December is one of the busiest travel times of the year, when many foreign nationals and their families take the opportunity to return home for the holidays. U.S. Consulates and Embassies around the world are particularly busy during this time of year scheduling a high volume of visa appointments. Foreign national employees in the United States who are planning to travel internationally during the holiday season should plan now to ensure that they and their families have the proper documents in hand and that visa appointments are scheduled well in advance at U.S. Consulates abroad.

Below, we list a few key points that foreign national employees should remember prior to traveling internationally:

Check the Validity of Travel Documents

Travelers should first review the expiration date of their passports. If a passport is expiring within six months, the Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officer at the port of entry may only allow a period of stay in the U.S. up to the expiration date of the passport. Foreign nationals should therefore renew their passports, if possible , before returning to the United States.

In addition, with rare exceptions, in order to re-enter the U.S. after travel abroad, foreign nationals must have a visa stamp in their passport that reflects their current status in the U.S. and that is valid at the time they re-enter the country. Before traveling internationally, foreign nationals should check the validity of the visa stamp in their passports. If the visa stamp has expired or will expire before they return to the U.S., they will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate.

Schedule Visa Appointments Early

Foreign nationals and their families applying for a new visa or a renewal of their visa will need to appear for a visa appointment at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. The foreign national must complete an online Form DS-160 which can be found here, pay a visa application fee, and schedule a visa appointment. Many Consulates now allow foreign nationals to pay the application fee and schedule visa appointments online through an official U.S. visa information and appointment service site. Some applicants who have previously obtained a U.S. visa may also be eligible for a renewal process by mail. More information, including links to the various visa services sites, is available at: https://usvisa-info.com.

Detailed information on obtaining a visa, including current appointment wait times, is available on the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Wait times for visa appointments during the holiday season can be lengthy, so individuals are advised to schedule their appointments as early as possible.

Attending a Visa Appointment

Foreign nationals should be prepared to attend their visa appointments with the proper documents. Consulates will require that applicants provide their current and expired passports, DS-160 barcode confirmation page, appointment confirmation notice, a Form I-797 Approval Notice, one passport-size photo, and an employment verification letter or paystubs to demonstrate continued employment. Passports must be valid for at least six months and contain at least one blank page. Dependents applying for a visa should also bring evidence of the relationship, for example marriage and birth certificates.

Foreign nationals should be sure to check the Consulate’s website to confirm whether any additional documents are required.

Procedures for Entry Into the U.S.

When re-entering the U.S., foreign nationals should present their passport bearing their current visa stamp. In many cases, the traveler will also be required to present Form I-797 Approval Notice or an endorsed Form I-129S under an L-1 Blanket to the CBP officer at the port of entry. The officer will stamp the passport with an admission stamp that will show the date of admission, class of admission, and the expiration date of the individual’s admission period.

An electronic Arrival/Departure record (I-94 record) will then be created, which can be retrieved from the CBP website. After any international travel, foreign nationals should review and print out the electronic I-94 for their records and provide a copy to Pryor Cashman.

Foreign nationals should carefully review their admission stamp and their I-94 record to ensure they reflect their correct status and expiration date, as an error, particularly on the I-94 record, can have a serious negative impact on the foreign national’s status in the U.S.

Advance planning can ease holiday travel concerns.