During the Christmas vacation, a number of our clients had the unfortunate experience of either losing or having their passports stolen. Their next natural question was, what was their status? A few were understandably concerned (given the current atmosphere) that they might be deported. Some also h ad previously scheduled trips/cruises abroad that they had eagerly been looking forward to.
Visa Is Not The Same As I-94
The important concept to understand is that a visa issued by a United States consulate is an entry document that authorizes an individual to enter the country (subject to the discretion of Customs and Border Protection). Once a foreign national is admitted into the US, the visa in and of itself does not determine how long a person is authorized to stay. The authorized period of stay is instead reflected by a person’s I-94, which, these days, is often digitized and can be accessed via the Customs and Border Protection website (www.cbp.gov). Therefore, a foreign national does not become illegal or out of status if the visa is lost, stolen, or misplaced. As long as he/she is within the authorized period of stay granted by the Department of Homeland Security, the person is allowed to remain. (Incidentally, this is also why a person within the authorized period of stay can legally stay here even if one’s visa has expired.) Of course, the individual should still take the necessary steps to redress the situation by
· Filing a police report
· Notifying one’s embassy that the passport has been lost/stolen and apply for a replacement
· Report the lost/stolen visa to the consular section of the consulate/embassy where the visa was initially granted
· If one does not have paper proof of the I-94, take steps to retrieve a replacement/duplicate I-94.
One Must Have A Visa To Re-enter the US
Notwithstanding the above, an individual must be mindful that a visa (as well as a valid passport) are required to re-enter the country. In other words, if a foreign national departs the United States for any reason, the I-94 no longer dictates or serves as an entry document: the applicant will need to present a valid visa for inspection. Unfortunately, since visas are issued under the authority of the Department of State, only a US consulate or embassy abroad can issue one. One does not apply for a replacement visa with the Department of Homeland Security (ie., USCIS or CBP). Accordingly, if one does need to travel outside the US, it is crucial that the above steps be taken immediately so that one has sufficient time to apply for the replacement visa outside the US. Failure to do so can not only delay the process but more importantly, endanger an individual’s ability to come back into the United States, even if one were previously here on a perfectly valid visa.
For more information on visas and I-94s, please contact our office. The above is general information only and not to be relied upon as legal advice. It does not create an attorney client relationship nor should it be relied upon as advice in lieu of consultation with an attorney.