Updated on: November 2022
The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact global international travel and the acquisition of U.S. visas. Please consult our website (https://www.wsmimmigration.com/immigration-law-updates/) and specific U.S. Consulate sites for the most up-to-date information and processes for visa stamp acquisition and re-entry. Unfortunately, U.S. Consulates abroad remain understaffed and demand for services is high. As a result, Consulates may be closed, scheduled appointments may be delayed or cancelled, and visa issuance could be stalled.
If you have specific questions regarding contemplated international travel, please reach out to WSM to set up a consultation. These materials are provided solely for informational purposes and are not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.
What is a visa stamp, and why does someone need a stamp even after the immigration service has approved a petition on her behalf?
Except for Canadian citizens and those traveling under the limited visa waiver program, all foreign national travelers to the U.S. must have a valid visa stamp in their passports to enter the U.S. A visa stamp is the physical visa that is placed in the foreign national's passport by a U.S. Consulate abroad.
During the interview or through a mail-in application process (where applicable), the U.S. Consulate will determine whether a foreign national is admissible to the U.S. and eligible for a visa. The process to obtain a visa stamp from an American Consulate or Embassy abroad varies by country. Wait time for appointments and processing requirements vary, and can be particularly onerous depending on the country and whether the consular officer determines that a security background check or additional administrative processing is warranted. Generally speaking, the applicant first makes an appointment with the appropriate consulate, submits the DS-160 application form electronically, and either appears for an in-person interview at the U.S. Consulate or submits a mail-in (“Drop Box”) visa application while abroad. Please note that a visa stamp cannot be obtained from within the U.S.
The USCIS just approved an H-1B petition for a future employee currently living abroad. What are the next steps?
Before entering the U.S., the employee must utilize the petition approval notice to obtain a visa stamp in her passport through a U.S. Consulate in the country of her domicile, residency or nationality. In certain circumstances, applicants may obtain visa stamps at consulates in countries other than their country of nationality.
My employer just filed a petition to extend my status in the United States, and the petition has been approved. However, the visa stamp in my passport has now expired. Do I need to apply for a new visa stamp in order to remain in the U.S. in authorized status?
No. Employees are not required to renew their visa stamps in their passports in order to remain in authorized status in the U.S. However, return from international travel requires a currently valid visa stamp for admission. Where international travel is contemplated after a visa stamp has expired, a new visa stamp must be acquired at a U.S. Consulate abroad. Please note that visa stamps cannot be obtained from inside the United States.
I am in H-1B status in the U.S. but I have changed employers since I last traveled. My visa stamp is still current but it shows a different employer. Is a new visa stamp upon my next international trip required?
For H-1B and O-1 holders, a currently valid visa stamp annotated with a previous employer’s name will suffice. (Please note that this is not the case for an L-1A foreign national.) At the port of entry, the traveler should present the currently valid visa stamp together with the most recent original approval notice for the current employer as well as proof of ongoing employment in order to reenter the U.S.
I would like to travel home for a vacation but my visa stamp has expired. What should I do?
Where a visa stamp has expired, or will expire prior to the date of intended re-entry, a new visa stamp will typically be required. Please visit the U.S. Consulate website for information on the documentation needed for this process or contact WSM for assistance.
Is an interview with the U.S. Consulate/Embassy always required to obtain a new visa stamp?
No, some applicants can benefit from a mail-in or “Drop Box” visa renewal option so that an interview is not required. Eligibility will depend on country of nationality and the specific U.S. Consulate. Please consult with the relevant U.S. Consulate for details.
Are my family members required to obtain visa stamps as well?
Yes, Each of your derivative family members will need to complete and submit their own Form DS-160 and appear during the appointment (if applicable).
What is the validity period for a non-immigrant visa stamp in one’s passport?
Visa stamp approval duration depends on country of nationality and visa type. Please refer to the visa reciprocity schedule: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/Visa-Reciprocity-and-Civil-Documents-by-Country.html.
In summary, non-immigrant status is typically issued by the USCIS and authorizes temporary employment and presence in the United States. A Visa Stamp contained in a passport is issued by U.S. Consulates and Embassies abroad and authorizes but does not guarantee admission into the United States.