How risky is it to travel when her J-1 Visa is soon to expire?

by cv harquail on March 17, 2011

Smart Risks vs. Risky Risks

Everything is risky, including traveling with your au pair outside of the US while she is on a J-1 visa. We know from previous conversations that even though a visa may still be valid, a customs person could deny your au pair re-entry into the USA.

But how real is this risk? Host Mom Eden would love to know if anyone has experience with this issue.

Also, though, there is a subtext here— that since the host family knew before matching that they’d be traveling to Canada during the au pair’s year, and since the host family made this clear to the agency, the agency should have counseled the host family in advance to time their au pair year so that she’d be well within her visa dates when they travelled. Sadly, I think that we’ve all learned over the years that few agencies really pay attention to this kind of host family detail. They pay attention to all the basic requirements, but as for the rest we’re on our own.

Vancouver skyline

Not only is the family left to figure this out themselves, but the agency has basically washed their hands of responsibility — and made unhelpful recommendations to.

However, maybe those of you with more experience might be able to help Eden gauge her risks more precisely– and consider options.

(Note, extending their au pair for another 6 months or more won’t help this situation, since the extension from the agency does not get her additional, formal time on her J-1 visa.)

We live in San Francisco & have a trip planned for mid-late Aug to Vancouver Canada. We had been clear w/ our au pair agency (Cultural Care Au Pair) that we travel to Canada every summer time & that travel was a top priority for our au pair.

We checked & made sure our au pair’s J-1 visa didn’t expire before the travel dates since I understand their visa’s do not always map to the 12-month program dates. In our case her J-1 visas expires a few days after our return date from Vancouver, so its close but a valid visa for a few dates post re-entry date. Her J-1 visa has an “M” on it indicating unlimited multiple entries.

We also checked government websites to see if there was some reason that the last month of a J-1 visa was not really valid but basically it’s pretty clear that the visa is valid so long as it’s not expired. There is always risk w/ traveling, even on a new visa, but there didn’t appear to be any information that au pair’s are declined re-entry to the US if their visa is valid but only a week or a month from expiry.

Now our local coordinator is saying that Cultural Care Au Pair’s policy is to discourage any travel outside the US during the au pair’s last 2 months. Our coordinator told our au pair this & also told me that we should not count on our au pair going. I asked if this was a policy or a suggestion & she refused to answer stating ”all I can say is that we do not recommend it & we have told your au pair that there is risk.” The damage may already be done as the LCC has convinced our au pair that any travel in the last 1-2 months of her visa could (w/ high probability) result in our au pair being declined re-entry into the US.

Our agency’s suggestion is we simply let our au pair go 30-days early & get a new au pair a few weeks before we travel. Clearly not a solution.

We are trying to gather any information on other people’s experiences.

·     Is there any reason to believe that re-entry is often denied if a J-1 visa is only 1-2 months or 1-2 weeks from expiry?
·         Or is the risk the same – that at any given time a customs person can choose to deny re-entry even w/ a valid J-1 visa & passport?
·         Are the risks lower in that we are just travelling to Canada for 10 days & our au pair comes from Sweden?
·         Is the au pair agency just being super risk-adverse?

Thank you for any & all help!

Be sure to read: Au Pair Extensions: How do they work if her visa isn’t extended?

Image: Vancouver skyline by mag3737


adnamA March 17, 2011 at 8:14 am

I haven’t been an au pair (yet), but I’ve spent a year in the US on a J-1 visa as an exchange student. My family came to visit at the end of my year and we went to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls 3 or 4 days before my visa expired. I was questioned by an officer on our way back (“what are you doing here on a J-1 visa?”) and had to leave fingerprints, but they let me back in without any real hassle. The worst part was waiting to be called up for the “interview”.

Oh, and I’m from Sweden.

Amelie ex-aupair March 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

Isn’t it possible to travel to Canada and Mexico even in the extension period?

MI former AP March 18, 2011 at 7:55 am

Nope it is not.

Chev March 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm

yes it is, i did traveled to both Mexico and Canada numerous times during my extension year.

Kor April 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm

@ Chev do u need Mexico VISA?

Daniele February 13, 2012 at 2:28 am

Yes, according to Cultural Care it is possible to travel to Canada and Mexico during the Extesion Year.

Gianna March 17, 2011 at 9:32 am

I think it is a crap shoot and I think that you and your aupair, not your agency , are going to face consequences if you have a problem at the border. You will pay in terms of inconvenience, lost time, emotional trauma. Your agency will say they warned you
and probably won’t compensate you for lost time. My guess is that the LCC is repeating a formula that she was given to answer this exact question. I have no answers for this year but maybe you can figure out a way to get a different visa schedule with different arrival/departure dates in the future without losing too much money. I honestly don’t think you will get anywhere with your agency. I called a bunch of agencies in the past and they all say the same thing ” we cannot take the responsibility… “. I know the 13th month is taboo but the 10th and 11th month prohibition seems overly cautious. Maybe they’ve had problems in the past. I think that the border checks are completely random.

PA AP mom March 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

Our last AP traveled to Toronto one week before the expiration of her Visa. She didn’t have any issues. She was from Sweden.

A previous AP went to Cancun 10 days before the expiration of her Visa. She had to answer multiple questions when re-entering the US, but ultimately was let through without any problems. she was from Germany.

It’s always a risk. It’s a shame that the agency isn’t more responsive.

Hula Gal March 17, 2011 at 10:29 am

We had an au pair (Thai) who was joining us for her second year. Her visa was expiring within weeks of her coming to our family. She decided to travel to Mexico to see if she could get her visa extended so she could travel home her second year. Well that did not work out so she returned to the US (before her visa expired although she probably only had a few weeks left on it). She got back to the US fine. She also went with a male friend and not her host family. If I were in your shoes I would take the risk. The odds are probably slim that she will be denied entry especially if she is with her host family. But I am no expert. This is just my assumption. Your au pair obviously needs to agree as well.

My 2 cents March 17, 2011 at 10:48 am

There is a “one time” rule for Canada and Mexico where you can visit with an expired Visa and return to the U.S. I know this for a fact because I researched it a few years ago for an au pair. I looked at something on the U.S. Customs and Immigration website that specifically said this and we printed it off for her. They have a rule on it. Now, of course, I cannot find it for you!

Ironically, it was my agency that told me this ! So I’d call your agency back, talk whoever it is up there that handles travel and visas, and ask about it. Perhaps this time you will get someone who knows what they are talking about and can direct you to the link on the U.S. Customs site.

Calif Mom March 17, 2011 at 11:35 am

The agency’s lawyers have them freaked out, or maybe they have had a bad experience in a particular situation and are over-generalizing now.

You should be able to proceed with your plans, but now you’ve got a new problem in that if the au pair is totally stressed out by the thought of all this, she may decide it’s not worth it to go with you. (Um, dare I venture to say that she’ll find something fun to do while you’re gone? :-) )

Or, if she does decide to be brave and go with you on her long-awaited trip, if she’s the nervous type the border staff may pick up on that and give her a hard time, making her regret the whole thing.

If it were me in your shoes, we would go and bring her with us. As insurance, I would print out all the appropriate policies from the state dept and Homeland security websites, and bring them with us just in case we needed to deal with a bureaucrat. We would be able to show them what web page to pull up. You might want to bring a phone number for your favorite representative’s district office with you, too. If a Congressmember’s office makes a phone call, things will resolve quickly, though this is obviously a worst-case scenario. That’s a huge leap of imagination. Guess I’m still in preparedness mode! :-)

Just go, bring her along, have a great time, and cross your fingers that you were worried for nothing when you come back in.

You are within the letter of the law/policies, so there’s not a big risk here.

I’m so glad you got some responses from real people who have done exactly the same thing! That should be very reassuring!

CV, this blog is a wonderful public service. Thank you again.


HRHM March 17, 2011 at 11:55 am

I actually know a Slovanian girl who went to Canada to try to get a new visa, was denied, but they let her back into the US to retrieve her things and leave on schedule with her old visa (she had a couple days left). I have personally taken an AP to Mexico during her last 3 weeks and we had no problems or questions coming back into the US through customs.

Seasoned Host Mom March 19, 2011 at 8:23 am

As an attorney who has (in a previous life) dealt with government agencies which issue rules/regulations, I would not advise the OP to rely on a regulation or opinion paper that may have been in existence a few years ago (under a different president and party). Those things can change like the wind, even on something as seemingly inconsequential as the J-1 visa rules. My 2 cents, it concerns me even more that you can no longer find it!

My 2 cents March 17, 2011 at 11:02 am

Well, I went ahead and did some more research because your LCC’s lazy answer is driving me crazy and I know I’m not crazy when I remember looking at this issue.

Check out, and the document this document on “automatic revalidation” for expired J-1 visas and automatic re-entry into the U.S.

When we did our search nothing this fancy was available, but trying to read through all the legal jargon I think this may be the answer. I’d still call your agency HQ and talk to someone and perhaps use this lingo to confirm things up. Or, even better, call the U.S. Customs folks and confirm!

Mom23 March 17, 2011 at 11:28 am

If your au pair has an itinerary for travel out of the U.S. that might be helpful to carry with you just in case you have problems at the border. I think that your au pairs home country is important too. If the au pair is from a country where people typically overstay their visas then I think you might have a potential problem. Nevertheless, I would build in extra time at the border just in case questions arise.

Steff March 17, 2011 at 11:46 am

As I read the post what I wanted to say was that I *think* her home country would probably have a lot to do with that and the re-entry to the US and stuff. If it were me the AP, I wouldn’t take the chance since I’m from a LatinAmerican country and the whole immigration drama tends to be harder on us for some reason (talking from mere experience, not real facts yet…) But since she’s from Sweden the chances of her entry to the country should be different. Perhaps even better. I would try to get more info; maybe within her friends (or friends of friends of friends – you know the deal) someone she knows that has done something alike – AP friends from her home country that had traveled and gone through immigration affairs already. Maybe even posting the question in AP’s usual online places (FB..?) and see if someone comes forward w/ some help. Oh and since you’re with CC then the forum thingie they also have to post questions and ideas and all that :)
There is still a good while till August so I wish you luck and hope you all can find a solution that leaves everybody happy.

Jenny March 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I traveled outside the country when my J-1 visa was about to expire and I came back to the country less than one week before the expiration date. It was a close cut. I was nervous, but reentering the country was the easiest thing ever. I’d say I had more “problems” boarding the plane in the country I was (airline guy asked me if I had a DS with an extended date) than I had at Customs in the US. At Customs I was only asked what I was doing in the US. I said au pair and they let me go without further questions. I don’t know if it might have helped that I left and reentered the country many times before that.

One of my au pair friends though said they held her at customs for quite sometime when she was trying to reenter in the same situation (she had something less than a month on her J-1), and that they asked her if she had a ticket back to her home country even. She said no because the agency hadn’t sent her ticket yet. There were a few more questions she said she was asked that I can’t remember, but she was allowed re-entry all the same.

It may be a whole different story when you’re a coming back on an already expired visa. I’d not know the answer to that though as I wasn’t willing to find the answer myself. lol I heard about the Mexico/Canada thing on expired visas, but didn’t want to risk that either.

aria March 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm

From everything OP posted, it seems like you’ve got your ducks in a row and that everything should be fine. But like everyone else is saying, who really knows what could happen? I think this is your AP’s decision to make, isn’t it? Worst case scenario for you, you’re majorly inconvenienced for the transition period. Worst case scenario for her… she can never re-enter the States?? Sounds serious. If I were her, I wouldn’t want to risk it. :/

franzi March 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

i believe it is important to note that the immigration officer has the right do deny any non-US citizen entry to the US. they do not need to state a reason for denying entry. having a valid visa / being registered via esta if a tourist etc does NOT exempt you from this. however, cases where someone with a valid visa is denied entry are slim and mostly are related to the immigration officer suspecting illegal activity when entering the country.

if your au pair is in her 12th month and has reported to her agency her travel dates then she is ok because she is legally allowed to leave and re-enter the US. you will be travelling with her so you have some control over the situation. make sure you stay in the immigration area until your ap has gone through immigration as well.

do not stress yourself over this stupid advise by the agency because that will leave your ap stressed when she is facing the immigration agent and they detect nervousness from a mile away.

what is upsetting me is that your agency basically told you that you can only travel with your ap 10 months out of her year because of “a suggestion”.

Jenny March 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I don’t think the host family would have any control over the situation in this case because when entering the country US citizens and foreigners go to different windows/lines. I’ve traveled outside the county with my host and we were separated from one another right when we stepped off of the airplane and only spoke again after going through customs. The au pair will get a chance to call the family only if something happens and they allow her to use a phone because cell phones are forbidden (and have no signal whatsoever) in that area. Therefore, au pair will be going through customs on her own.

ExAP March 18, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I think they might allow US-citizens to go through non-US customs. It would be worth a try :) But I guess it also depends on the facilities at the airport.

I went to Canada ´during my 7th month and again during my 12th month. Nothing happened, everything was fine. But I “just” went to Niagara Falls, by car, maybe that’s different to taking a plane?

franzi March 20, 2011 at 6:26 am

let me rephrase my comment. of course citizens and non-citizens are separated into lines. yet the immigration area is the same (has been at any US airport i went through immigration). as such the family and the AP are in the same “area” though not in the same line. i like exAP’s comment to go through immigration together, in the same line.

Should be working December 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm

We reentered the USA from Mexico with our au pair and she stayed in our line (citizens/green card), no problem. We even asked one of the standing-around agents and he said that was correct.

NJMom March 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I was with the same agency and remember that the AP had send a form (DS?) to the agency to get their approval on it before they departed the country. Could the agency refuse to approve the travel if it violates their own weird internal rules? Just trying to think ahead if the family does decide to bring her along. They should ask that question.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm

European APs in the metro DC area have had good luck in getting a second one-year visa by returning to their home countries for a week and reapplying (don’t try to go to a third country like Mexico or Canada). Generally they are not seen as an immigration risk, mainly because their standard of living tends to be higher in the US (although that varies now, doesn’t it?) I had one AP who extended with us because she was able to get the second visa, which meant she could go home for Christmas.

So, if your AP is very nervous – then a quick trip home might be in order (at her expense) to get a second visa. Other strategies – to be be able to show that she has a ticket to her home country (although if your agency is anything like APIA, she might not know by then – but the agency could provide her with a letter saying that they have evidence that the AP intends to return to her home country and needs to return to the US to complete her year). You might also write a letter on her behalf to carry with her through customs (because even if she can’t call via her cell – surely the agent can get ahold of you!). Another option – ask an immigration lawyer (at your expense, not hers) if there is an issue with temporary residents from X country.

Finally – talk to your AP. Ask her what would set her mind at ease. Tell her how much it would mean to you to have her join you in Canada. She might be a smart cookie and realize that the LCC is a scaremonger.

Bottom line – if you want it to happen, it will happen. It may take some advance planning.

WestMom March 18, 2011 at 8:12 am

We traveled to Canada with our French au pair in her 12th month and had no problem. I think that crossing the border together makes it a lot less suspicious than her crossing alone… I am planning to do it again (we go every summer- I am Canadian), and personally I am not that concerned with it. We cross by car though, and I think they tend to be more lenient (and patient) at the road customs.

German Au-Pair March 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

This topic in general is something I was wondering about as my future HF owns a vacation home in Canada and will be traveling there with me. So it might occur that I will have to travel there within my last months.
So do I get this right? It is NOT possible to go to Canada to reapply for a visa when you are extending? Not, that I really worry about extending yet -I’m not even there- and my plan is to NOT extend…but in that case extending seems absolutely out of the question when there is no possibility to accompany them in my second year without having to travel to Germany again…

aupair agencies March 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm

getting a visa is always tricky, and they expire, you have to leave the country, they not always extend the visa

Jill Shapiro March 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

I am a local care coordinator and this is what is says on our website about travel during the second year to Canada/Mexico. I imagine it is the same as travelling during the last months of her first year. But as always, no one can control what the customs official decides to do:

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean in the second year
Travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean (except Cuba) for fewer than thirty days is allowed, even with an expired J-1 visa in your passport. This is known as “visa revalidation.” The following conditions must apply in order for you to travel to these countries:

You must have an unexpired I-94 card indicating your J-1 status in your passport when you enter the U.S. Do not surrender the I-94 card when you leave the U.S. If you do, you will not be eligible for visa revalidation.
You must have your DS-2019 form with your extension program dates.
You must have a passport valid at least six months into the future on the day you return to the U.S.
You should contact the Cultural Care Operations Department for a copy of the visa revalidation regulation.
You can travel only to one of the destinations named above and for fewer than thirty days. For example, you cannot use automatic revalidation to enter Canada, depart to another country, return to Canada, and then return to the U.S. within 30 days.
·You cannot apply to renew your J-1 visa while in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. If you apply for the J-1 visa during your visit to one of these destinations, you must wait for it to be issued before you return. If your visa application is denied by the American consulate, you are not allowed to use automatic revalidation to return to the U.S. You will be required to travel to your country of citizenship to apply for a new visa.
You must have a J-1 visa (expired or valid) in your passport. If you lost your passport during your first year and had it replaced, you will not have the J-1 visa in that new passport and therefore cannot take advantage of travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean.
If you are a citizen of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, or Libya you are not eligible for visa revalidation. If you are a national of one of the above countries, you must always have a valid visa in your passport to enter the United States.
You may be required to have a tourist visa to enter a foreign country. The visa you have for the United States does not automatically grant entry into these countries. We recommend that you check with the consulate of the country you are visiting before you travel. Below are the commonly requested Canadian and Mexican consulate websites: or (click on visas/tourist visa and information will be in English)
The decision to allow an au pair back into the U.S. is at the discretion of the immigration officer at the port of entry. Cultural Care cannot guarantee reentry into the United States and will not be responsible for any costs incurred due to reentry problems.

2boys2girls March 20, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I e-mailed the question to our agency; here is their (not really helpful?) response:

Under certain circumstances, non-immigrants with expired visas are allowed to return to the United States in the same visa status in which they departed, to continue their previously approved activities, without having to obtain a new entry visa stamp. This is known as “automatic extension of visa validity” or “automatic revalidation.”

The provision for automatic extension of visa validity for individuals in F and J visa status applies to Canada, Mexico, and “adjacent islands.” “Adjacent islands” are in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea and vicinity, and include the British Virgin Islands, French West Indies, Netherlands Antilles, Windward and Leeward Islands, and other possessions and territories of Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Cuba is NOT included. A partial listing of adjacent islands is below. For verification of which islands constitute “adjacent islands,” consult the appropriate consulates or the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 101 (b)(5).
Anguilla Dominican Republic* Nevis Antigua and Barbuda Grenada* Saba Aruba Grenadines Saint Barthelemy Bahamas (Nassau)* Guadeloupe Saint Eustastius Barbados* Haiti* Saint Kitts Bermuda* Jamaica* Saint Lucia Bonaire Les Saintes Saint Marten British Virgin Islands Marie-Galante Saint Pierre Curacao* Martinique Saint Vincent Cayman Islands Miquelon Trinidad and Tobago* Dominica Montserrat Turks & Caicos Islands
*These islands have a United States Embassy or Consulate

In all cases, in order to qualify for automatic extension of visa validity, you must retain the same Form I-94 when leaving and reentering the United States. You may only qualify for automatic extension of visa validity if you have the visa stamp and a valid passport in your possession at the point of entry.

You will NOT be able to use automatic extension of visa validity if one of the following conditions applies:

If the visa stamp in your passport has been canceled, invalidated, voided, or contains specific language limiting the use of the visa
If you have applied for a new entry visa stamp during the visit, and are waiting for a response from the United States Embassy or Consulate in regards to your visa application
If you have applied for a new entry visa stamp during the visit, and your application has been denied
If you are a citizen or legal permanent resident of, or were born in, a country designated as a “state sponsor or terrorism” (currently North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran)
If your passport is issued by a country with which the United States has no diplomatic relations
If you are out of status in the United States

Chev March 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I traveled to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean during my extension year and never had any problems coming back into the states.
I traveled to the caribbean with my host family and returned 1 day after my visa had expired and so i entered on the visa waiver program.
I had a friend who’d gone to Canada and came back 2 days after her visa expired and she came back in on the expired visa.

I’d strongly suggest you get your AP to go here and pay her $14 and get approved so if there’s any problem coming back in on her J1 visa then she’s got the visa waiver program as a back up. As she’s from Sweden she should be able to do this :D
Just make sure she has a valid signed DS 2019 in her passport with the end date being after you plan to come back in :)

Pearl March 25, 2011 at 10:48 am

As suggested by a few folks up above, you should double-check the forms your au pair will need, if you haven’t already. It’s not just the visa she’ll need to bring, but the DS-2019, which Cultural Care must have signed to authorize travel, and I-94 form, her J-1 visa and a passport, as far as I can tell. Check out this helpful webpage for more info –

I’ve had some problems as well with this company avoiding giving us clear guidelines on legal issues such as this, probably for fear of liability. If your LCC isn’t helpful enough, you might want to ask the Program Director, his/her boss, to ask their legal department for advice on how to make this trip work. As sponsor for these au pairs’ visas, it seems the company ought to be responsible for giving them guidance on how to avoid violating the terms of their visas or getting stuck in other countries and not able to fulfill their contractual obligations to the company and the family. In other ways, though, I should add that I’m happy with this agency.

Good luck.

Julia March 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I have been at the POE and was almost denied. Long story short: My agency advised me not to travel outside the U.S with a visa less than 6 weeks. So my hostmom organized our trip to Mexico in a way I could still safely return.Our flight home was booked exactly 6 weeks before my visa was going to expire. The flight in Mexico got cancelled and we had to stay an extra night. Next morning we returned to the U.S and I got to an IO that was not in a good mood. He told me my visa was going to expire in less than 6 weeks and asked a lot of question. Afterwards I got sent to 2nd inspection and that was no fun at all. i was asked thousands of question do u plan a terrorist attack. do u take drugs and so on. After 3 hrs finally a 3rd officer showed up and showed some paper work to the other guy and I was sent back to a waiting area. 30 mins later I was called up again and a very nice officer was asking me why I was in second inspection I had a valid visa and an approved extension for another 12 months. So would I do it again never.

Grace October 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

Did you go to Canada with your aupair???

I dont like this topic at all!!! I’m a German au pair in my 2. year. My friends and I planned to go on a Caribbean Cruise for Thanksgiving. But now my host mom told me that we are going to Canada for Christmas (I’ve been to Canada 3 times before in my frist year). Can I use the visa revalidation more than once? Is the rule visiting Canada, Mexico and Caribbean just once, or just one of them?? I’m really confused and neighter my AD nor the agency can help me.

MommyMia October 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

It is the agency’s & LD’s JOB to help you – insist that they find out from someone higher up (state dept?) and give you an answer. Just be warned that you may not like the answer, because my understanding (five years of being a host family) is that year two APs may not travel outside the US, period. Your host family also should want to check into this if they plan to have you accompany them to Canada at Christmas…unfortunately, lots of travel rules changed after 9-11, but ever since the extension/year 2 AP was added, the rule against non-US travel has been in place, and you and the family should have been informed before signing the contract that this was the case.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

I agree. It’s in the agency’s best interest a) to know the rules and b) to know what to do to maximize your potential to return to your HF if you do travel outside the US in your extension year. I do know that you will be required to tell the agency that you are traveling outside the US no matter what. It is my understanding that MOST APs may travel to Canada and Mexico in their extension year, but I wouldn’t accept it as a given. As for travel to the Caribbean, you may want to know what the rules are before you attempt to step off the ship. If you’ve already booked that cruise, then it’s in your best interest to pressure the agency to provide you with an official answer.

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