The holiday season can be a hectic time for international travel. Airports, Consulates and ports of entry are exceptionally busy due to the large number of travelers, visa applicants, increased security measures, and enhanced vetting procedures implemented pursuant to executive orders. We encourage corporate human resource personnel, business travelers, and foreign national employees to take proactive steps and plan ahead to minimize the risk of delays for those seeking to travel abroad and enter the U.S.
Passports: All travelers, including U.S. and Canadian citizens, should confirm the validity of passports for themselves and accompanying family members. Passports should be extended or renewed in advance to ensure at least six months’ validity at the time of entry to the U.S. Many countries allow renewal of passports by mail at their Consulate or Embassy in the U.S. Please visit the U.S. Department of State (“DOS”) website to find the Consulate nearest you.
Visa Waiver Travelers to the U.S.: The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”) is a mandatory, online pre-screening system for Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) travelers. ESTA is only available for travelers who are citizens of recognized VWP countries and who wish to enter the U.S. for B-1 business or B-2 tourism purposes. In order to enter under VWP, travelers must obtain a valid ESTA approval prior to travel. Once approved, the approval may be valid for up to two years. However, if any changes occur after approval (such as obtaining a new passport, name or country of citizenship change, or answers to any of the VWP eligibility questions change, such as an arrest), a new ESTA application must be submitted. If a traveler is not eligible for ESTA, they must apply for the appropriate visa to enter the U.S.
A list of current VWP countries and more information on VWP is available here. As of April 1, 2016, all visitors coming to the U.S. pursuant to the VWP must have a valid electronic passport, or e-Passport, for travel. See https://www.dhs.gov/e-passports and Gibney’s Immigration Alert, “Reminder: ePassports Now Required for All Visa Waiver Travel” for further details.
Plan Ahead for Visa Issuance:
Status and Entry Documentation: Upon entry to the U.S., certain entrants may be required to show additional evidence of work authorization or government approval in addition to a currently valid visa stamp. Depending on the visa classification, such documents may include an original I-797 Approval Notice, an endorsed Form I-129S, an employment authorization document (“EAD”) card, or a Form I-20, among others. Upon entry to the U.S., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) inspecting officer should create an electronic I-94 record and stamp the passport, annotating it with the class and duration of admission. Before leaving the CBP inspection area, foreign nationals should verify that the admission classification and expiration date stamped in the passport are correct, and immediately alert the CBP officer to any errors. After each entry to the U.S., foreign nationals should access and review their electronic I-94 record at the CBP website.
Employment Verification: For foreign national employees who are applying for a temporary work visa, most Consulates require current employment verification letters from employers. Foreign nationals are encouraged to request these letters well in advance of travel to allow adequate time for preparation by human resources or Immigration Counsel. Employees are also encouraged to keep copies of recent paystubs as evidence of current employment.
Advance Parole: Certain applicants for Adjustment of Status to Permanent Resident with a pending I-485 application may require a valid original Advance Parole travel document in hand prior to leaving the U.S. Departing the U.S. without this document may result in the abandonment of the application.