How Long Can I Stay Outside of the US on An H1B Visa, and Will That Affect the Expiration Date?

This is a natural question if you are a foreign worker in the US who wants to either travel abroad during vacations or make a visit your home country.  The first thing to understand is that an H1B visa does not ‘lock you in’ to remaining in the US uninterrupted, and you do have the freedom to travel and re-enter the US border as long as your H1B visa is valid.  

Some H1B visa holders might be nervous to leave the US and worry that increased scrutiny of all H1Bs would prevent re-entry.  But as long as you don’t have any conflicting documentation with you or other issues, then you do have a valid right to re-enter and continue with your employment.  After all, your sponsor invested the time and money to get the H1B approved, so they expect immigration to allow reasonable travel for their employee.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind if Your Travel

However, there are a few caveats and things to keep in mind if you plan to leave the US for any period of time:

  • The H1B visa is not a ‘use it or lose it’ document, and once stamped into a valid passport can be used until expiration for one or more employers/sponsors.

  • The initial period of validity printed on your H1B visa is the expiration date regardless of how many times that you enter or exit the US, or how much time you spent traveling.

  • The initial maximum period of validity is three years (sometimes less), and that is not changed or extended by any time spent outside the US.  The clock keeps ticking on the three-year period even while you are abroad.

  • Normal vacation periods of two to four weeks should not pose any problems at the border as far as re-entry, but immigration does have the right to see all of your H1B visa documentation.

  • If you renew your H1B visa for an additional three years (for six years maximum) then time spent outside the US is not counted toward the six-year limit.  For example, if you left for three months, the H1B is valid for six years, three months total.

  • That six-year period of validity (plus time spent abroad) will apply even if you change jobs or sponsors, so you can’t stretch out the H1B period by changing jobs.  However, you won’t have to go through the lottery again for an H1B transfer.

  • If you stay outside the US for an unusual period of time, immigration and border control might question if you are actually still employed by your sponsor, so it is best to have some type of documentation as to the reasons.

  • In other words, the H1B visa ‘work permission’ is linked to the specific sponsor and position and is not a general entry visa.  So, if you left the US and for some reason were laid off or wanted to change jobs, you cannot re-enter the US unless you have a new position/sponsor lined up.

  • The only potential issue that an H1B visa holder might have is if other immigration policies somehow restrict entry.  For example, when the Trump administration banned entry to the US for citizens of some countries, there were H1B visa holders that got trapped outside the country for a while.

The bottom line is go ahead and travel, but pay attention to the time left on your visa until expiration.

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  • October 1st, 2018
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