Introduction: After obtaining an H-1B visa, many individuals may have plans to return to their home country. However, concerns about the impact on their H-1B visa often arise. Can H-1B visa holders travel back to their home country during the processing period? What should they be aware of when planning a trip back home?
General Considerations: In most cases, it is not advisable to travel back to your home country during the processing period of your H-1B visa. This is because there is a risk of visa denial upon re-entry. If your H-1B application is rejected and your Optional Practical Training (OPT) has already expired, you will not be able to return to the United States on an F1 status or use the H-1B visa for entry. Additionally, if you leave the United States during the H-1B application processing period, the immigration authorities may require you to activate your H-1B status by exiting and re-entering the country after the approval, which can be cumbersome.
Specific Scenarios: However, if there are compelling reasons for travel back to your home country, certain considerations apply based on different situations:
- H-1B Approval with Valid F-1 Visa and OPT: If you have received H-1B approval and both your F-1 visa and OPT are still valid, you can travel back to your home country using your F-1 visa. However, since you are in the Change of Status process when applying for H-1B, leaving the country during this period will be considered an automatic abandonment of the change of status. Even if you return to the United States before October 1st using your F-1 visa, your H-1B status will not automatically take effect. In this case, after your H-1B is approved, you will need to leave the United States and apply for an H-1B visa through the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.
- H-1B Approval Pending and OPT Expired: It is not uncommon for individuals to receive H-1B approval notices in November or even December due to the increasingly slow processing times at immigration offices. If your OPT expires on September 30th, can you travel back to your home country and wait for the H-1B approval?
Once you return to your home country, although your F-1 visa page in your passport may still be valid, you are no longer considered a student and therefore cannot re-enter the United States on an F-1 status. Only after you receive H-1B approval and obtain an H-1B visa through the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country can you return to the United States.
- Valid F-1 Visa, OPT, and I-20, with H-1B Approval and Change of Status: If you receive H-1B approval before your OPT expires and need to travel back to your home country briefly before the employment start date (usually October 1st), you can re-enter the United States using your F-1 visa.
Another situation where you may need to travel back to your home country during the H-1B processing period is if you initially applied for Change of Status (COS) within the United States but your COS application was denied due to reasons such as CPT (Curricular Practical Training). In such cases, you must return to your home country for a new visa interview and entry. What should you consider when attending a visa interview in your home country?
H-1B Visa Interview Process for Return Travel:
- Prepare the required documents:
- DS-160 Confirmation Page
- Copy of I-129
- Original I-797
- Passport (valid for at least six months beyond the expected duration of stay)
- One recent photograph taken within the last six months
- Visa interview appointment confirmation
- Visa application fee payment receipt
- Employment verification, personal resume, and company introduction
- Degree certificate and transcripts
- Offer letter, pay stubs, and W-2 forms
- Social Security Number (SSN) and Driver’s License
- Complete the DS-160 form: As you have already filled out the DS-160 form when applying for a student visa, there is no need to discuss it further. Print the confirmation page and bring it to the visa interview.
- Pay the application fee: The H-1B visa fee is $190 and must be paid in the local currency. After payment, keep the payment receipt safe as you will need to enter the receipt number when scheduling the visa interview.
- Schedule a visa interview: Visit the website https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/applicanthome to schedule your visa interview. Provide your passport number, visa application fee receipt number, and the 10-digit barcode number from your DS-160 form.
- Attend the visa interview: Bring all the required documents and proceed to the embassy or consulate for the visa interview. If everything goes smoothly, your passport will be collected, and within 3 to 6 working days, the passport containing the H-1B visa will be mailed back to your designated address. Once you receive it, you can prepare to return to the United States.
Handling Visa Application Checks: During the visa interview, it is rare for an H-1B visa to be directly denied by the consular officer. In most cases, individuals may be subjected to administrative processing, commonly known as a “check.”
If you are subject to administrative processing, you will need to prepare additional documentation. The consular officer will generally inform you of the required documents, and you must submit them within the specified time to the consulate or designated address.
In unfortunate cases where your H-1B visa application is denied after administrative processing, do not panic. You can ask your employer (note: employer cannot change) to reapply for your H-1B and provide evidence that the new application addresses the issues that led to the previous denial.
Many H-1B visa applications are rejected due to missing documents, forgotten signatures, errors in fee payment, or poor performance during the interview. Therefore, if the new application can rectify the previous mistakes, there is a good chance of approval. Since the new H-1B application is not subject to the lottery system, it can be a favorable option.
Conclusion: When planning to travel back to your home country as an H-1B visa holder, it is crucial to understand the potential risks and necessary procedures. Following the outlined considerations and guidelines will help ensure a smooth process and minimize any complications.
Additional Note: Consult an Attorney Before Departure
It is highly recommended that you consult with an immigration attorney before departing the United States as an H-1B visa holder. An attorney can provide personalized advice based on your specific situation and help you navigate any legal complexities.
An immigration attorney can assist you in understanding the potential risks associated with traveling back to your home country during the H-1B visa processing period. They can also guide you on the necessary steps to take to ensure a smooth transition and minimize any complications that may arise.
By consulting an attorney, you can obtain expert guidance on:
- Analyzing your individual circumstances: An attorney will review your case and assess any potential risks or challenges you may face in returning to the United States after traveling to your home country.
- Determining the optimal timing for travel: An attorney can advise you on the best time to travel based on the progress of your H-1B visa application, ensuring that you do not jeopardize your chances of approval or encounter difficulties upon re-entry.
- Ensuring compliance with immigration regulations: Immigration laws and regulations can be complex and subject to change. An attorney can help you understand and comply with the latest requirements, ensuring that you adhere to all necessary procedures during your travel.
- Preparing necessary documentation: An attorney can assist you in gathering and organizing all the required documentation, ensuring that you have everything in order for your visa interview or any potential administrative processing.
- Addressing any potential issues or concerns: If you have specific concerns or anticipate any issues with your H-1B visa application, an attorney can provide guidance and solutions to mitigate those concerns effectively.
Remember, each individual’s circumstances may vary, and it is essential to seek advice from a qualified immigration attorney who can provide personalized guidance based on your unique situation. By consulting an attorney, you can navigate the H-1B visa process with confidence and peace of mind.
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