Imagine this scenario: You are outside the United States in another country and you are in a hurry to come back to visit friends, family, or get back to work. You have your ticket booked and bags packed, when you realize something – you have no legal way to enter the U.S. because you are either missing a visa or passport, or the travel document you do have has expired.

When would this happen? As a nonimmigrant (i.e. you have a work or tourist visa), this situation can arise when (1) your visa stamp in your passport has expired, or (2) your passport is not valid for more than six months (which is a requirement when entering the United States for most foreign nationals).

As a green card holder (permanent resident), this situation may arise if (1) you do not have a valid passport, or (2) you stayed outside the country for more than six months at a time and do not have have a valid reentry permit.

What is the possible solution? The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and Border Protection offers a solution that may cure the problem: a waiver of the required travel document to enter the United States. This is a one-time only possibility that a customs officer, in effect, waives the lack of a valid travel document and lets you into the country without it. Normally, DHS will only grant waivers of this kind in cases of unforeseen emergencies. Unforeseen emergencies are defined as:

  • a medical emergency;
  • an emergency or rescue worker arriving in response to a community disaster or catastrophe in the United States
  • a foreign national accompanying or following to join a person arriving for a medical emergency;
  • a foreign national arriving to visit a spouse, child, parent, or sibling who within the past five days has unexpectedly become critically ill or who within the last five days has died; or
  • a person whose passport or visa was lost or stolen within 48 hours of departing the last port of embarkation for the United States

Despite the unforeseen emergency requirement, a waiver may still be granted if your situation does not fall within the above categories, but you have a solid explanation as to why any other person in your situation could not have anticipated your emergency.

What is the procedure? If you show up at a port of entry without the proper travel document and wish to request the waiver, you will be instructed to fill out Form I-193 prior to inspection at customs. You will need to pay $585. Please note that the waiver will work only once, if at all. There are no guarantees the customs officer will grant the waiver, and therefore, it should only be requested in true emergencies. Because this process is complicated, please contact Trow & Rahal so that we may assess the situation and advise you the best route to take.


Posted by: Kristen Ng, Associate Attorney