It was the first time that I travelled so light. When I travel by air, I usually have one suitcase or, at least, a backpack and my handbag. This time around, I didn’t need that suitcase neither that backpack.
All I brought along was a handbag.
The Husband and I flew out to Mexico City, Mexico in the morning, then flew back into Texas later that afternoon. He just needed to update his I-94 form that was set to expire later this month. The I-94 is a piece of paper (Well, it used to be since the US CIS digitized this particular visa related document recently) that states the specific date that you are legally allowed to stay in the US. This form is entirely different from your US visa.
Upon entry at any US airport, you will go through immigration clearing, where you present your passport and US visa. The immigration officer will ask you some questions (I don’t think there is any set ones nor a scientific basis for what questions they ask), which you will answer to the best of your abilities as honest or as dishonest as you want it to be. After the short conversation, he / she will input your details into the system, the length of your stay will be determined. As per our experience, this is based on either the validity of your passport since the validity of the US visa may outlive your passport’s, or the validity of your US visa.
Since the Husband’s I-94 was set to expire, we needed to exit the US to renew and extend the I-94 accordingly. Most especially since the I-94 is also tied to the validity of the US driving license. Here in Texas, unlike the few US cities where public transportation is convenient, having a car is an essential part of everyday life.
According to our research with the US CIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services), one has the following options:
- For those on working visa like the H-1B, the employer / sponsor of your visa should work on extending the I-94. You need to file this at least 45 days before the I-94 expires. But, as per the inquiry with an immigration lawyer, it will take him 6-months to process the entire thing…and we didn’t have that luxury of time.
- The most convenient option was to exit then re-enter the country. Coming home was not an option because of restrictions on cost (I talked about ticket costs to the Philippines in the past) as well as time. The Husband had to return to the country in the soonest possible time since he had work waiting for him. Sadly, he is still not entitled to vacation leaves or PTO / paid time off. As they say, sayang ang dollars, so coming back ASAP for work is of utmost importance.
We intially thought of exiting to Canada, but then, as Philippine passport holders, we need to go through the motions of applying for a visa, which again is not guaranteed. Plus it costs quite a sum of money.
This is how we found ourselves in Mexico City.
Philippine passport holders actually require a visa for entry in Mexico. But since we have valid visas issued by the US and were arriving in Mexico via the United States, we did not need the visa for entry into the country. Whew!
Even though we researched and knew people who’ve taken this route and knew that our US visas were still valid, we were a lot nervous. What if this doesn’t work? What if we get stuck in Mexico? Or what if we are refused entry by immigration?
We expected the worst, but hoped for the best. Gosh, if the worst had happened, would I have survived with just my handbag?
I did survive with my lone bag and, more importantly, the worst did not happen. We got through the Mexican immigration without a hitch, except for a few questions on why we did not jot down where we would be staying in Mexico for the duration of our stay.
“Oh, we’re flying back to the US later this afternoon. In three hours.”
The immigration officer’s mustachioed lips curled up and eyebrows raised as he stamped my passport.
Three hours later after an authentic Mexican carinderia meal (where they “No hablan Ingles!” and accept cash only), a stroll around and outside the airport and souvenir shopping (postcards, magnets and The Husband’s addition to his Starbucks city mug collection), we checked into our flight back to the United States.
Another three hours later, after a couple of glasses of bottled water on the plane (Snacks are not part of the ticket cost. Boo!) and chuckles with The Husband, we found ourselves back in the Great State of Texas in line at one of the DFW airport’s the immigration counters. The last and most important leg of the trip.
I was happy that the immigration lines were short. Though our interview with the immigration officer was not as short, it was a pleasant one. He just asked us where we came from, what were we doing there and why we didn’t stay longer.
The Husband gave the all American answer: he had to work.
And so with his I-94 extended, we waltzed out of the airport, tired but happy to be back in our current home.
P.S. I do not claim to be an expert in all things I-94 related as these things are on a case-to-case basis. It is best to consult the US CIS directly and perhaps your employer and their immigration lawyer, apart from getting anecdotes from family and friends.