May 30, 2018

Canada, Mexico and the non-US Caribbean islands are the foreign destinations nearest to the continental United States, so a traveler who is not a citizen or national of the US needs a valid passport to go there, and may need a visa as well. However, if the traveler is trying to accrue time “outside the United States,” these neighboring countries may not be far enough abroad. Short trips to the “adjacent territories” do not serve as a reset button for visitors who have just stayed in the US for most of the allowable 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program. For purposes of multiple temporary visits to the US, visitors must remember that an inspecting officer will decide whether they have sufficient ties to an unabandoned permanent home outside the US based on the whole picture of where they spend their time, and not just their most recent trip.

For temporary workers trying to accrue “recapture time” abroad in order to comply with the 6-year limit on stay in H-1B status, or the 7-year limit on stay in L-1A status, travel to adjacent territories for 30 days or less may not help, as such a trip might not count as a substantial departure from the United States, and may not result in issuance of a new I-94 entry/departure record. Guidance from US Customs & Border Protection notes that travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean for less than 30 days, without a new visa application, generally does not require a traveler leaving the United State to relinquish an I-94, so it does not result in issuance of a new I-94 upon their return.

This is in keeping with “automatic visa revalidation,” a regulatory benefit which allows a traveler leaving the US with a still-valid I-94 entry/departure record to go to Canada or Mexico for 30 days or less, and return to the US under the terms of their existing stay, even if the visa stamp has expired.

The CBP guidance on land border crossings linked above seems strangely out of date, skipping over the adoption of electronic I-94 records in April 2013, as it implies that most travelers will have a paper admission record to surrender when they leave. “If taking short trips (30 days or less) to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands during the course of your visit to the U.S., hold onto your I-94 or I-94 (W); it should only be turned in when you leave the U.S. to return home.” While a few  individuals, such as visa-exempt Canadian citizens admitted in TN-1 status, may still get a paper I-94 card as their only status document, the vast majority of foreign travelers admitted to the United States do not get a paper record, and must retrieve their electronic US I-94 entry/departure records from  The shift to electronic records is especially problematic for travelers trying to accrue time outside the United States, as they do not know upon departure whether their existing I-94 record has been terminated or not, and upon return, while being inspected, travelers do not know whether they have been issued a new I-94 or whether the previous one has been reinstated, and cannot find out until they can view the electronic I-94 online, which is not permitted in the Inspections area.

While it is possible to raise the chances of having one’s departure recorded, particularly when departing for Canada by car, that still does not entitle the traveler to a new I-94 upon return, per the Automatic Revalidation and corresponding “substantial departure” rules  noted above. Whether or not a departure is recorded in the electronic I-94 system, and whether or not the traveler gets a new and different admission record upon return to the United States, remains at the discretion of US Customs & Border Protection.

Special caution should still be accorded to any travel plans involving Cuba, as US-Cuba relations have not yet normalized, and US Treasury regulations restricting travel to Cuba have not been rescinded. Foreign nationals in the US present on temporary visas or even green cards should avoid travel to Cuba until those restrictions are removed.