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Can I Travel While My H-1B is Pending?

 

Perhaps you’re considering leaving the U.S. while you wait for your H-1B petition to be approved. Or maybe you want to apply for an H-1B but first need to know if it’ll impact your ability to travel. 

The short answer is this: In most situations, you can travel internationally while your H-1B petition is pending. 

The challenge? You need a valid H-1B stamp to re-enter the country. If you don’t already have a stamp, you’ll have to go to a U.S. consulate abroad first before returning to the U.S. 

Getting an appointment at a U.S. consulate can sometimes be tricky, so a quick trip to Europe for a conference could easily turn into being stuck outside the U.S. indefinitely. 

Below we outline the most common situations immigrants with pending H-1Bs find themselves in and how they impact travel.

What is an H-1B visa?

An H-1B provides foreign nationals with employment authorization at a U.S. company. To qualify for H-1B employment, applicants are typically required to have a Bachelor’s degree and a job offer in a field related to their degree.

To apply for an H-1B visa, the sponsoring company needs to send the following documentation to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • Form I-129: an immigration form required for H-1B petitions
  • Form I-907: an immigration form for requesting premium processing (optional) 
  • An approved Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  • Filing fees
  • Supporting documentation

H-1B applicants who are married or who have children under 21 can include their qualifying family members as dependents in their H-1B petition. Upon approval of the H-1B, their dependents will receive H-4 status.

Traveling When You Have an H-1B Petition Pending with USCIS

Whether you are permitted to travel while you wait for USCIS to review your H-1B petition depends on the type of H-1B petition you filed. 

New H-1B Petition

If you leave the U.S. after filing an H-1B Change of Status (COS) petition, your COS will be considered abandoned and your petition will automatically be adjudicated as a Consular petition. This does not mean that your petition will be denied, but it does mean that you won’t be able to re-enter the U.S. on your new H-1B status without going to a U.S. consulate first.

  • What is the difference between H-1B Change of Status and Consular processing?

When your sponsoring employer files a new H-1B petition, they can select COS or Consular processing. 

COS processing is only available when the beneficiary (you) is physically present in the U.S. on a valid status. When a COS petition is approved, your status is automatically changed to the new status—in this case, H-1B. 

Consular petitions are different because they require you to attend a visa interview at a U.S. consulate abroad before beginning work on your new status in the U.S.

If you file a COS petition and then leave the country, your status cannot automatically be changed upon approval of your visa since you do not have a status when outside the U.S.

  • So, is it okay to travel with a pending COS petition?

Yes, you can leave the U.S. while your COS is pending as long as you know that your petition will effectively become a Consular petition. 

The result? You will only be able to enter the U.S. on your new status (H-1B) if you attend a visa interview at a consulate abroad first. 

Depending on where you’re trying to book your interview, the wait times can be anywhere between a few days and over a year. Be sure to research and contact local consulates ahead of time; otherwise, you may get stuck outside the U.S.

  •  How do I know if my petition was filed with COS processing?

If you are unsure, check with your sponsoring employer or immigration team. 

H-1B Extension of Status Petition

You can travel in and out of the U.S. while an H-1B extension is pending if you have an unexpired H-1B stamp in your passport. 

When you re-enter the U.S., present your valid H-1B stamp from your old H-1B, as well as the receipt notice for your pending extension (or approval notice if your extension is approved). 

H-1B Change of Employer Petition

You can travel in and out of the U.S. while an H-1B change of employer petition is pending if you have an unexpired H-1B stamp in your passport. When you re-enter the U.S., you will need to present a copy of your Receipt Notice (I-797) for your pending H-1B change of employer. 

 

Related H-1B Travel Questions:

What documents do I need to present when re-entering the U.S. when I have a pending H-1B?

First, remember that you can only re-enter the U.S. on H-1B status if you have a valid H-1B stamp in your passport. Depending on your situation, this may mean you need to get your visa stamp at a U.S. consulate abroad before re-entering at a U.S. port of entry. 

At the U.S. port of entry, the CBP officer may ask you to present the following documents:

  • A valid passport from your home country (with an expiration date of at least six months in the future)
  • A valid H-1B visa stamp (in your current passport or in an expired passport)
  • The I-797 receipt notice for your pending H-1B or a valid H-1B approval notice
  • A letter from your sponsoring company confirming your employment (or job offer)
  • 3+ recent pay stubs (if you are already employed in the U.S.)

Can I travel with an approved H-1B petition?

Yes, upon approval of your H-1B, you can travel in and out of the U.S. freely. 

Is H-1B travel to and from Canada treated the same as travel to other countries?

For the most part, travel to Canada is treated no differently than travel to other countries.

However, there are some circumstances in which travel to and from Canada may have different implications for U.S. visa holders. 

For example, under automatic revalidation, you can re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa stamp if you spent less than 30 days in Mexico or Canada. However, before you travel with an expired visa stamp, consult with an immigration attorney. 

Can my dependents on H-4 status travel internationally?

Yes, dependents on valid H-4 status can travel internationally. 

Can I travel with a pending Labor Condition Application (LCA)? 

Yes, you can travel while an LCA is pending for your H-1B.

Can I travel between U.S. states while my H-1B petition is pending?

Yes, you can travel between U.S. states while your H-1B petition is pending. Travel within the country has no impact on your pending petition.

Final thoughts

Are you a leader at a U.S. company interested in hiring foreign talent on H-1B visas? Or are you a current H-1B visa holder considering switching to a new visa type or pursuing permanent residency? Legalpad brings together business immigration expertise and technology to make work visas and green cards easy. Connect with our team today to learn more.

 

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.