Travel to Contiguous Territory & Adjacent Islands
Automatic Revalidation of Visa Stamps
Frequently Asked Questions
Automatic revalidation permits:
- Holders of F, J, H, O and E status in the United States to enter contiguous territory (Canada and Mexico) and return to the United States without a currently valid visa stamp in the passport.
- Holders of F and J status in the United States to enter "adjacent islands" (islands in the Caribbean except Cuba) and return to the United States without a currently valid visa stamp in the passport. Note that travel to adjacent islands applies only to those currently in F or J status. It does not apply to those currently in H or O or any other status.
Automatic revalidation makes it easier for you to make short trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean (for F and J). Revalidation applies in two ways.
- If you have a visa stamp in your passport that matches your current status, but it has expired, that visa stamp is considered to be automatically revalidated to a current date for your return to the United States, even though it has expired.
- If you have changed status while in the United States, and you have a visa stamp that matches your old status (either expired or unexpired), that visa stamp is considered to be automatically changed to a stamp matching the new status and revalidated to a current date for your return to the United States, even though it is not the same as your current status and may have expired. You need to have evidence of a lawful change of status inside the United States.
Automatic revalidation is a very useful and convenient provision, but it has very strict rules for its use. Do not even consider using automatic revalidation until you have read and understand the following rules and criteria.
Rules and Criteria for Automatic Revalidation
- You must not be a citizen of a country that the Department of State (DOS) has determined is a sponsor of terrorism. The DOS periodically updates the list in its report to Congress entitled "Patterns of Global Terrorism." As of May 6, 2016, the four countries on that list are North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.
- The time outside the United States MUST not exceed 30 days, and be spent in contiguous territory (for F, J, H, E, or O) or adjacent islands (for F and J only).
Travel to another country outside Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island is not permitted. For example, you cannot travel to Canada, then go to China or Peru or some other country, then come back to Canada, and then use automatic revalidation to reenter the United States on an expired visa or one that does not match the status in which you wish to enter. Even if you can do all of that traveling within 30 days, it is illegal, and a commission of visa fraud to use automatic revalidation in that way. Committing visa fraud makes you deportable from the United States and excludable if you try to enter the United States in the future.
- You must have in your hands and present to the immigration officer a valid unexpired visa document (I-20, DS-2019, I-797 approval notice, etc.). The visa stamp in your passport may be expired, but your document must be valid and unexpired.
- You must have in your hands and present to the immigration officer a valid unexpired passport.
- You must have maintained proper F, J, H, E or O status while in the United States and you must intend to resume that proper status when you reenter the United States.
- If you have changed status inside the United States, you must also have in your hands and present to the immigration officer evidence of the change of status. Such evidence might include an I-94 with a c/s notation, an I-797 notice showing approval of a change of status. Carry the change of status I-20 or DS-2019 with you along with any later or updated forms you may have.
- You must not be considered inadmissible to the United States under Section 212(a) or 212(d)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. If either of the aforementioned notations appears in your passport, we strongly recommend that you contact an experienced immigration lawyer before attempting to leave the United States and return. These notations make you ineligible for readmission, though there are some exception. If you have J status, please do not confuse these two notations with Section 212(e) that indicates that you are subject to the two-year home residence requirement. The Section 212(e) notation on your visa stamp does not affect your eligibility for automatic revalidation.
- You must not apply for a visa at a United States embassy or consulate while in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. You are not permitted to use automatic revalidation as a "back up" method to return to the United States after failing to get a proper United States visa stamp at a United States embassy or consulate. Some people want to go to a United States embassy or consulate in Canada or Mexico to apply for a visa stamp instead of traveling all the way home, and applying for a visa stamp at a United States embassy or consulate there. They reason that if the United States embassy or consulate in Canada or Mexico denies the visa, then they can use automatic revalidation to get back into the United States You cannot use automatic revalidation to return to the United States. If you plan to apply for a visa while in Canada or Mexico, then you need to plan to do one of two things: (i) stay there until you get an approval, or (ii) return to your home country to apply for a visa stamp if your are denied in Canada or Mexico.
You must have a visa to enter Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean island countries. Automatic revalidation is a United States rule. It does not permit you to enter the country you plan to visit. You must check beforehand with the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit to determine if you will need a visa stamp from that country to enter that country. You also should ask the embassy or consulate what United States immigration or visa documents you will need to obtain a visa to enter the country or island you wish to visit.
4. Tell me more about "contiguous territory" and "adjacent islands." What do those terms mean under this rule?
"Contiguous territory" means a country whose border touches, is contiguous to, the United States border. Those two countries are Canada and Mexico. The Code of Federal Regulations at 8 CFR 286.1(a) defines "adjacent islands" to include Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Barbuda, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Marie-Galante, Martinique, Miquelon, Montserrat, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Christopher, Saint Eustatius, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Maarten, Saint Martin, Saint Pierre, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and other British, French and Netherlands territory or possessions bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
5. Cuba is listed as an adjacent island, but the answer to Question 1 above says, "except Cuba." Why is that?
While Cuba has been removed from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, the regulations must be updated to affirmatively extend the automatic revalidation benefit to travel to Cuba, i.e., Cuba remains excluded under the regulations from the list of "adjacent islands" for purposes of automatic revalidation. You may not use automatic revalidation to travel to and return from Cuba, even if citizens of your country usually travel freely to Cuba.
6. I am a citizen of China. My first visa stamp was good for only two entries and expired six months after I arrived in the United States? Can I use automatic revalidation to visit Canada and return to the United States?
- YES, if you plan to return directly to the United States within 30 days.
- NO, if you plan to apply for a United States visa while you are in Canada, or if you leave Canada and travel to another country. Remember that applying for a visa or traveling to a country outside contiguous territory or adjacent islands terminates your eligibility for automatic revalidation.
7. But I know that my friend went to Mexico to get a new visa and returned just fine. What is different for me? Why can’t I do the same thing?
- If you have a valid visa stamp in your passport, then you can use that stamp to return to the United States.You do not need to use automatic revalidation.
- If you do not have a valid visa stamp and you are successful in getting a new visa stamp while in Mexico, then you can return using that new visa stamp. You do not need to use automatic revalidation.
- If you do not have a valid visa stamp and you are not successful in getting a new visa stamp or the visa is denied, you will not be permitted to reenter the United States using automatic revalidation.
8. I have a friend who went to Canada, then went home to get a visa stamp and was denied. He came back to Canada and came back into the United States using automatic revalidation. Why can’t I do that?
Sounds like your friend committed visa fraud and violated United States laws. Remember that one of the rules for automatic revalidation is that you may travel only in contiguous territory or to adjacent islands. You are not permitted to travel to a country outside contiguous territory or adjacent islands and reenter the United States using automatic revalidation.
9. I think I get it. The regulation has changed. A convenient and "safe" way of applying for a visa has now been revoked and is no longer available, and the immigration officers will be looking more closely to see if I have traveled to another country. Right?
Yes, exactly right. The process that so many students and scholars have used in the past to apply for a visa in Canada or Mexico now carries a much higher risk.
10. What if I decide to risk it? Suppose I go to Canada or Mexico with an expired visa in my passport, apply for a visa, and the visa is denied. How do I get back into the United States from Canada or Mexico?
You don’t. That is the big risk. If you apply for a visa that is declined or denied and you have no valid visa stamp in your passport, then you cannot enter the United States. You must go to another country, probably your home country, and apply for and obtain a new visa stamp before being eligible to reenter the United States.
11. I do not have a valid visa stamp. I am thinking of going to Mexico for semester break. Then my friends and I might take a cruise in the Caribbean and return to Mexico before coming back to Duke. Any problems with that? Can I use automatic revalidation to return?
Check your geography and your visa status.
- If you have F or J status and you will only be in Mexico and adjacent islands, then you can enjoy your vacation and use automatic revalidation to return to the United States.
- If you cruise down to Costa Rica and go ashore to see the world famous national park, then you have left contiguous territory or adjacent islands and entered a third country. You cannot use automatic revalidation to return to the United States.
- If you hop over to Cuba for a day to see the UNESCO World Heritage sites, then you have violated the "except Cuba" rule. You cannot use automatic revalidation to return to the United States.
- If you have H or O status, instead of F or J status, you may only use automatic revalidation in contiguous territory, but not in adjacent islands. If your cruise takes you over to Antigua for a day of shopping then you have left contiguous territory and gone to an adjacent island. You cannot use automatic revalidation to return to the United States.
12. I noticed that Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are not listed as adjacent islands. Why aren’t they adjacent islands and why doesn’t automatic revalidation work there?
Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are part of the United States. When you visit them you have not really left the United States, just as when you visit Virginia, South Carolina, Alaska, or Hawaii you have not left the United States. You should carry your passport and visa documents when you travel there, as you should with any travel in the United States, but you will not be leaving the United States, and will not need to "reenter." However, if you go from Puerto Rico or the United States Virgin Islands to other islands, then you are leaving the United States and will need to re-enter. For more information, please visit our Registration and Domestic Travel within the United States webpage.
13. I think I understand that there are much tighter restrictions on using the automatic revalidation. I cannot apply for a United States visa while I am in contiguous territory or adjacent islands, and I cannot travel to a country outside contiguous territory and adjacent islands. But really, how will DHS know? What if I just keep quiet or do not tell the immigration officer at the border that I have done these things. I still might get back into the United States If they let me back in everything will be OK, right?
Concealing or misstating facts to obtain a benefit like, being admitted to the United States is a violation of United States law. Generally, immigration officers will be very aware of the rules and will be looking closely at documents. Let us say that you manage to conceal the "other" country travel or the visa application and present yourself as eligible for admission under automatic revalidation, knowing that this is not true. The officer admits you to the United States believing that you are eligible based on the documents you have presented or the statements you have made. Even if the officer admits you, you have committed visa fraud. You are deportable/removable from the United States and you may be excluded from or inadmissible to the United States for any future visits, forever. The relevant section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Section 212(a)(6)(C), reads, in part:
"Misrepresentation - in general - Any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under this Act is inadmissible."
The word, "inadmissible," does not sound so bad, but what it means is that you are not eligible to be admitted to (allowed to enter) the United States on any visa of any kind for any reason for the rest of your life. Forget about ever getting a green card. In some limited circumstances you may be able to get a waiver of inadmissibility in the future, but it will cost you a great deal of time and money in "red tape" and lawyers’ fees, and even then there is no guarantee of success.
You are at Duke because you represent the best of your country, and we expect that you will be a credit to Duke and your country now and in your future life. But international travel and border crossings can be very stressful, especially if there are long delays or lots of questions in a confusing environment. In moments of exhaustion, stress, and confusion you need to be careful to answer questions truthfully and present your documents appropriately. Focus on your long-term goals, and do not look for a "quick fix" for an immediate problem. The little "not quite true" statement that gets you out of that awful airport or across that border where cars are backed up for miles could come back to haunt you and ruin your future plans.
15. These sound like very harsh penalties for a student or scholar who is just trying to get back to school or to his/her research or teaching. I’ve been admitted to school or invited to teach or do research. Don’t I have a right to be here and to travel if I need to or want to?
Congress meant for the laws and regulations to be harsh to discourage people from violating the law, making false statements to government officials, and entering the United States illegally. Particularly in the aftermath of September 11, government agencies are taking their responsibilities regarding immigration very seriously.
Each of us needs to recognize that being permitted into any country other than our country of citizenship or country of lawful permanent residence is a privilege - not a right. Thus, any time you, as a foreign national, choose to travel abroad knowing that you will need a new visa stamp to reenter, there is no guarantee that 1) the new visa stamp will be issued, or 2) that you will be readmitted at the port of entry.
Traveling abroad always carries some degree of risk. The best thing you can do to reduce the likelihood of encountering problems is to carry valid documents with you at all times (including proof of funding in case you are asked) and to abide by the laws and regulations governing your non-immigrant status, and your admission to the United States.
Remember that your admission to the United States allows you to stay here for the duration of your program of study, teaching, or research. You may remain in the United States in F, J, H, or O status even during holidays, summer vacations, and so on. You are not required to leave the United States and travel outside until after your program is finished.
16. But Duke encourages study abroad for all of its students, and in my program I am expected to add an international component to my studies, or to travel to conferences and meetings. I will not be able to manage my program in the same was as my American colleagues. Is that fair? Shouldn’t I have the right to do what all students or scholars do? Is it not a violation of my rights to have my activities restricted in this way?
You are right that you do not have all of the opportunities and options available to you that United States citizens and United States lawful permanent residents have. In Duke Visa Services we will work with you to help you benefit from as many opportunities and experiences as possible, but in some cases you may have to make the difficult choice not to do some things you want to do in order to remain in the United States to reach a larger goal.
Contact Visa Services by sending a message to VisaHelp@duke.edu or call the office at 681-8472.