Carnegie Mellon University

Travel Documents for Re-Entry to the U.S.

For H-1B Workers

Foreign employees are encouraged to carefully prepare ahead of time when planning to travel outside the U.S. to avoid encountering issues or delays when re-entering. 

OIE recommends discussing any travel plans with OIE, especially if you plan on being outside the U.S. for an extended period or need a new visa.

If you are planning on traveling outside the U.S. for a temporary absence or vacation, several documents are required for re-entry back into the U.S. Please remember to keep these documents securely in your carry-on luggage at all times.

H-1B employees traveling outside the U.S. should carry the following documents:

  • Current, valid passport.
  • Current, valid H-1B visa sticker in passport.
    • An expired visa is valid for those re-entering the U.S. from Canada or Mexico after a visit of fewer than 30 days. See Automatic Visa Revalidation.
  • Copy of the I-797 H-1B Approval Notice, and original of your portion of the approval notice.
  • I-94 
  • Copy of the approved Labor Condition Application and Form I-129/Application for H-1B status.

In addition to all documents recommended above for travel, those applying for a new or renewal H-1B visa at a U.S. consulate should also carry the following:

  • A letter from your department confirming salary and/or recent pay statements.
    • A letter from your supervisor describing the work you are doing in plain, non-technical language if you are engaged in work related to sensitive or technical areas that might have military or security implications or applications.
  • Academic documents showing degree(s) obtained.
  • Resume or CV, including a list of publications (if relevant).
  • All other documents required by the U.S. consulate overseas.
    • Access country and consulate-specific information at usembassy.gov. Check for fees, application procedures, processing times, holiday breaks, etc.

For a change of status case, travel outside of the U.S. while the H-1B application is pending must be discussed with the person processing your H-1B application in advance of the H-1B petition being filed with the USCIS. The reason for this is that if the employee is in the U.S. in another non-immigrant status (i.e., F or J) at the time of the H-1B application, the H-1B case will most likely include a "change of status" request. In this scenario, the H-1B petition requests that (1) the employer be allowed to hire the qualified person in H-1B status, and (2) the employee's non-immigrant status be changed from the current status (i.e., F or J) to H-1B.

If the person exits the U.S., the status change portion of the application is considered to be "abandoned." This results in problems if the person re-enters the U.S. when the H-1B is pending or after it has been approved without having first obtained the H-1B visa sticker that would allow them to enter the U.S. legally in H-1B status.

H-1B employees who are living outside of the U.S. or who are in the U.S. but will exit the U.S. during H-1B processing will want to request "consular processing" at the time that the H-1B petition is submitted to USCIS. In this way, a designated U.S. consulate will be electronically notified of the approval directly by USCIS.

CMU scholars who are currently in the U.S. should discuss consular processing options early in the H-1B process with OIE or the attorney who is processing your petition if you plan any foreign travel during the H-1B application process.

Workers in H status benefit from dual intent. Dual intent implies that the individual may choose to remain in the U.S. on a more permanent basis (as a permanent resident, also called "green card holder"). Therefore, visa applicants at a U.S. consulate overseas should not be overly concerned about the need to prove ties to their home country.

The U.S. Department of State must first verify the approval of the H-1B petition through the Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) in a report called PIMS (Petition Information Management System) before issuing the H visa sticker. All H-1B approvals – initial, extensions, amendments, and changes of status cases – are entered into PIMS. If an H-1B visa applicant is not found in PIMS at the time of the H visa application, a process has been developed to research and enter the missing information into PIMS so that the visa application can proceed. This process takes approximately two business days.

If an employee received H-1B approval with a change of status when already present in the U.S., the effective date will be noted on the  Approval Notice  from USCIS.  This does not provide or change the  visa sticker in the passport. So, if the person in H-1B status travels outside of the U.S., they will need to visit a U.S. Consulate to apply for the H-1B sticker in the passport for purposes of re-entry to the U.S. The same is true for H-4 dependents. As with other nonimmigrant statuses, a new H-1B visa sticker must be obtained at a U.S. Consulate outside of the U.S. Learn more about obtaining a new H-1B visa sticker.