By: Megan S. Turngren
With multiple agencies issuing different immigration paperwork for the R-1 process, it can often be difficult to understand the importance of each document. However, even though it may seem complicated, it is always very important to note the expiration dates of the I-129 approval notice, the R-1 visa, and the I-94. In many cases, these three items will each have different expiration dates. This discrepancy is due to the fact that each of these documents is issued by a different government agency.
The R-1 process begins by filing an I-129 petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For a religious worker, the immigration process always begins with USCIS. Once this petition is approved, a foreign national is issued an approval notice.
Then, the foreign national will take this approval notice, along with other supporting documentation, to a visa interview at a consulate outside the United States. The United States consulates and embassies around the world are actually operated by the Department of State (DOS), which is a separate section of the U.S. government.
When the visa is approved, there is often confusion regarding the expiration date of the visa. Most people assume that the visa would be valid for the entire time period of the I-129 approval notice. However, since these two steps are done by different government agencies, there is no guarantee that the visa will be valid for the entire time period issued in the approval notice.
The actual expiration date of the visa is determined by the Department of State’s visa reciprocity schedule. The reciprocity schedule is in place to provide similar treatment for foreign nationals coming to the United States as U.S. citizens are granted when they travel abroad. This means that the fee and time period authorized for a foreign national to obtain an R-1 visa should be similar to that offered to a U.S. citizen religious worker traveling to the foreign national’s country of citizenship.
It is important to remember that the visa reciprocity is based upon the foreign national’s country of citizenship. The visa time period does not change based upon where the foreign national applies for a visa. For example, Mexican nationals are only issued R-1 visas for one year. If a Mexican national applies for an R-1 visa in Canada, he or she will still only be issued a visa for one year. The question is not where the visa is applied for but where the foreign national holds citizenship.
Then, after entering the United States, the foreign national will be issued an electronic I-94 by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This is the third government agency involved in the religious worker’s journey to the United States. The I-94 issued may have a separate expiration date from both the I-129 approval notice and visa.
However, the I-94 should be issued for at least as long as the I-129 approval notice. Sometimes, this can create confusion because a CBP worker may only issue an I-94 through the expiration of the visa. Again, while many are allowed a R-1 visa for the full 30 months, some foreign nationals are issued shorter visas. This means that a Mexican national could potentially be issued an I-94 that is only valid for one year due to the expiration date on his or her visa.
In the event that the I-94 is issued for a shorter period of time than the initial I-129 approval notice, the foreign national should make plans to immediately visit a CBP Deferred Inspection Site to have the I-94 corrected. It is important to check the hours and location for the individual offices on the CBP website. Also, it is a good practice to call ahead to ask if there are specific times when a person can come to have an I-94 amended. This will help to prevent a wasted trip to the local office.
Please remember that it is important to keep track of the expiration dates for both the visa and the I-94. The two items do not serve the same purpose and are not interchangeable. The visa allows a foreign national to enter the United States. The I-94 actually serves as proof that the foreign national is in lawful R-1 status. If a nonimmigrant religious worker (“R-1”) leaves the United States, he or she cannot reenter without a valid visa. Alternatively, even if a foreign national has a visa that is valid for several years, he or she can only legally remain in the United States through the expiration date of the I-94. However, this issue comes up more frequently with visitors (“B-1 / B-2”) than it does with religious workers (“R-1”).
If you are unsure about the expiration dates of your immigration paperwork, we are happy to provide guidance. Please contact Religious Immigration Services to set up a consultation so that we can answer your questions regarding these important expiration dates and how they can affect you.
In order to determine the visa reciprocity schedule for each country, please visit the Department of State’s visa reciprocity website. This link provides information regarding the fees and the time period allowed for different types of visas.
For information regarding deferred inspection, including a list of deferred inspection sites, please visit the Customs and Border Protection website.