Most readers have either first-hand knowledge of the difficulties to be encountered at the United States Embassies abroad when applying for nonimmigrant visas, or have heard the horror stories. Consular officials of the United States Department of State are empowered with an enormous amount of discretion in making decisions to issue or refuse visas. The specter of a visa denial influences many people to remain in the United States without attempting to return to their home country for the duration of their nonimmigrant status. Fortunately, there is a relatively risk-free option available via the US Embassy in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico for citizens of third countries.
Generally, most Embassies and Consulates issue visas only to citizens of the countries in which they are located. Citizens of the Philippines, for instance, would usually be required to apply at the United States Embassy in Manila for a visa to the United States. The Embassies, however, have discretion to accept applications from Third Country Nationals (“TCNs”). At present, the United States Embassy at Ciudad Juarez is entertaining nonimmigrant visa applications from TCNs, including citizens of the Philippines and other Asian countries.
Visas are required whenever an individual seeks admission to the United States. The visa is the ticket that allows him to present himself for admission to the United States. Upon admission, the individual is issued an “I-94” arrival and departure record, which indicates the status in which the individual has been admitted and for what length of time. Visas and status are not synonymous, such that an I-94 generally does not entitle its holder to present himself for admission to the United States after foreign travel.
State Department regulations provide an exception to this general rule, however, allowing certain individuals with valid, unexpired I-94s to proceed into “contiguous territories” for periods of up to 30 days and be readmitted to the United States for the same duration of status as indicated on the I-94. The only territories contiguous to the United States are Canada and Mexico.
The advantages to applying for a nonimmigrant visa in Mexico are manifold. Consular officers abroad are more likely to delay processing or even deny cases in which the individual initially entered in one status and subsequently changed to another status. For example, many people who arrive as students or tourists later accept offers of employment and change to H-1 or L-1 status.
Lately the Embassies abroad have been insisting on the presentation of an H-1 or L-1 status holder’s “visa” when the H-4 or L-2 spouse and children apply for derivative visas. Although the principal need only be maintaining lawful L-1 or H-1 status in order for the dependents to apply for visas, obtaining the principal’s new visa in Mexico for submission to the Embassy abroad may make the process easier and faster.
Regardless of success, the person in valid nonimmigrant status in the United States will be readmitted after the short trip to Mexico under the contiguous territory rule. He will be able to resume employment and his life without concern. Applying for a new visa overseas, the visa applicant runs the risk of being stranded, losing employment opportunities and personal belonging if the Embassy refuses the nonimmigrant visa.