Many foreign nationals who are in the United States on work-related visas obtained their status through a change or extension of status petition done within the U.S., and may not have a valid visa foil, otherwise known as a visa stamp, on their passport. They can remain in the United States so long as their status is valid and even change or extend beyond that without ever needing a visa stamp. However, if they plan to travel outside the US, the foreign national needs to plan to go to the U.S. consulate nearest where they are going to be visiting to apply for a visa stamp since they will not be allowed to return to the U.S. without one. During the pandemic, visa appointments at consulate became very hard to obtain and although things are getting back to normal somewhat, there are still delays so scheduling an appointment as early as possible is imperative.
A foreign national planning to apply for a visa stamp should follow these steps:
- Go to the CEAC website and fill out the DS-160 form online. This form will also ask the applicant to upload a passport photo
- Pay the visa application fee
- Schedule the appointment
If traveling with family members who are also foreign nationals, the above steps must be followed for each family members. In other words, each family member has to have their own DS-160 application, pay the fee, etc.
On the day of the appointment, they should bring the following documents:
- Valid passport
- DS-160 confirmation page
- Original H-1B approval notice, form I-797
- Recent pay stubs
- Employment verification letter obtained recently
In addition to the above, family members need to also bring proof of the relationship, i.e. marriage certificate for spouses and birth certificates for children.
Once the visa is issued, foreign national employees must bring the original H-1B approval notice with them when they travel so they can present that at the port of entry to be admitted to the United States. It is the approval notice of the H-1B that controls for how long Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers admit one to the U.S. CBP will issue an I-94 form electronically.
When entering the US, it is very important to check the I-94 online here (link) to make sure it is correct. Errors or shorter periods of admission due to passports expiring soon are common and sometimes foreign national workers go out of status because they did not pay attention to the I-94 which is for a shorter period than they assumed. This could cause grave immigration consequences so it’s important to ensure one was admitted for the correct amount of time.