A UMMC H-1B employee who plans to leave the Unites States and reenter later must have in his/her possession: (a) a valid Form I-797 approval notice, (b) a valid passport, and (c) a valid H-1B visa stamp in their passport.
Although a UMMC employee who has changed to an H-1B classification while in the U.S. is considered to be in H-1B status, the visa stamp in his/her passport is based upon the employee’s prior status. If the employee leaves the U.S. for travel, in order to be readmitted in H-1B status, he/she must apply for an H-1B visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or embassy. Ideally, the employee will obtain the H-1B visa at an embassy/consulate in the home country where the initial visa was issued; however, it is possible to obtain the visa at a U.S. embassy/consulate other than the home country. The employee should be aware that there are risks associated with applying for a visa somewhere other than the home country.
H-1B employees who travel outside of the United States and have an expired H-1B visa stamp in their passport must obtain a new H-1B visa stamp at a U.S. consulate/embassy before they will be allowed to re-enter the United States in H-1B status. However, USCIS does allow an exception to this regulation for individuals who travel to Canada, Mexico or islands that are adjacent to the United States (Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas, etc.) for a period of 30 days or less. Individuals who have an expired visa stamp and travel to these specific countries or locations are allowed to re-enter the United States without having to obtain a new visa stamp. This is referred to as “automatic visa revalidation” and is restricted to visits to these specific locations.
It is imperative that UMMC employees and sponsors understand how travel outside of the U.S. affects a pending change of status to H-1B or a pending extension of H-1B authorization. H-1B employees should always consult with the OIS before traveling.
- Travel while an H-1B change of status is pending
If the OIS has filed an H-1B petition and change of status request with USCIS on behalf of a UMMC employee, and the employee departs the U.S. while a decision is still pending, USCIS considers this as “abandonment” of the change of status portion of the petition. This means that although the H-1B petition will likely be approved, USCIS will deny the change of status to H-1B. Under these circumstances, if the employee is still outside the U.S., the H-1B approval notice must be mailed to the employee so that he/she can apply for an H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate and then reenter the U.S. in H-1B status. If the employee reenters the U.S. in his/her current nonimmigrant status, and the petition is subsequently approved, the OIS will have to resubmit the H-1B petition and change of status request because the employee will have been readmitted in his/her prior status.
- Travel while an H-1B extension request is pending: If a UMMC employee departs the United States after the OIS has filed an H-1B extension request on his/her behalf, and before USCIS has made a decision regarding the request, USCIS does not consider this to be abandonment and will proceed with approval of the extension request. If the employee’s current H-1B authorization is still valid, he/she won’t require the new approval notice and can re-enter the United States without a problem. However, if the current authorization will be expired by the time the employee decides to return to the United States, the new approval notice will have to be mailed to the employee so that he/she can obtain a new H-1B visa stamp at a U.S. consulate for re-entry.