It is very important for everyone to maintain Status in US and have I-94 valid at all times.
If you get a shorter I-94 ( arrival departure record) duration at US Port of Entry than the approval notice listed end date, it is very likely that your passport is expiring soon. In such case, you need to apply for I-94 Extension within USA after getting new passport. With COVID-19, getting this can be very tricky as many of the CBP offices and borders are closed. Some were successful to get I-94 Extended by going to Canada Border from Detroit, but our reader Vijay was not lucky. He flew to San Diego and got it renewed there. Thanks to Vijay for taking time to write down the detail experience and sharing it with community. We really appreciate it ! You can email your experience as well to [email protected]
Experience – How I extended my I-94 (With lock-down restrictions in place)
Background : My I-94 was expiring on 15th July, 2020 (Tied to the expiry date of my old passport)
I hold an H1B Visa, valid until Aug, 2021
My Options for I-94 Extension after Passport Renewal in US with COVID-19:
With the ongoing restrictions in place (especially air travel to international destinations), I had just two options for extending my I-94.
- Applying for an H1B extension (As suggested by my employer)
- Crossing the land border and re-entering the United States
Since I had more than 15 months of VISA validity left, and a renewed passport in my hand, I found no point in applying for an extension and putting myself in risk of a potential RFE/Denial. I decided to try both the land borders (Canada and Mexico).
Option 1 : Extend I-94 at US – Canada Border (via Windsor Tunnel ) near Detroit
I drove all the way from Chicago to Detroit (Detroit-Windsor tunnel), however, I wasn’t successful in getting my I94 updated. Felt I was a bit unlucky. I did cross the US border, entered Canada, and explained my situation to the Canadian border officials. They were nice, polite, and agreed to send me back after some verification (took about 30 min). On returning I was stopped at the Detroit checkpoint, and the officer politely admitted me WITHOUT renewing my I94. On explaining the situation, the officer said, since I was not “technically Admitted” into Canada (just turned back from border), I never really left US, and hence cannot be issued a new I94. Turns out going to Canada Border, and being admitted inside Canada are two different scenarios. Weird. But this is what happened. Looks like updating the I94 is at the sole discretion of the CBP officer at the checkpoint. Done on a case by case basis and there’s no written guideline for this process.
Please note: I had called the officers on both sides of the border, explained my situation 2 days ago, and was given a green signal, and hence I made the journey. Sadly it just turned out to be a nice long drive and nothing else.
Option 2: I-94 Extension at US – Mexico Border (CBP Otay Mesa, San Diego)
This was my last try before applying for an extension. Staying in Chicago, this option involved “Air Travel” which, at this point, is both risky and expensive. I planned a day trip to San Diego.
Flight Booking, Flights Process with COVID-19:
Flight tickets were very expensive. It will be hard to get direct flights. They are trying to club cities and minimize losses (connecting flights). Face masks are compulsory to enter the airport/flights. Airports are deserted. It will be difficult to get water/coffee so be prepared. Uber/Lyft facility is available at San Diego airport. Saves time as opposed to getting a rental car and driving if you are under tight time constraints.
- I flew to San Diego from Chicago early morning and reached the destination airport by 11am. Next, I Headed straight to the CBP Otay Mesa center.
- Used Uber/Lyft for my commute from Airport to CBP center as that was the easiest option in new location.
Note on SENTRI Otay Mesa center : Remember, as I write this on 5/21/2020, the SENTRI Otay Mesa center (which is in the same building as CBP) is currently closed for in-person visits. I followed the instructions of Abhishek (in another post), and reached the “Permit” room of Otay Mesa CBP center.
CBP Officer advice to Cross US and Mexico Border : The officer there was not ready to update my I94. In fact, she suggested “crossing of borders” may be one of the options, but not to hold her accountable if something goes wrong and I am not admitted inside the US. However, she was kind enough to tell me the whole process, pointed me to the bridge that connects US and Mexico and asked me to walk down, go to the Mexican Immigration, get stamped and take a U-Turn to the United States. And then, she told me to forget about her and this conversation that we had. Basically, we never met and no one explained me the process
Note on Mexico Visa : I did not had any specific Mexico Tourist VISA. It appears that holding a valid US VISA is enough to enter Mexico. My H1B Visa is valid until Aug, 2021
Crossing US and Mexico Border for I-94 update : I did as directed by officer. Walked the bridge, passed the two revolving black gates and entered Mexico. Went to their immigration, and explained the situation. The officers took my new passport, stamped it and showed me the way out. I took a U-turn and started walking towards the US. There are lanes for cars, and trucks, and a parallel pavement that pedestrians take to enter the US. There’s a pre-check at the gate to the US, and then there is another gate which leads you to the POE CBP officers (a set up that we see in the airports).
Questions asked by CBP officer during entry for I-94 Extension :
- Why are you here?
- Where do you work?
- Did you come all the way from Chicago (exclamation)!!?!! When are you flying back?
Process in CBP Center to issue New updated I-94
Next, I was sent to another officer with a “yellow note” attached to my passport. That basically means, I was to be issued a new I-94. I was taken back to the permits room (where this all started). Another min-interview – basic questions. Very friendly officer. Showed sympathy that I had to travel all the way from Chicago, paying almost double the amount of normal fare. My fingerprints were taken here, and then my new passport was stamped with “Admitted” stamp until the end of my VISA validity. All good, all smiles. Thanked the officer. Headed back to the airport, boarded the flight back to home. At no point I had to produce any documents other than my passports (old and new).
But then, do ensure you carry all the supporting documents. So yes, Second time lucky: I did get my I94 updated at the Otay Mesa CBP.
Remember : In this case, I was specifically given the option to either cross over to Mexico and enter (at my own risk) or just go back without doing anything. No one will ever assure of “cross and we will admit you to US safely”. You will be the decision maker.
Online I-94 Fee Payment : Although I had paid the fees for I94 update form online ($6), but I was never asked for it. May be because I has to cross the border and enter anyways. So, the I94 gets automatically updated.
Why I had to cross the border : According to the officer, she was not allowed to directly update my I94, and It can be only done when I cross the border and re-enter.
Let me know if you have any questions, and I will be happy to answer. Good Luck!