We encourage everyone with travel plans, including US citizens, to check the Department of Homeland Security website for information on travel, including airport security and documentary requirements for US citizens: http://www.dhs.gov/xtrvlsec/. This link show average wait times at TSA security at any airport over the past month: http://waittime.tsa.dhs.gov/index.html.
These are general guidelines for foreign nationals living in the United States who are about to travel abroad for the holidays. Some of these tips may be relevant to the person's situation help them return to the country. However, each person's immigration situation is different. Therefore, this information should not serve as a substitute for the advice of an immigration attorney who has reviewed the individual case.
PERMANENT RESIDENTS - Passport Requirements
All permanent residents should have a passport valid for at least 60 days beyond the expiration
date of their permanent resident card (green card). The US State Department has reciprocal
arrangements with certain countries that deem these passports valid for 6 months past the actual
expiration date. Those countries are listed here: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/104770.pdf.
PERMANENT RESIDENTS - Entry Documents
Permanent residents must bring evidence of their permanent residence to show on their return from international travel. This will usually be the actual green card. If the card has not yet arrived, or been lost, stolen, etc, the foreign national should get an I-551 stamp in her passport before she leaves the US. This stamp is proof that the person is a permanent resident, and is as effective as a green card for work and travel. The I-551 stamp is issued by the local CIS district office. Please contact your immigration attorney for specific instructions on how to get this stamp, if needed.
NONIMMIGRANTS - (Temporary Visa Holders, e.g. H-1B, F-1, L-1 and dependents) - Passports
Nonimmigrant foreign nationals should have a passport that will be valid for at least 6 months past the date that they intend to stay in the US. For example, a H-1B holder with a visa that expires on 9/15/10 should have a passport that expires after 3/15/11. Please see the information above for automatic extensions of passport validity for citizens of certain countries.
NONIMMIGRANTS - Entry Documents
All foreign nationals need proof of their admissibility to the US when returning for international travel. For most people, this means having a valid visa stamp in their passport. Exceptions to this rule apply to (a) Canadians, who don't need a visa stamp but DO need to carry proof of lawful status; (b) people traveling to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days (see below); and (c) people in the Adjustment of Status process who have a valid Advance Parole document. If a foreign national does not fall within one of these exceptions, he needs to have a valid visa. Foreign nationals who get a limited number of entries on each visa (e.g. Chinese nationals) need to be sure that they have an unused entry remaining on their existing visa.
NONIMMIGRANTS - Visa Application
Foreign nationals (including dependents) who need a visa should make a visa appointment well before they travel. Most consulates get very busy during the holidays and an appointment might not be available at short notice. In addition, foreign nationals need to check the processing times for visas at their local consulate, and be aware of possible delays in visa issuance due to security clearances. Visa waiting times are listed here:
Foreign nationals who need to apply for a visa should check the specific procedures for their consulate, including fees, at the consulate's website: http://www.usembassy.gov/. If a foreign national applies for a visa using a passport that expires before the end date of the status requested, the consulate will probably just issue the visa until the end date of the passport. The foreign national needs to check this very carefully, and especially note the expiration date on the new I-94
NONIMMIGRANTS - 30-day Exception to Visa Rule
Foreign nationals who are traveling to Canada or Mexico for less than 30-days are permitted to return to the US even if their visa has expired, and even if the only visa they have is for a different status. This rule, called "automatic visa revalidation" allows the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration officials to consider a visa to be automatically extended and converted to a different classification if necessary if the foreign national:
(i) has a valid, unexpired, I-797 approval notice with I-94 attached;
(ii) has maintained nonimmigrant status in the US;
(iii) has not applied for a visa at a consulate while outside the US on this trip; and
(iv) has a valid passport.
Foreign nationals should contact their immigration attorney for more specific advice on how this rule might apply to their circumstances.