AILA raised issues that nonimmigrants seeking admission to the United States may face as a result of discrepancies in the validity periods of USCIS petitions and visas issued by the Department of State (DOS or State Department). Specifically, the State Department establishes the maximum validity period for nonimmigrant visas based on the validity period that the alien’s country of citizenship gives to a U.S. citizen for a comparable classification (this is referred to as “reciprocity”). Sometimes an alien who is the beneficiary of a USCIS petition with a three-year validity period is from a country that is subject to one-year visa reciprocity rules so the State Department will only issue a visa to that person with a one year validity period due to reciprocity issues. CBP representatives confirmed that officers will admit aliens who are otherwise admissible, who have valid passports for the required time period, and who present the USCIS with the Form I-797 Approval Notice for the entire validity period approved by USCIS, without limiting that period to the earlier expiration date of the visa. If the alien does not present the Form I-797 showing his/her petition validity period, the CBP officer will limit the admission period to the petition expiration date (PED) as printed on the nonimmigrant visa. If there is no PED on the visa, the admission period will be limited to the visa expiration date (or could be limited to the passport expiration date, if the person’s passport will expire before his/her visa).

In addition, AILA and CBP representatives discussed the final rule published by DOS in February 2012 that allows issuance of L visas with a validity period of up to five years. USCIS, however, may only approve an initial L-1 petition for a maximum of three years (the same is true for U.S. consulates that can approve the I-129S petition for a three-year period when a person is applying under a blanket L petition approval directly at a U.S. consulate). Therefore, nonimmigrant aliens may apply for admission by presenting an L-1 visa that is valid for five years, but be admissible for only three years (or until the petition expiration date). CBP representatives stated at the meeting that officers have not received special training on this issue specifically but that primary inspectors generally understand the L category very well, and that representatives have not seen significant problems with L admissions within the jurisdiction of these CBP offices (which covers Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia). CBP officials also discussed related issues that arise for aliens applying for admission during the validity period of an L blanket visa. CBP disagreed that an individual in L status would be admitted in uniform three-year increments on each request for admission during the validity of a five-year blanket L visa. Rather, the correct period of admission is for up to three years, and the primary inspection officer will examine other information (e.g., the endorsed I-129S, entry stamps in the passport, etc.) to determine how long the individual has been in L-1 status before deciding how much time to grant for this particular admission in L-1 status. If a determination cannot be made quickly, the individual may be referred to secondary inspection.

Elizabeth Edgar