As most of you know, at US Port of Entry, you would get shorter I-94 duration, if your passport was expiring before your H1B or L1 petition expiration. You need to extend your I-94 after your passport is renewed. There are 5 Options to Extend I-94 in US, one of them is to cross border.
One of our readers Arati got her I-94 extended the same way by crossing border at US – Mexico Border at San Ysidro. She was kind enough to take time to share the experience for everyone’s benefit. Thanks a lot to her for taking time to share with community ! Sometimes, you may get luck and do not have to cross border like few users at Otay Mesa. You can read experiences at Extend I-94 without leaving US or crossing border
Background for I-94 Extension
- My husband and I shifted to USA in Jan 2020. When we entered in USA, our passport was valid only for few months.
- Husband (L1 visa valid till 2024, i-707 till 2022, passport valid till Jan 2021) : I-94 was given till Jan 2021
- My case (L2 visa valid till 2024, passport valid till Oct 2020) -: I-94 was given till Oct 2020.
- In September 2020, we got our new passports and hence we decided to check our options to extend I-94.
Options Evaluated by us to Extend I-94
Below are the various options that were evaluated by us for I-94 Extension
Option 1 – Apply Extension with USCIS
Straight forward option was to file extension through USCIS. I called USCIS, checked their website and found that for dependents processing time is 8-10 months and their recommendation was to file extension before 45 days. So, I was bit worried as I was already late as per these timelines. We consulted company attorney and they educated us that in our situation we have to file 3 extensions ..Yes 3.
- Extension 1 (i-539) – for dependent to cover gap from October till January. (Match as per primary holder)
- Extension 2 – for primary holder, L1 extension.
- Extension 3 – for dependent, L2 extension.
This entire process can take 5-8 months and we will not be able to leave country once process starts. They confirmed, we are fine as long as extension is filed before last day of existing I-94 and extension 3 can be filed while extension 1 is still in progress.
Now we had to give employer go ahead for filing extensions but I was bit concerned about time it is going to take and it also meant I will not be able to work till this entire process is complete. So I decided to check other options, RedBus2US I-94 Telegram group helped me to understand options.
Option 2 – Call CBP and Ask them to Extend I-94
I tried calling multiple CBP offices ( San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego) they are mentioned, it is not a mistake and hence my options are re-entry to USA or file it through USCIS.
Option 3 – Call CBP Deferred inspection Offices
I tried calling San Diego office, for many days no one picked up, one day I was lucky, officer picked up I explained him my situation and he said I need to re-enter USA. I asked him about Mexico border crossing and what are risks, he said as long as we have all valid documents (valid visa, old and new passports, USA address proof, payslips) it should be fine.
Option 4 – Exit and re-enter USA by crossing border by land
I read many user experiences and that gave me bit of confidence that others do it and looks to be okay. It was mentioned that there were few unfortunate incidents where people were stuck in Mexico so we were bit skeptical.
Visiting San Francisco Deferred Inspection Site
We decided that we will take our chance and will visit San Francisco deferred inspection site office, may be they will consider. But office was closed due to Covid and only option was to email or call.
Flying to San Ysidro, San Diego for I-94 Extension
It was 7:20 am, we decided to go to San Diego, we booked 9:30 am flight and reached to San Diego at 11.30 am. We took cab to 499 Virginia Ave, San Diego CA 92173. We followed guidance from this experience article
Crossing San Ysidro Border from US Side
I don’t know why but there was not a single person near this facility, we saw one security guard and asked him where should we go, he said this building is closed today and we need to go and cross border and come from Mexico side, he directed us towards the pedestrian bridge, we decided to walk till border line and check if we can show documents to any officer before deciding if we should cross border or not.
We walked on the bridge and reached to main building, we asked security guard if we can talk to CBP officer regarding I-94 extension before crossing border. He was very helpful, he asked us to wait and called one officer, we explained him our situation and he said they cannot help without we cross the border, many people do this so we shouldn’t worry. After thinking a bit, we decided to cross border.
Entering Mexico side & Return to US
We followed signs to Mexico and reached to Mexico gate. No one even checked our passports, we kept our bags on x-ray machines and came out of immigration. No stamp nothing. We did not pay anyone like $30 as few others said at Otay Mesa.
There wasn’t anyone who could speak English so we just came out and followed other people to reach to USA side gate. To our surprise there was huge line and mostly people looked to be local Mexican people. We were bit worried if we were in correct line, we tried checking with people but no one could understand English. We decided to just follow the line, after every 25-30 minutes line was moving, almost after 2 hours we reached to US Border gate.
Missed CBP Office gate, Secondary Inspection, Waiting
Once you go inside, immediately at right hand side there is CBP office but we missed that and just followed where everyone was going. We reached to port of entry, officer checked our passport and took us to secondary inspection, she didn’t asked anything just asked us to follow her. By now I was quiet tensed but had decided to stay calm. All officers were busy as in those 30-40 minutes many incidences happen (2 people were hand cuffed, 3-4 people were inspected by service dog).
After sometime, one officer took our passports and started looking at details, she asked her colleague something, then they called one more colleague they all looked puzzled, finally she called our name. She said I don’t understand why officer sent you for inspection, your visa looks valid she told us that we are good to go. She returned our passports, no stamp nothing so I asked her will they not extend our I-94?
This is when she realized the purpose of our visit, she mentioned that we came to wrong gate and we should have gone to West gate. She thought for a minute, discussed with colleague and said you follow him, we will check what we can do for you. That person took our passports and took us to CBP office, he told something to officer and left. Office was fully packed so it was clear that it is going to take us more time. We cancelled our return tickets and decided to book later.
After almost 1 hour, 1 officer called us, he started taking finger prints and realized that his computer is not working. He tried 4-5 different machines but no luck. I was waiting there patiently.. after 30 minutes other officer came, this officer told him about computer problem and asked him to take care of our case. By now I was relieved that at least they are going to extend our i-94 but only for few minutes. This new officer looked at our passports and said they cannot do it here.
Paying Fee, Documents Checked for I-94 Extension.
I explained him entire story he said, he will have to check with seniors and he went. After few minutes he came back and asked for I-129 petition, I told him we have valid visa and have I-797 approval till 2022 so can’t they extend I-94 on that basis? He thought for a moment and asked for our USA address, my I-797, I told I have EAD and showed him all requested documents.
He took printouts of all documents and asked us to pay $12 for extension fee. We paid it, then he took our biometric, attached paper I-94 to our old passport and said it will reflect online as well.
We checked our I-94 online and it was extended till Sept 2023. I don’t know why Sept 2023 but I just guess they extended it for 3 years. By now, it was 5:30 PM, we luckily got return tickets for 7:30 PM flight.
Conclusion – Expect Surprises, Tips
- End result was success, we got our I-94 extended but it turned out that even though I thought I have read enough, I know exact location of West pedestrian office, office was closed, we ended up going to East pedestrian gate and only because we were lucky they considered our case.
- If you are planning to take this approach ensure that you are fully prepared for surprises, every person’s experience can vary. It can be just 30 minutes and smooth process like few lucky people have experienced or could be the case like us where it took us total 5 hours and experience which we will remember for a lifetime.
- Carry food and water bottle. During COVID-19 period, ensure to carry mask and sanitizer. Carry all documents
What was your experience extending I-94 at San Ysidro ? Any thoughts to share ? Add your thoughts in comments below.