expires prior to the end-date on the I-797 Approval Notice. If you are entering the U.S. as a nonimmigrant and your approval notice is valid until December 31, 2015, for example, but your passport expires on September 1, CBP will issue you an I-94 valid until September 1. Even though your petition was approved until the end of December, and your approval notice is valid until December, because your passport expires earlier, CBP will usually limit the I-94 to the passport expiration date. This is important, because the most recent I-94, not your approval notice, controls your status and length of authorized stay in the U.S. In the above scenario, if you stay in the U.S. beyond September 1 without filing an extension of status application, you will be considered out of status, despite the December 31 end-date on your approval notice.
If you find yourself in this situation and the I-94 expiration date has not passed, you can obtain a new I-94 that is valid until the petition end date by renewing your passport, exiting the U.S., and re-entering the U.S. Present the renewed passport, your previous visa stamp, and I-797 Approval Notice, and explain the situation to the CBP officer at the port of entry, who should issue you a new I-94 valid until the approval notice end-date (December 31, 2015, based on the example above). While you can accomplish this by traveling to your home country and then returning to the United States, you may find it easier to travel to Mexico or Canada instead.
If you decide to extend your I-94 by traveling to Canada or Mexico, here are some tips to ensure your experience goes as smoothly as possible:
- Walk or fly across the border and back, rather than drive. Many visa holders have had success at border crossings such as San Diego, San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, and Brownsville (from Mexico), as well as Niagara Falls and Detroit (from Canada). While you may not have the opportunity to request a new I-94 if you drive across the border and back, crossing the border on foot or by flying will save you time at the border and will ensure that you have the ability to speak to a CBP officer who is able to issue you a new I-94. You will just need your valid passport with a US visa in order to enter Mexico or Canada. For example, at the San Diego/Tijuana border, simply cross into Mexico using the Pedestrian Bridge, make a U-turn, take the other side of the bridge back into the United States, and follow the “I-94 / Permits” line.
- Ensure you bring the following with you:
(1) Your old and new passports;
(2) Your I-797;
(3) A letter from your employer verifying your employment, as well as your recent pay stubs (in case the CBP officer requests additional verification); and
(4) Cash to pay the I-94 issuance fee (at the San Diego border crossing, this fee is $6, but it may vary elsewhere – the San Diego border crossing also accepts US credit cards).
- Many border crossings are open 24/7, but check www.cbp.gov/contact/ports to verify the operating hours of the port of entry you wish to use. Be prepared to wait a few hours, depending on the time of day you choose to cross.
If you realize that your I-94 has already expired, and you did not file an extension of status application because you believed your status was valid until the date on your approval notice, contact your employer and/or immigration counsel as soon as possible. Because you could be considered out of status, you will need to take steps immediately to remedy the situation. This is also why it is important that you check your I-94 details each time you enter the U.S. to ensure that the information is consistent with your application and passport. I-94 records are now automated and can be obtained by visiting http://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94.
Reddy & Neumann, P.C. is an immigration law firm in Houston, Texas. For over 15 years, our firm has successfully represented corporate clients across the United States in their efforts to bring foreign workers and business professionals to the United States. Our experienced team of immigration lawyers in Houston & Dallas advises clients throughout the H-1B visa application process, including responding to various requests for evidence and consular processing issues. From filing, through approval, and on to appeal, we do everything possible to ensure that your company can bring the best and brightest in the world to the United States.