’Tis the season for celebrating the holidays! Globally, offices and plants are closing their doors for a couple of days to a few weeks. While most people are finalizing their last-minute shopping and preparing for a (hopefully) fun and relaxing holiday season at home, there are just as many people traveling for the holidays. Foreign workers in the U.S. who are making international travel plans to visit friends and family abroad face the customary stress of traveling during one of the busiest times of the year along with the additional worry about reentering the U.S. in a timely fashion and without a decidedly not jolly hassle at the airport.

Here are a few helpful tips for those traveling foreign workers to avoid a potential folly this holiday season:

  • Schedule your visa appointments early! The U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad issue visas to foreign nationals. During the holiday season, they are inundated with appointments being booked since many foreign workers take this as an opportunity to apply for a visa while they are off from work. The influx of appointment requests combined with the U.S. Embassies and Consulates “holiday hours” and staff taking time off for the holidays makes it busier than usual. Tip: If you must apply or renew your visa during the holiday season, plan ahead! The appointment calendars open up normally 2 months in advance. Schedule the appointment at least a month in advance of your trip to secure your preferred date. Also, try to schedule your appointment at the very beginning of your trip rather than at the end of it. This will hopefully give you enough time to get your passport with the new visa affixed to one of the pages returned to you within the 2 to 7 business days. (Yes, the U.S. Embassies and Consulates will take your passport from you to issue the visa). In addition, if you get the dreaded “administrative processing” delay, it will hopefully be resolved before your scheduled return flight to the U.S.
  • TN NAFTA Visa Holders: Carry a copy of your signed TN Company Letter of Support. Canadian citizens are often issued an I-94 record with a period of authorized stay/work authorization for a full 3 years by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the U.S. Port-of-Entry (POE). However, Mexican citizens must apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Even though an employer may request the maximum work authorization period of 3 years, the maximum validity period for TN visa issuance is 12 months. Occasionally, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will annotate the TN visa that work authorization has been approved for 3 years and other times they do not. As a result, Mexican citizens should carry a copy of their signed TN Company Letter of Support, so that it may facilitate a correct period of admission granted upon entry into the U.S.
  • Blanket L Visa Holders: Please carry a copy of your endorsed I-129S form while traveling to help ensure that you will be granted the correct period of admission on your reentry into the U.S.
  • E Visa Holders: Generally CBP issues E visa holders an initial period of admission for 2 years, even if the visa validity period is 5 years. E visa holders are granted subsequent periods of admission for 2 years upon each entry/reentry into the U.S. If you are a Canadian citizen with a paper I-94 record stapled into your passport that is due to expire, you may turn in your I-94 record to the CBP officer. Upon reentry, you will be issued a new I-94 record with a period of admission for an additional 2 years from your date of entry/re-entry.
  • Automatic Visa Revalidation Rule: If you will be traveling to Mexico or Canada for less than 30 days and your visa is expired, you may take advantage of the automatic revalidation of an expired visa rule. The validity of an expired nonimmigrant visa may be considered automatically extended to the date of application for readmission at ports of entry with a valid I-94 record. However, you cannot apply for a visa during this trip or travel to yet another country. It is truly limited to travel to Mexico or Canada. It is also important to note that a lot of airline carriers and CBP officers may be unfamiliar with this rule. It would be helpful to print and bring a copy of the official CBP Fact Sheet on Automatic Revalidation of Visa to present to the airlines or CBP officers if questioned. If faced with resistance, politely ask for a supervisor for further assistance.
  • Dependents: Carry a copy of the principal applicant worker’s company sponsorship petition approval notice (if applicable). This will help ensure the correct period of admission granted upon entry into the U.S.
  • Valid Passport: It is important for foreign workers to know that even though a petition may be approved for a period of 3 years if your passport expiration date is sooner than the petition expiration date, your admission will be short-changed to match the passport expiration date. Please set a reminder to renew your passport at least 6 months before it expires!

Finally, we all know that international travel can be stressful. DO give yourself plenty of time to arrive at the airport before a scheduled departure. This is especially true for Canadian workers who may be processing an application for the first time. DO check the admission stamp placed in your passport and paper I-94 record (if issued one at a land crossing) to ensure it is correct before you walk away from the customs booth. If you notice an error in the classification of admission or expiration date, point it out to the officer before you walk away. DO be patient and polite to the immigration officials! They have a difficult job to do. DO NOT panic or become argumentative with an immigration official. Trust me, it will not help your situation at all and can only make things worse. Most importantly, we wish you all a safe and happy holiday season!