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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Entering and Exiting USA

  (The article is taken from "Another Road to Residency" compiled by class of 2003 and 2004 of Agha Khan University, Karachi Pakistan.)  
        All guys are going to have to undergo ‘special registration’ when they enter the USA. After passing through immigration, you will be directed to another room where you will be asked to wait. You won’t be alone! There will be many other similar people waiting for their turn. After a wait (which can sometimes be quite lengthy), you will be interviewed. The first time you visit the USA, the process may be on the lengthy side as your data will need to be inputted into their computers. Next time you enter, the process goes faster. What you’ll be asked really depends on the mood of the official who interviews you. They may sometimes burst with questions. On the other hand, they may not ask you anything at all (this will not be the case on your first visit!) Whatever happens, it is not a time to stress out. A big hype is usually created regarding this process, however, it is quite straightforward. Admittedly, there have been some nasty incidents, but, these are rare. You are entering the USA for a perfectly good and legal reason. Islamabad has had no issues with your entering. You should not have any problems in the USA either. Just make sure that you are well documented. They like documents and will compliment you if you have them. Have your exam permits, venue and date details available; have a list of the places that you have applied for interviews; have copies of emails which offer interviews; have print outs of the amount of money that you have spent in preparation for this trip; etc. You don’t need to be as prepared as you were for your interview in Islamabad, but, the more confident and well documented you are, the easier you’ll make it for everybody. And since everything you say affects your permanent immigration record, a good start is likely to do you good later on. Again, IT IS NOT A BIG DEAL.

It is here that you can even make requests to give you a six month stamp instead of a three month stamp provided, of course, you can give a good enough reason. I know a person who had already been stamped for three months, but, on request, the stamp was cancelled and exchanged for a six month stamp. Again, the officials there are not out to get you. They can actually be very nice.

Another point regarding which there was some confusion. Just because you have entered the USA and undergone special registration at a certain airport, it DOES NOT mean that you have to leave via that same airport. When you initially undergo special registration, you will receive a list of airports from which you can exit the USA. Any of these will do.

On your way out, if you have undergone special registration, you will have to register again. This time, registration is very short and sweet. However, you may have to look for the place. Once you have checked in and crossed security, find out where to go by using the courtesy phones available at the airport. You will get a stamp marking your exit on your passport, then, you’ll be free to go. NOTE: People who have not undergone special registration (women) will not receive a stamp on their passports when they are exiting the USA. The final proof of exiting the USA is the return of the I-94 / I-94W (the white or green card that you got at immigration). This card is to be returned to the airline people in the departure lounge when you are boarding the aeroplane. They will gather them all up and hand them in to the airport officials so that everyone’s departure is recorded. DO NOT FORGET TO GIVE IN THE CARD. If you forget, there will be no record of your departure, and it will be as if you never left the USA. This goes for both guys and girls.

Class of 2003

Editor’s Note: The issue of status conversion while staying in the USA is a frequent concern. Many guys consider it because it eliminates the chances of being held back in Pakistan (due to either visa rejection or FBI clearance) to an extent such that their residency contract is often cancelled. However, the major disadvantage remains – not being able to leave the USA. Another point of notice – status changes cannot be done if one has entered the USA via a visa waiver.

Q Is it possible to get my work visa stamped from the US?

To answer this we need to understand some basic terms:

Status vs. visa

Both your ‘visa’ and your ‘status’ may be H1 or J1 but they vary from one another in some fundamental ways. While the ‘status’ is your legal permission to reside in the US, the ‘visa’ is the actual stamp on the passport which allows you to (re)-enter the US. So, although you may legally have your status changed from the tourist B1 to the Working H1, this will not allow you to come back to the US if you ever have to leave and you are hence STUCK. To enter the country, you need a valid visa.

Getting a visa involves going through the US consulate in Islamabad, and this means going through the infamous ‘security clearance’ for guys. Currently, no one knows a hassle free method for Pakistanis to get a visa from any other country. Options may exist, however. So, if you ever find out, please ensure that this information is included in the next edition of Road to Residency. 

While the duration of the ‘status’ can be extended from within the US for up to six (for H1) or seven (for J1) years, your ‘visa’ will only be valid for the duration that it was initially stamped. To re-enter the US after that date, you shall have to get another visa stamped from the Consulate. Now here is where the H1 and the J1 can differ: It is possible to get an H1 stamped for up to three years while a J1 is only stamped for one, so a person on H1 can come and go from the US as he/she pleases for three years while the J1 only has one year.

So the answer to the above question is that you may have your status changed from the Tourist B1 to H1/J1, and it will be 100% legal, but you will not have a visa on your passport.

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