As many of you know, you get a shorter I-94 validity at US Port of entry, if your passport is expiring before US Visa stamp. As there are travel restrictions with Trump Order that bans entry of H1B, H4, others until end of 2020, many try to extend their I-94 after passport renewal at US Border checkpoints. One of our readers, Zeeshan Ashraf, got his I-94 extended it at Otay Mesa border close to San Diego. He drove all the way from San Franciso and tried many options before the decision. Thanks a lot to him for taking the time to share the detail experience with our readers. We really appreciate it !
My I-94 Extension Situation
- I have an L1A visa. I entered the USA with my family in January this year. We are a family of 6 people that includes me, my wife and four young kids aged under 8 years of age. My i-797 was approved in August 2019 that means it expires on 30th August 2022.
- My visa also mentions the same date as petition end date. This is the date till which CBP officers are supposed to allow you to live in the US i.e. the date on the i94. Unfortunately, the passport that I used at the time of entry expires on 16th September 2020.
- The officer at SFO issued an i94 that expires on 16th September 2020. The same happened with my family because they are on L2 visa which depends on me. Their i94 expiry is tied to mine.
- In normal circumstances, we would have simply visited Mexico for a day and got it done but unfortunately Covid-19 hit the USA hard right after that and the border was closed of non-essential travel.
Options tried to Extend I-94, before going to US Border
I made some other attempts before going to US – Mexico border. First of all, blog article How to extend I-94 in US helped me figure out the ways I can try to get this done. I did the following before actually travelling to the border
- San Francisco Deferred Inspection Site : I Called San Francisco deferred inspection site and asked them if they would do it. The person clearly said I have only two options. Either to file an extension with USCIS or make a meaningful departure and enter back into the US. Also, I sent a detailed email with all the documents to SFO deferred inspection office email. They simply responded that they cannot do it and I need to get it extended through USCIS.
- CBP office at San Francisco Airport : I went to the San Francisco airport CBP office. There is no reception there per se for public dealing. We waited at the door used by CBP staff to go in and stopped one of them and asked for help. They were polite people and willing to help but they said they can only make any corrections for the mistakes made by them. This is not a mistake and the only way is to file an extension with USCIS.
- CBP office Washington/Vancouver Border : I was hesitant to take my family to the Mexico border. I thought Canada is comparatively a safer border. I made two different calls to the CBP office at Washington / Vancouver border. The first officer said I just need to go to Canada, they will send me back because I don’t have a Canadian Visa and then I will get my i-94 updated when I try to enter back. The second time I called, there was a lady officer and she told me i94 will only be updated if I make a meaningful departure i.e if I enter into Canada which is not possible without visa. I dropped this idea because it depended totally on the mood of the CBP officer at the time.
Decision to Go to the Mexico Border for I-94 Extension
Mexico border is closed for non-essential travel. I thought it would mean that the only travel that is allowed is the one that’s essential for the government. That is not the case. I eventually found out that if you even have a valid personal reason to travel across the border they are allowing it. I further confirmed it by asking my wife’s cousin. She lives in southern California and crosses the border every week for work related reasons. She asked the CBP officer there who told her that if we have a valid US work visa we were totally allowed to get into the US. This helped me decide to go to the US border and give it a try.
Decision to go alone or with Family for US Mexico Border
As I mentioned before that I have four very young kids. I first decided to travel alone and figure out the whole process and then take my family after a couple of weeks. One more thing I had in my mind was to request them to update it for my family without them having to visit in person. There was obviously a 2% chance of this happening but I wanted to take it anyway. I am yet to take my family for another trip and get theirs done. I will add an update in the end with the experience when I take them there
Going to Otay Mesa vs. San Ysidro for I-94 update
I read on multiple forums and especially yours. Based on many people’s experience it appeared to me that the walk on the San Ysidro border is more than Otay Mesa. Also the staff appeared to be friendlier at Otay Mesa as per opinions of different people. The last and the major point was the SENTRI center which is at the Otay Mesa border. There was a chance that they would do it without crossing the border. This is why I chose this border.
Trip To San Diego (Otay Mesa) from San Francisco – Drive
I am usually very fond of driving around so this was the easiest and least concerning part for me especially because I was alone.
- I left home at 4:40 am in the morning
- Stopped once at 9:15 am after 325 miles at a chevron gas station for gas and a red bull.
- Took another stop for using restrooms after 100 more miles.
- Finally reached at 12:15 at `Tellos Parking` lot which is 5 mins walk from the border. I searched for the parking spots before hand so that i can directly go and park. there are others around too, you can find them on google maps. They charged $6 for 2 hours.
Attempting to update I-94 without crossing US Mexico Border
I went straight to the CBP office and looked for the SENTRI enrollment center. It was unfortunately closed. I then moved ahead to the CBP office. Looked like people were only coming out of it. Nobody was supposed to enter from this side. I decided to take a chance to enter and ask if they will do it without crossing. I saw the PERMIT section on the right as soon as I entered. I remembered someone on this forum talked about it. I went inside, there was a lady officer, I told her my story. She took my documents, went out to ask other officers. She came back and told me to make a meaningful departure, cross the road and come back. I told her if she could do it for my family too somehow, she said they will have to come in person. I confirmed if there is a restriction on my visa type to enter back. She confirmed that I was totally allowed and I had a valid reason to travel which makes it essential travel. This gave me confidence to cross the border.
Crossing the US Mexico border at Otay Mesa
I came out of the office and there is a bridge going over the road. I simply crossed the bridge and entered Mexico side. There was a building that I entered. It was totally empty. There was a small room on the right, a guy came out and invited me inside. He was pleasant to talk to. He took my passports and asked for the reason to visit Mexico. I told him that I am here to update my i94 and I just want to go back immediately. He took my passport and filled a card in a very bad handwriting which was barely readable. Asked for a 30 dollar fee. I gave him without asking any questions. I am not sure if it was a legit fee or a rip off. I wasn’t thinking about those 30 dollars at that time at all. Then he told me to take care of the card that he gave me. That was probably the Mexico permit. I left the building and walked for hardly a minute till I hit the road. I crossed the road desi style right from where I was. The traffic was already very slow making it easy to cross. Years of training of crossing roads randomly in Pakistan came in handy there :).
Entering US, Updating I-94 Process at CBP Office
There was a long line before the CBP office on the footpath. I waited in that line. it took hardly 10 mins to enter the office premises. Ten more mins till I got my turn. I told the story to the officer who was totally confused. He asked me if I came there before. I told him that no, I am here only to update my i94. He told me its valid till September and I can get it done later if I want. I told him I don’t want to take chances because I live 500 miles away and we don’t know when the government will increase the restrictions on the border and I become out of status. He then asked me to wait and went to the other officers to confirm. They talked for a few mins, then he came back and asked me to pay the fee and go to the permit room.
Payment of Fee, I-94 Extension Process
I went to the fee counter, showed her my payment slip that I got after paying online a day before. She gave me a card/receipt. I went to the permit room. The officer over there was again a little confused. He told his colleague that my visa is expiring in December. I jumped in and showed him the petition end date and told him that I am supposed to get an i94 till that date. His colleague confirmed my stance. Then he immediately updated it in the system, stamped on my old passport and also attached a printed slip which mentioned my i94 information. After leaving the permit section, I immediately checked the i94 online and it was updated.
He made a minor mistake though. Because we kept talking about 2022 during our conversation, the 22 bit got stuck in his mind. My original L1 petition end date was 30 Aug 2022, but he gave me an i94 expiring on 22 August 2022 which is 8 days less but I guess I can happily live with that. The only reason to mention it here is that you should always check the paper they attach immediately to make sure there is no major blunder in the date. The mistake could be 30 Aug 2020 which would have made it a bigger problem for me.
Total Time for the I-94 update process
It was a Tuesday afternoon. I entered tellos parking lot at 12:15 and I was back in my van at 1.30. These 75 minutes also include me trying to get it done from this side and trying to figure out what to do. The whole process was very easy. The officers were very helpful and well behaving. Overall it was a good experience.
Back to Bay Area
- I started my journey immediately at 1:30
- I made a restroom stop after roughly 70 miles and took a 15 min nap.
- Them i started my journey and hit the rough evening traffic in Los Angeles. I reached the chevron gas station 175 miles from the border at 5:30.
- Took a restroom and Redbull break and then started my journey again. Took another restroom break on the way and reached home at 10.40 pm
It was a very long journey and I wont recommend coming back the same day if you are a lone driver. It’s totally possible and doable in one day if you are more than one drivers and don’t have kids accompanying you
Another Trip for Extending the same for family
I am plannning another trip in a week or two with my family to get theirs extended. We will definitely stay for a night somewhere in San Diego or Los Angeles. If anyone has a good recommendation for a reasonably priced hotel in San Diego or South of Los Angeles, please share.
I will be happy to answer any specific questions.