Extend I-94 without leaving USA - Experience

How to Extend I-94 without leaving US due to COVID-19 – Experience

In US Immigration - Visas by KumarUpdated : 1 Comment

If you have a passport that is expiring soon, you will get a shorter  I-94 ( arrival departure record) duration at US Port of Entry than your actual approval notice. Due to COVID-19 situation, most of us cannot leave US and now with the Trump US entry Travel Ban for H1B, H4, others, it is more risky and difficult to leave the country. One of our users ( anonymous for privacy reasons) was able to get  I-94 Extension done in US – Mexico Border (CBP Otay Mesa, San Diego) without crossing the border. The user was kind enough to take time to share the detail experience with our readers. Thanks a lot to the user for taking time to write up. We really appreciate it. You can email your experience as well to [email protected] or add it as comment and we will update this article.

As a background, if you are looking for all options to extend i-94, you may read article  How to Extend I-94 in US, Options – CBP vs PoE

My Situation for I-94 Extension  

My I-94 was expiring in August, 2020 (tied to my old passport expiry date). I hold an H1B Visa till May 2021.

The options I had were as follows

  1. Extend I-94 SENTRI Enrollment Center – Closed due to COVID-19.
  2. Visit the CBP Office at nearest Airport – Called SFO CBP office and they said to file H1B Extension.
  3. Cross the US border by land/sea and return back.
  4. File H1B Extension (Extension of Status).

Plan to go Otay Mesa for I-94 Extension – How I made the decision?

 I did not want to file an H1B Extension and have new I-797 which would put me at ban for travel with the new Executive Order in place or to actually go through the hoops of H1B extension and RFE’s and all. Also, I did not want to fly to some country and spend a day or two there in this time of COVID-19.

So, I decided to go to the nearest land border which was, US – Mexico Border (CBP Otay Mesa, San Diego).

When did I extend I-94 ? Before or after Trump EO on Entry ban ?

I went to the CBP office after the Trump signed the Executive order banning entry of H1B, H4, L1 and other visa to US holders took place.  I did not face any specific questions on the travel ban or any issues at the I-94 extension.  

How to reached Otay Mesa, San Diego for I-94 Extension ?

Below are the various steps followed to get the CBP center and what I observed while I went to the CBP office for easy reference.

Booking Flights, Flight Experience  

 I was travelling from the San Francisco Bay area. I booked my flights a day before. I clubbed my itinerary on Alaska Airlines & Southwest Airlines. Both airlines did a good job of keeping people 6 feet or more apart at the airports, boarding & inside the flights. Masks are mandatory and if you do not have a mask, the airline might offer you one. The crowd at the airports was far too less than any regular day which makes it easy for you to be distant from people and sit by yourself keeping everyone safe.

How to get to CBP Center, Otay Mesa – Uber/Lyft, Address, Cost

 Took Uber/Lyft from San Diego airport to the CBP Otay Mesa. It did cost around $30 – $33 for the ride at noon time. I put the First bank address below as my ride destination.

Address of the First Bank for CBP Office  : 2494 Roll Dr, San Diego, CA 92154

Right at the corner of the bank, there is a Stop sign and there is some construction going on diagonal to the Stop sign. I got down there and started walking straight to the CBP/SENTRI office which are in the same building.

Walking to CBP Building, Otay Mesa – Do NOT get on the Bridge

On my walk to the CBP office I passed by a parking lot on my right, I believe it was the CBP Office parking. Next I saw a bridge on my right which had few stairs, this is the actual bridge pedestrians take to cross the border. Do not get on to the bridge unless you want to or are asked to cross the border. Kept walking straight and saw an office building with two black metal benches outside. This might be the SENTRI Office because it was closed when I went there. Behind this building was the CBP building. There were two ways to get to the CBP building, a small passage in between the SENTRI building or there is a path to the left of the SENTRI building.

Walked through the passage and saw the CBP building, it has glass doors and as I entered I saw a couple of guards loosely hanging out. I also saw people walking out of that building, these are the people who crossed the border and went through the immigration. So, as I walked in, people were walking out of the same glass doors.

I-94 Extension Process at the CBP Office in Otay Mesa

As I entered the building saw a circular/oval shaped small office, this was the cashier’s office. To the right of the cashier’s office as I went a little further I saw the Permit room with two doors, one for entry (left) and one for exit(right). I waited outside for someone, because it was their lunch time as I could see people grabbing pizzas in a small office behind in the Permit room. Soon one of the officers came and asked me what I wanted. I said I am here for my I-94 renewal, he asked me to sit on the steel metal bench inside the office. Soon there were some sirens that sounded like the hospital ones and one other officer came there and asked me what I wanted, I said the same again, that I am there for the I-94 extension. He said to go back out and wait outside. I told him that I was instructed by another officer to wait here, to which he replied that “I prefer you wait outside”.

CBP Officer Interview, Process  for I-94 Extension

I went out again and waited. Soon the same second officer called me in and asked to see my documents, he just took my old passport which had my current unexpired H1B visa on it. Asked me where my permit is, I did not understand, so he clarified that he wanted to see the payment receipt. I said I have to pay yet and he sent me out to pay at the cashier’s desk I mentioned earlier. I paid and came back and gave him the receipt. He again took my old passport and started verifying the dates.

I-94 Extended based on Old Passport that has Visa – Checked online

Next thing I know he was stamping my old passport and gave me an extension on my I-94. I did clarify with him that why not the stamp of extension on my new passport to which he replied that I-94 will be extended and stamped on the passport that has a visa in it. I said thank you and left. I came out and checked my I-94 record online; it was already updated on the CBP website.

Please note – At no point I was asked to cross the border, nor was I asked any more documents then my old and new passport. But I did carry whole set of docs like below

Documents Checklist for I-94 Extension

  • Old & New passports
  • I-797 Original
  • Employment Verification letter
  • Pay stubs (4 latest)
  • Residence proof (Utility bills)
  • Rental Lease agreement
  • Tax documents

Tips for I-94 Extension without Crossing Border

The entire process I described is the one without crossing the border. This is my belief that since I did not talk to any officer outside the Permit room and directly went in there, I got lucky and did not have to cross the border.

  • Avoid Talking to guards : Try not to talk to any guards and officers outside because not all officers know the process of I-94 extension and they might ask you to cross the border.
  • Paying Fee beforehand : Also pay the permit fees (I-94 extension fees) in advance online or before entering the Permit room at the cashiers desk, this might save you the awkwardness with the officer.
  • No options for Food, Coffee Shops : During this time of COVID-19 no restaurants or coffee shops are offering places to sit or use the restroom or anything like that. So be prepared and plan in advance.

Timing – How long did it take ?

I guess I was in and out of the office building in 25-30 minutes, with 15 minutes wait time included as it was lunch time. I did a day trip and was able to return back same day.

Did you get your I-94 Extended without Crossing Border ? Share your experience in comments.


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Comments ( 1 )

  1. SB

    Was it on a weekday or a weekend?

    Not sure whether day of the week makes any difference on which officers are on duty and whether one is being asked to cross the border. Would be great if you share on what date you went there?

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