If you enter US on a visa and go through US Port of entry procedures, you will be issued a stamp by CBP officer on your passport and also get I-94 either electronic or physical card. If your passport is expiring sooner than your visa stamp or approval notice, then you will get shorter I-94 duration than the visa or petition expiration date. In such cases, you need to extend I-94 before it expires within US. But, at times, mistakes happen and you may not extend it on time and sometimes with extreme situations like COVID-19, you cannot get it extended. In such cases, flying out of US is the only option.
We have two experiences, one going to Mexico City and other to Cancun. Both of the readers took time to write it for community benefit. Thanks a lot to Rahul S and Anu who has taken time to capture their experience. We really appreciate them taking time to write up for community benefit. You can share any of your experience by emailing us at redbus2us(at)gmail.com
Experience 1 – Going to Mexico City
My wife recently flew into Mexico to get her i-94 updated. That was our only option at the time, and I would like to share our experience with the community.
Background, Reason for I-94 Extension
I am on L1 visa and got it stamped roughly around three years back from Vancouver, with the L1 petition expiry date (PED) of 06/15/2020. The same PED applies to my wife and kids’ L2 as well. While entering into the US last year from Canada, all our i-94 were stamped valid till 06/15, but my wife’s I-94 was stamped only till March based on her passport expiration date. We were able to get the passport renewed on time and got her new passport in February. I always knew that we had to update the passport number on the i-94, but somehow, I missed her i-94 expiration date.
How we missed the I-94 extension on time
Two main reasons contributed to that 1) Prior to her last visit when we entered the US, her i-94 had the expiration date of 06/15, so that played somewhere back on my mind, and 2) Our lawyer were in process of filing H1 change of status petition in February, so I thought it might all be filed on time and we might not need to update i-94 separately. The change of status paperwork took time and by the time we were ready to file the paperwork around the end of March, we realized that her i-94 had already expired. Now she was out of status.
In the hindsight, the best way for us would have been going to Niagra falls (we live in Ohio), cross the border, and come back. She had a valid Canadian visa till her old passport expiration date. It would have been a quick weekend trip.
Experience at CBP after I-94 Expiration – Lucky not to be deported
Our lawyer, first suggested us to go to the closest CBP deferred site and request for i-94 update. She went to the CBP deferred site and explained the situation to the CBP officer. CBP officer stated that she is out of status and could be deported right away. The officer made few calls and after talking to his superiors, gave her the link to i-539. He asked her to talk to the lawyer, and file of i539 as soon as possible. I think she was lucky to be not deported and that could have been because of COVID circumstances.
Next, we got to understand that the Miami CBP is good at handling such requests, so we emailed Miami CBP, and explained our situation. We tried to explain that due to COVID, we could not travel and requested them to consider our case. Here is the email we sent to Miami:
Email Sent to CBP Miami Office for I-94 Extension
I wanted to request your assistance to update my I-94 information. My most recent I-94 record number is xxxx. I currently have an L2 visa that is effective through 06/13/2020.
While preparing for my non-immigration extension paperwork, I realized that my latest I-94 was valid only till xx/xx/xx, based on my old passport expiration date. I renewed my passport, but I was unable to apply timely for I-94 change due to the disruption caused by COVID-19. I was also under the impression that my I-94 validity is till June 2020 as was in my all past I-94s.
I request you to please consider my case as a one-time exception and update my I-94 with my new passport number. I have attached a copy of my new passport, valid L2 visa, the latest I-94, and one of the old I-94 with validity till June 2020. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.
I would be profoundly grateful for your help.
After two weeks of wait, we received the following response back from Miami CBP:
CBP Miami Office Response to Extend I-94
We are in receipt of your email regarding your I-94 information; however, we are unable to assist you with your request because you arrived at the US in a Port that is out of our jurisdiction. As per Memorandum dated 04/13/2015 Number MFO-15-001. Thank you for contacting Miami CBP Admissions Program.
Final options given by CBP Office to Extend I-94
So, we tried to call CBP at our port of entry, and they suggested that the only two options are: file for an extension through i-539, or to leave the country and come back.
Issues with Filing I-539 – Processing Delays, Potential for bar to enter US
We discussed this with our lawyers at length, and they suggested that they can file i-539, but adjudication can take time, as there was no premium processing at that time. Also, they mentioned that if a person is out of status for more than 6 months, then USCIS bars the person for three years. For us that meant, if we don’t receive the decision on i-539 by September, she need to leave the country and stay outside the country till adjudication. And that would have been a huge disruption.
Our best option was to leave the country and come back.
We were in April and COVID continued to raise concerns. Canada and Mexico borders were closed for non-emergency travel. India also stopped all international flights. We decided to wait and watch. Around mid-May, we reassessed the situation. Canada/Mexico border crossing was impossible as she now does not have valid Canada visa, and driving to Mexico from Ohio would have been challenging. The only option available was to fly into Mexico.
Situation with Mexico with COVID – Travel planning
I did some research on how things were progressing in Mexico. I found that Mexico declared phase 3 COVID alert that means no non-essential travel/business was allowed. I called Mexico International Airport but was not able to get reasonable answers. They directed us to check with the airlines. The airlines confirmed that they were operating in/out of Mexico but were unable to give any information on procedures/precautions at Mexico airport or anything regarding Mexico immigration due to COVID.
Flight, Hotel Booking for Mexico Travel
I called the hotel (Courtyard) at the Airport, and they informed us that people are still flying in and staying with them. So, we decided to take our chances.
I looked up for flights to Mexico and as there were no direct flights from Columbus, I had to book one that was connecting through Atlanta. We ideally would have loved to return the same day, but no options were working out for us due to connections. I booked directly with American Airlines. All flights were fully refundable (due to COVID), so that gave us some confidence if in case we had to cancel last minute due to any new discovery.
I then moved on to book the hotel. I was looking for some hotel at the airport itself so Courtyard and Hilton were only two options. I tried booking Courtyard online, but the hotel was not coming up at the Marriot website. I called the Courtyard and got to know that as a response to COVID, the government has restricted all travel portals to book online. They told us that it can be booked over phone, and helped us with the booking.
Flight Experience to Mexico – COVID-19
On the day of travel, my wife took all the precautions like masks, gloves, etc. and made the travel. Flights were surprisingly full, that could be because of memorial day weekend. She told that people were sitting next to each other and there was no physical distancing maintained on the flights. Flights were mostly on time.
Mexico Immigration at Mexico City Airport
When she reached Mexico immigration, she handed her the passport, along with hotel and return tickets. The officer asked her the reason for her visit and she told the correct reason i.e. renewal of i-94. Officer again asked if it is for business, she still said the same thing i-94 renewal. The officer just put the reason as business and allowed her.
Going to Hotel at the Mexico City airport:
The hotel is actually connected to the airport and was only 5-10 minutes walk away from the security check. The entire food court was open and decently crowded. At the hotel, check-in was smooth. The hotel restaurant/cafe was open only for takeout. [Tip] Carry your own food as much as possible to limit unnecessary exposure.
The next day she took her scheduled flight back to Atlanta.
Documents Checklist for I-94 Extension
She carried the following documents per advice from our lawyers:
- Original Marriage Certificate
- Old Passport
- New Passport
- Copy of my US visa
- Copy of my US approved petition (i-129s)
- Copy of my few last payslips
At the US Immigration in Atlanta – Port of Entry Process
Officer asked her for the reason of her trip and she told the renewal of i-94. The officer suggested that this could have been done easily at a deferred site based on the visa extension. She told the officer that she contacted multiple CBP offices and this was the best way suggested. Officer said that he could see my extension in the system (surprising to us as it is not yet filed) and told her that it should be okay, but need to look into some more details. The officer kept her documents and gave her a token. She was directed to pass the hallway and give her token to another officer. She did the same and then was asked to accompany the officer to the CBP office at the airport.
The officer in the CBP office looked up some more details, gave her the i-94 for 10 additional days (i.e. till 06/25 instead of 06/15), and mentioned that once the lawyer files for visa extension, the i-94 can be updated by going to the deferred site if needed.
Post that it was a relatively easy flight home.
Post Travel to Mexico – Self Quarantine
We were very concerned about traveling during COVID time, and it can get really weird. For the safety of our kids (9 and 4 years old), my wife followed self-quarantine for at least 7 days. Now it is two weeks, and all is good.
Few tips for traveling during COVID:
- Face mask is absolutely necessary. This is the order of preference – N95, surgical masks (we used this), cloth masks (last resort)
- Wash hands often. Obvious.
- Wear hand gloves if possible
- Avoid removing your mask (for eating/drinking) on the airplane
- Carry your own food
- Call your hotel ahead of your travel and ask for tips/directions
- Try at least a week’s self-quarantine
- Language could be a challenge if leaving the airport, traveling to the city center, etc.
- Try to control the urge of venturing out.
Overall, it is a stressful travel with uncertainty related to immigration/i-94, risk of COVID, language challenges, etc. So, it is good to stick to the plan, be early to the airport, avoid unnecessary adventure, and drink a lot of water. Oh, that reminds me of the last tip, carry your own water bottle.
Experience 2 – I94 Extension Experience (Mexico – Cancun)
- Visa :- If you have a valid H1B visa you don’t need visitors visa for Mexico
- Date of Travel :- 12th November 2020
- Airport Experience :- Mask was compulsory, other than that everything was usual, No social distancing at security or at the gates while boarding
- Flight Experience to Cancun :- Flights were surprisingly full, No seat gap. Many were flying here for vacation.
- You need to fill self declaration form before they let you to immigration. You should have the QR code once you submit the declaration form. No PCR tests are required.
- You also need to fill the Mexico Immigration Form (FMM) which was given by the flight attendants.
- Mexico Immigration officer did not ask anything except for days of stay in my case it was same day return. Mexico Immigration officer than tore the bottom part of the FMM form with a stamp on it and gave me back with my passport.
- Note: The bottom part of FMM form is the exit visa that you need to hand over to airlines while boarding when exiting Mexico. Do not lose it or you will be asked to go to immigration office, refill the form and pay 30$ fine
US Port of Entry
- Officer :- Reason for travel?
- Me :- I94 is about to expire, had to exit and re-enter to renew
- Officer :- This could have been done at deferred site
- Me :- I called them and they said they would only do corrections. For renewal I should exit and re-enter. Therefore I planned this travel
- Officer :- Got it, same employer right? Do you have any letters from them?
- Me :- Yes, showed him the letters
- Then I was asked to lower down my mask for picture, post which he returned the passports along with custom form stamped which I then gave it to security while exiting. Checked my I94 online immediately after security and it was updated with renewed passport details (AVR) until my visa validity.
Tips For I-94 Extension
- Book direct flights at least while coming back to US or else the immigration will be on the first port of entry and you would have no time for connecting flight, secondly it is a risk if anything goes sideways. In my case, it wasn’t a direct flight but my connecting flight luckily got delayed and I was able to board.
- If you planning a day trip, book a round trip where you leave at night and return back in the morning this way you will be able to exit and enter on different dates. It does not make a difference but I felt it convenient with enough time and relaxed plus you don’t need hotel stay and it is quicker.
- Wear Mask, sanitize (you are allowed to carry hand sanitizers (100ml), maintain social distancing – the airports are full with no social distancing if you start hurrying up. Relax – no one would take your seat if you board last or un-board last to make it to immigration, there are plenty of immigration counters and it would take relatively same time. Although the flights are safe and getting vacuumed / sanitized / air filtered but don’t let you mask down
- Restaurants at airport are serving, don’t carry food – try travelling lite but do carry water bottle.
- Avoid public toilets and please quarantine once you are back, it is must- you are exposed to a lot.
Relax and it is just the same process while you came in to the country except you wearing mask. Good Luck !!!!