Allow Extra Time, Follow Procedure: Critical to Visa Renewal Process

All Jefferson Lab foreign national staff members, users and students, with a non-immigrant visa status (F-1, B-1, J-1, H-1B, O-1) have a visa stamp that includes an expiration date in their passport. "Please keep track of your visa expiration date and your personal and professional travel plans," urges Sue Ewing, Jefferson Lab's Registration/International Services administrator.

"If you anticipate the need to travel outside of the U.S. any time close to or after your visa expires, please review the information presented below regarding visa renewal. All foreign national Jefferson Science Associates employees should consult with the International Services Office (Support Service Center, Bldg. 28 Rm. 45) before making personal or business travel plans that include renewing a visa stamp."

Failure to renew your visa or not begin the renewal process early enough can result in a refusal to re-enter the U.S. and return to Jefferson Lab. It can also result in extended or unanticipated travel expenses for the individual, Ewing points out.

For those individuals needing to apply for a new visa, she suggests that they start gathering information on the process at least six months in advance of the expiration date or their international travel date.

In order for Jefferson Science Associates (JSA) to pay for travel-related costs to renew a visa, the renewal must be done in conjunction with Department of Energy (DOE) officially approved business travel. In other words, JSA cannot pay for any travel-related costs to only renew a visa or if the renewal is in conjunction with personal travel. To minimize travel-related costs, the visa renewal appointment should be made at an embassy/consulate closest to the business destination and as close as possible to the start of the business portion of the trip. Once the business portion of the trip is completed, travel costs relating to picking-up the visa to return to the U.S. will also be reimbursed.

If the visa renewal completion/issue date is more than two business days before or after the business portion of the trip, alternate work arrangements in the foreign country must be coordinated with your supervisor for this extended stay. Alternately, you may take one day personal leave for every two days of your business travel. In either case, extended stay documentation indicating the total estimated time and cost needs your JLab Associate Director’s approval prior to submitting it to DOE for approval. To explore this option, you must meet with the International Services Office in Human Resources to discuss before finalizing business or personal travel plans involving visa renewal.

Anyone pursuing travel arrangements with visa renewal and not planning ahead to review and finalize the options before leaving JLab and the U.S., may find themselves with the personal burden of additional travel costs, lost work days and leave without pay. Poor planning on the part of the traveler may jeopardize visa renewal costs being paid for or reimbursed by JSA and instead these costs may have to be absorbed solely by the traveler.   

Question: The visa stamp in my passport is about to expire. Do I need a new one?

Answer: If you are not planning to travel outside the U.S., you do not need a new visa stamp.

The visa that is stamped in your passport is for U.S. entry purposes only. Once you are in the U.S., your I-94 card/stamp becomes the active document that permits you to remain in the U.S.

However, if you are planning to travel outside the U.S. for any purpose, and your visa is expired or will expire while you are out of the U.S., you will need a new visa stamp in order to re-enter the U.S.

Advance travel planning and submitting your visa application early are extremely important, according to Ewing. Do not wait until the last minute before leaving the U.S. to make an interview appointment or until the end of your stay abroad to submit the application for your new visa stamp. If you know you will be required to appear in person at the consulate, make an appointment with the consulate as soon as possible after learning of travel plans to leave the U.S. It is important to thoroughly review the information in the online “Visa” section for the specific U.S. Embassy or Consulate you plan to make your application through, and to follow all procedures and instructions, including how to make an interview appointment. Ewing suggests that you start with this U.S. State Department web site: http://www.usembassy.gov/.

Question: Where do I apply for a new visa?

Answer: You can apply for a visa at any U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside the U.S.  It is important to realize that most consulates require an appointment. Additionally, significant delays of three to four months are not uncommon. Background checks can cause more delays and be triggered by the type of work you do, where you work or simply by your country of citizenship.

Beware of Possible Delays Abroad

The time involved in having a visa application approved and the visa issued again is increasing. Your last experience is unlikely to be typical of current conditions, Ewing cautions. Visa applications by individuals working within the field of Nuclear Physics usually are identified by consular officers as requiring additional security clearances before visa issuance. Such security clearances can take up to 30 days or more. This is the case regardless of whether the individual has been issued a visa before, and regardless of whether the last visa only took a couple days. This means the visa applicant might need to remain outside the U.S., waiting for the visa issuance, for a month, or more.

Avoid Problems; Do Your Research

Before booking any travel, go to http://www.usembassy.gov/, find the web site of the consulate where you will submit your visa application, and confirm:

- The consulate's procedures, and

- The timelines expected for visa appointments, and visa issuance. 

Note that the timeline for visa issuance will be an average based on "typical" visa applicants, and that applicants from the field of Nuclear Physics usually have longer wait times.

Jefferson Lab/Jefferson Science Associates employees, who are non-U.S. citizens and who will be applying for a new visa should go to the International Services Office, Room 45, in the Support Service Center, Building 28, to review current visa processing information. Employees also should meet with their supervisors prior to finalizing travel plans to ensure that the supervisors understand the timeframes involved in foreign travel and visa applications before authorizing business travel outside the U.S.  Employees also should ensure that supervisors understand these timeframes when planning vacations abroad that involve visa applications.

And remember that extended stay documentation indicating the total estimated time and cost needs your JLab Associate Director’s approval prior to submitting it to DOE for approval. To explore this option, you must meet with the JLab International Services Office to discuss before finalizing business or personal travel plans involving visa renewal.

Delays in visa issuance can result in delays in returning to the U.S., and thereby result in significant additional costs and problems in staffing and project completion for JLab. Check the processing times posted on the web site for the embassy or consulate you plan to use and allow additional time in case there are unanticipated delays and be sure to check-in with the International Services Office well ahead of travel dates.