By Linda Rahal
Attorney / Owner / Founder
Trow & Rahal, P.C.
It is often a puzzle as to why some people receive visa stamps in their passports from U.S. Consulates or receive I-94 cards upon entry into the United States that are not for the full allowable duration.
Are these just flukes or is there a reason? The reason can be a result of the expiration date of a person’s passport.
General Rule for I-94 Cards
The general rule for I-94 cards is that the foreign national’s passport must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the expiration of the individual’s contemplated period of stay. For example, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection normally grants a B-2 visitor a six-month period of admission into the United States. Under the general rule, this requires that the person’s passport be valid for at least one year (seven months admission period plus six months beyond). Consequently, if a person seeks entry into the U.S. as a visitor with a passport valid for seven months, the individual would be given an I-94 card with a duration of only one month.
Six-Month Club Exception
As with all general rules, there are exceptions. Certain countries are exempt from the general passport rule, and are commonly referred to as the “six-month club.” People from exempt countries do not need to have passports valid for an additional six months. Exempt countries span the spectrum from countries in Europe, South America, Asia, and the Middle East. The six-month club is expansive enough that the exceptions now seem to outnumber the general rule. If a person is from a country that is part of the six-month club, then that person will be admitted into the United States as a visitor for six months, even if the passport is only valid for that six months.
A Caveat to the Six-Month Club
A condition of the six-month club exception is that a person’s passport must still be valid for the full duration of the period for which the person is seeking admission into the United States. For example, a person seeking to enter the United States as a visitor would be granted only five instead of six months admission if the person’s passport expires in five months, even if the person is a citizen of a country that is a member of the six-month club.
Persons Seeking Entry Into the United States in Temporary Work Status
In the case of people seeking entry into the United States in a temporary work status such as H-1B or L-1, the passport validity date restriction can greatly impact their eligibility to keep working in the United States. Often a person is granted an initial approval notice for three years, but then upon entry receives an I-94 card with an expiration date that is less than the full three years. Why does this happen? Often it is because the person’s passport expires before the full three-year duration of the approval notice.
General Rule for Visa Stamps in Passports
The six-month general rule applies to visa issuance as well. Under the general rule, every applicant for a nonimmigrant visa such as H-1B or L-1 is required to present at the U.S. Consulate a passport that is valid for at least six months. However, if the applicant is from a country that is part of the six-month club, the person’s passport only needs to be valid at the time of visa application. Of course, if the passport is due to expire shortly after the U.S. Consulate issues the visa, the foreign national’s period of admission will be limited to the expiration date of the passport.
General Rule for Visa Waiver
A person applying to enter the United States under the visa waiver program must have a passport valid for six months beyond the period of intended stay, which normally would require the passport to be valid for nine months (90-day visit plus six months). However, if the person is a member of the six-month club, then the passport needs to be valid for only 90 days. The majority of the visa-waiver countries are also members of the six-month club.
Our advice to all travelers to the United States is to monitor expiration dates of passports and renew early.
Expedited Travel Opportunities — Trusted Traveler Programs
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has what are referred to as Trusted Traveler Programs to provide expedited international travel for pre-approved, low-risk travelers through dedicated lanes and kiosks at various ports of entry into the United States.
Travelers must be pre-approved and undergo a rigorous background check and interview before enrollment for all of the programs. The travel programs are highlighted below.
Global Entry. Program participants are permitted expedited entry into the United States using a Global Entry kiosk at an airport. Travelers present their machine-readable U.S. passports or permanent-resident cards, use a scanner for fingerprint verification, and make a customs declaration.
The kiosk issues a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit. Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, Dutch citizens, and Mexican nationals.
FAST Driver Program. FAST Driver cards are Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)-compliant documents for expedited entry into the United States by land or sea for approved commercial truck drivers making fully qualified FAST trips between the United States and Canada (either direction) or to the United States from Mexico.
NEXUS. For Canadian citizens only, the NEXUS program allows pre-screened travelers expedited processing by U.S. and Canadian officials through dedicated processing lanes at designated northern border ports of entry, at NEXUS kiosks at Canadian Preclearance airports, and at marine reporting locations.
NEXUS cardholders are also able to use the automated kiosks utilized by the Global Entry system. NEXUS cards are WHTI-compliant documents.
SENTRI. SENTRI cards are WHTI-compliant documents for entry into the United States by land or sea for Global Entry-eligible travelers. The difference between the SENTRI card and Global Entry is that SENTRI is for land or sea, while Global Entry is for airport ports of entry.
SENTRI also provides expedited travel to approved members between the United States and Mexico border. Mexican nationals must pass a risk-assessment conducted by the Mexican government.
SENTRI-dedicated commuter lanes exist in:
• Otay Mesa, CA
• El Paso, TX
• San Ysidro, CA
• Calexico, CA
• Nogales, AZ
• Hidalgo, TX
• Brownsville, TX
• Anzalduas, TX
• Laredo, TX
• San Luis, AZ
About Linda Rahal, Trow & Rahal, PC
Linda Rahal is an immigration attorney and the chief operating officer of Trow & Rahal. She has been with the firm since its inception in 1993.
Trow & Rahal represents companies and individuals in navigating the immigration process for visas, green cards, citizenship, and other immigration-related matters. The firm also assists companies in preparing corporate immigration policies, conducting I-9 and compliance audits, and developing immigration-related strategies for owners and employees.
Linda received her JD degree, magna cum laude, from the American University, Washington College of Law in 1992; and earned her BA degree, cum laude, in International Relations from Tufts University in 1986. Linda has been a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for more than 10 years. She is also a member of District of Columbia and Maryland Bar Associations, as well as the American Bar Association.
Linda’s reputation within the legal community has led to selection by her peers for inclusion in several prestigious publications, including The Best Lawyers in America, the International Who’s Who of Business Immigration Lawyers, and the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.
For more information, visit www.trowrahal.com.