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.
Three of our users ( anonymous for privacy reasons), Adi, and Manish were able to get I-94 Extension done in US – Mexico Border (CBP Otay Mesa, San Diego) without crossing the border. The users were kind enough to take time to share the detail experience with our readers. Thanks a lot to the users 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
Experience 1 – Otay Mesa – Not crossing Border
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
- Extend I-94 SENTRI Enrollment Center – Closed due to COVID-19.
- Visit the CBP Office at nearest Airport – Called SFO CBP office and they said to file H1B Extension.
- Cross the US border by land/sea and return back.
- 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.
Experience 2 – Otay Mesa – Not crossing Border – August, 2020
Extend I-94 at Otay Mesa without Crossing US Border Experience
I was able to use above information in first experience to drive to Otay Mesa CBP office and get I-94 extended WITHOUT crossing the border. Some tips: if you follow them, you till get your I-94 extended without crossing the border.
Important Tips from my I-94 Extension
- Get there early and do NOT miss the exit.
- Park at Plaza Parking (2489 Roll Dr, San Diego, CA 92154)
- Walk by foot to CBP office via First bank signal (T junction of Roll Dr, and Via De La Amistag)
- You will pass by CBP parking on your right, keep walking
- When you are close to CBP building, you will see “Bridge to Mexico” on your right. DO NOT take it
- When you approach building , you will see SENTRI office doors, which is currently closed, keep walking inside.
- You will see a entrance to oval shaped office with people walking opposite to you and guards on your left (DO NOT Talk to them)
- Walk to the midle-right side of the building where you will see “counter for $6 I-94 fee at land border”.
- Pay the i-94 fees online to avoid unnecessary touching and questions
- Show I-94 payment confirmation to Guard at the Payment counter and tell him that you want to wait at PERMITs line (to the right of the payments counter) to extend your I-94 because you already pay the fee.
- Wait patiently in the line, it seems like they prioritize people crossing the border from Mexico side much more and process permits for few minutes every hour or so.
Experience 3 – by Manish at Otay Mesa CBP center. Not crossing border
I-94 Extension after Passport Renewal at Otay Mesa
I checked all the information collected by Vinod at I-94 extension at US Canda Border and based on information I was able to follow the same and get my i94 extended at Otay Mesa, San Diego Mexico border. Most of the steps are same as above too. I’m adding few more points that are specific to Oaty Mesa CBP office.
- Calling CBP Office : You may have to call multiple times to confirm, as not all agents know about i94 extension. My first call reached their cargo center and the person did not know much. Second call was same.vOn my third call, officer confirmed that they will do i94 extension. Please tell very clearly about passport expiration/new passport, valid visa etc.
- Address to CBP office for Driving : If you are driving to CBP office Otay Mesa and using Google maps, please do not put CBP office address. Google maps shows you route that cross Mexico border and back to reach CBP office in US. Rather put Sentri Otay Mesa in Google maps. This office is in the same building and google maps takes you to the office without crossing Mexico border.
- After Entering CBP Building : Once you enter the CBP building, on your right there is a small room that has “Permit” written at its door. That is the room for i94 extension. Officer checked my details, i94 extension form (suggest you fill and pay i94 form online and take printout), passports, i797, photo id (DL) and updated my i94. He did not even ask me to cross border. Overall it went pretty smooth.
Common FAQs, Tips for I-94 Renewal at Otay Mesa CBP
- CBP or SENTRI Office : You need to go to Otay Mesa CBP Office for the I-94 extension. Otay Mesa SENTRI center is closed due to COVID-19.
- Exact Address : So, Otay Mesa CBP and Sentri office are in same building. If you are using google maps, make sure it doesn’t take it across Mexico border. When I put Otay Mesa CBP address, it was taking me across the border and back to CBP office in US. So, put Sentri Otay Mesa address (2500 Paseo Internacional, San Diego, CA 92154). Be careful while using google maps to not cross the border. (I’m not sure what happens if you do by mistake.)
- Parking : There is private parking lot near CBP office. I think it is called Plaza parking.
- Open Hours : It is open only weekdays from 6am to 8pm. More details https://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/otay-mesa-california-2506 . San Ysidro is available 24×7, all week. https://www.cbp.gov/contact/ports/san-ysidro-class
- Documents Required for I-94 Extension :
- Old Passport with valid visa
- New Passport ( Renewed)
- I-797 Approval notice
- One more photo id (I used my California DL).
- Additionally I took other usual docs like latest pay stubs, petition etc. but nobody asked for it.
- Travel by Flight or Drive : I’m in Bay area, I took Alaska airline from SFO to San Diego and back. No issues. Regarding Drive or flight, it is a personal judgement call. I considered driving to avoid enclosed space in air plane, but then driving would take at least 10 hrs with many breaks in between (more with family) using lot of public shared spaces. That looked more risky. I was also worried if car break down happens in this almost 1000 mile journey it may be difficult to handle due to this lockdown. So, decided to take flight. Surprisingly, SFO and San Diego airport were completely deserted and Alaska airline purposely booked only half of the plan, so only one seat is used on each side. Basically there is 2 seat gap between all passengers . Overall I’m happy with the flight journey.
- Masks, Gloves : Mouth covering is mandated by law during shelter in place at all public places. So pls. have mask/covering all the time.
Good luck. Please feel free to contact me for any query.
Did you get your I-94 Extended without Crossing Border ? Share your experience in comments.