If your U.S. non-immigrant visa is about to expire, then you may be able to leave the United States and re-enter to automatically revalidate your visa. Automatic visa revalidation is available to certain visa holders in certain situations.
Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about how automatic visa revalidation works, whether or not you are eligible for automatic visa revalidation, and how long your visa revalidation will last.
How Does Automatic Visa Revalidation Work?
Automatic visa revalidation allows you to travel outside of the United States to certain countries in order to revalidate your visa. People with non-immigrant visas that have expired or are about to expire may be able to revalidate their visa by visiting certain countries before returning to a United States port of entry. The automatic visa revalidation rule is also known as the contiguous territory rule.
The automatic visa revalidation process was developed by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to make the revalidation of non-immigrant visas a smoother and easier process. Thanks to this system, certain visa holders can revalidate their visa simply by arriving at a U.S. port of entry after leaving the country for a specific length of time. You may not need to go through the entire visa application process again, nor will you have to sit down for an embassy interview.
Generally, here’s how the automatic visa revalidation process works:
If you travel to Canada, Mexico, or “U.S. adjacent islands” for fewer than 30 days, then your visa may be automatically revalidated when you re-enter the United States.
In other words, if you leave the United States for a neighboring country or island, then your visa may be revalidated upon re-entry to the United States. “U.S. adjacent islands” include many island nations in the Caribbean, including British, French, and Dutch territories. Cuba is exempt from this list.
In addition to Canada and Mexico, this rule applies to all of the following U.S. adjacent islands and territories:
- Hispaniola (Haiti and The Dominican Republic)
- Pierre and Miquelon
- Trinidad and Tobago
- The Leeward Islands (Anguilla, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Nevis, St. Kitts, and The British Virgin Islands)
- The Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent)
- Other British, French or Dutch territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea
If you leave the United States to visit any of these countries, then you may be permitted to re-validate your visa upon re-entry to the United States.
Another major requirement with the automatic visa revalidation process is that you need a valid Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Once you leave the country and return, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent will process your case and determine if you are eligible for automatic visa revalidation.
If your visa is revalidated, then you can remain in the United States for the duration of your extension. The visa is revalidated for the same period of time for which it was originally valid. If you originally had a two-year visa, for example, then your revalidated visa will be valid for the same two year period.
Another major restriction is that you can only receive automatic visa revalidation for your original visa. You cannot request to have a new visa through this process, nor can you change your status. You must receive the same visa that you originally received, and all of the same rules of that visa continue to apply.
Automatic Visa Revalidation Requirements
Not all non-immigrant visitors to the United States are eligible for automatic visa revalidation. Some travelers will be able to revalidate their visa upon re-entry to the United States, while other travelers will need to re-apply and receive a new visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Even if you are in possession of a valid admission stamp on paper Form I-94, you may need to re-apply at a U.S. embassy or consulate prior to arrival at a U.S. port of entry. Not all non-immigrants will have their visa automatically revalidated.
Requirements for automatic visa revalidation include:
- You must have an expired non-immigrant visa for the United States
- You must have traveled to Canada, Mexico, or a U.S. adjacent island
- Your travel period must have been fewer than 30 days
- You must have a valid admission stamp on your Form I-94
- You must be arriving at a sea or air port of entry; it is generally not recommended to seek automatic visa revalidation at land border crossings
- You must have authorization for your current non-immigrant status, including Form I-129 (for non-immigrant workers) or Form I-20 (for F-1 visa students)
- You must not have a pending or rejected new visa application
- You must not be a resident or citizen of a country labeled as a state sponsor of terrorism, including Iran, Syria, and Sudan
Who is Ineligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation?
If any of the following conditions apply to you, then you are ineligible for automatic visa revalidation. Automatic visa revalidation is only available to certain types of non-immigrants:
- You have applied for a new visa that has not yet been issued
- You applied for a new visa but were denied
- You have been outside of the United States for more than 30 days
- You visited a country other than Canada, Mexico, or a U.S. adjacent island (check the list above)
- You are in possession of an F student visa or J exchange visitor visa and traveled to Cuba
- You are a national of a country labeled as a state sponsor of terrorism, including Iran, Syria, and Sudan
- You are in possession of an M student visa and traveled to a location outside the United States, other than Canada and Mexico
If any of the above apply to you, then you are likely ineligible for automatic visa revalidation. If your visa has expired, then you will need to re-apply for your visa through your local U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
How to Apply for Automatic Visa Revalidation
Automatic visa revalidation has no specific application process. You do not need to send any specific forms to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is what you normally have to do when changing your status. Instead, all you need to do is leave the United States and re-enter.
If you are already in the United States, check to make sure your visa has expired or is close to expiring. If your visa is about to expire or is in the grace period after the expiry date, then you can apply for visa revalidation.
Step 1) Leave the United States for Canada, Mexico, or a U.S. adjacent island
Step 2) Spend fewer than 30 days outside of the United States before returning
Step 3) Return to the United States and arrive at any U.S. port of entry with the following documents:
- A valid passport with a U.S. non-immigrant visa; the visa can still be valid or it can be expired (if you have a new passport without a visa, then you must bring your old passport which contains the original U.S. visa)
- A valid Form I-94 that has not yet expired
- If you extended or changed your status after arriving in the United States, then you must bring Form I-797, Notice of Action, from USCIS
- If you are on an M-1 or F-1 visa, then you must have your form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for non-Immigrants, which is issued by the school you are attending
- If you are on a J-1 visa, then you must bring your DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status issued by the sponsors of your program (i.e. your organization)
- If you have dependents who also wish to automatically revalidate their passports, then they must bring all of the relevant documents above as well
Step 4) Wait for the CBP officer to review your application; the CBP officer will ensure you are eligible for automatic visa revalidation before making the final decision to approve or deny your re-entry to the United States
The officer at the U.S. port of entry has the final say as to whether or not your visa will be revalidated. If the officer revalidates your visa, then the visa will be re-issued for the same duration as your original visa. If your original visa was scheduled to expire after two years, then your new revalidated visa will have the same expiry date.
In many situations, the CBP officer will deny your request for automatic visa revalidation. The officer may deny your request if you have a criminal record, for example. Even if you have all of the documents above, it does not guarantee that you will receive automatic visa revalidation.
Other Things to Know About the Automatic Visa Revalidation Process
The automatic visa revalidation process is the easiest and most convenient way for many non-immigrant visitors to revalidate their U.S. visa. Here are other things to know about the automatic visa revalidation process:
- If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime after originally being approved for a visa, then your request for automatic visa revalidation may be denied
- If you are in the United States from a Visa Waiver Program country, then you do not need to go through the automatic visa revalidation process; this process is exclusively for non-immigrant visa holders in the United States
- If your request for automatic visa revalidation is denied, then you will not be allowed to re-enter the United States; you can remain in your current country (Canada, Mexico, or a U.S. adjacent island before returning to your home country)
- Prior to beginning the U.S. visa automatic revalidation process, make sure you have any necessary visas for Canada, Mexico, or U.S. adjacent islands; nationals of some countries require visas to visit these countries
- Your Form I-94 will likely be electronic, which means CBP officers will have a copy when pulling your record; however, it’s recommended that you bring a print copy of the electronic Form I-94 to your U.S. port of entry
- You can only apply for automatic visa revalidation at a sea or air port of entry; it is not recommended to seek automatic visa revalidation at a land border crossing
By following the guide above, you can complete the U.S. non-immigrant visa revalidation process and ensure your visa gets revalidated upon re-entry to the United States.