Travel Outside the USA … Paperwork-related cautionary tale

by cv harquail on May 10, 2011

Sometimes no matter how many different sources we check, we don’t get enough information to make international travel with our au pairs go without a hitch.

JamaicaMom sent this story, and wonders if there was some stone she left unturned, some box she failed to check, some egg that failed to hatch, some colloqualisim that translated imperfectly, that held the whole family in Jamaica until their au pair could clear Customs and come home together.201105101921.jpg

We recently returned from a trip to the Caribbean and were traveling with our au pair, who is from eastern Europe. We did everything our agency told us to do, and followed all the advice I read on this blog about traveling with an au pair:

1. She had a current passport that was not expiring anytime soon
2. We got her a visa for the country we were visiting
3. We contacted the airline and told them we were traveling with our au pair and asked if there was any special documentation she needed to travel with in order to re-enter the U.S.

Our trip was to the Bahamas, which is one of about five countries in the world where you go through U.S. immigration/customs at their airport when you are returning home. Typically, you go through customs when you arrive on U.S. soil.

When it was our turn to be interviewed by the U.S. customs officer he asked us to produce her ORIGINAL “certificate of eligibility for exchange visitor (J-1) status”. This is a white piece of paper that this issued by the U.S. department of state. We DID NOT have the original, or even a copy.

While we were allowed to pass through customs and return home our au pair was detained. We decided to stay with her and work to resolve the issue so she could return to the U.S. This was very scary for us and for our au pair.

I just wanted to inform everyone traveling with their au pairs out of the country that in order to gain entry back into the U.S. you must travel with this paper and it must be the original. Just in case – like us – you didn’t know that.

Cheers, JamaicaMom

See also: Tip: Insist on the Second-To-Last bus
How risky is it to travel when her J-1 Visa is soon to expire?
It’s YOUR vacation, not hers. Okay?

lovely baby photo by mamaloco on Flickr


Indi Au Pair to be May 10, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for this advice, I’ve traveled abroad before (I’m from México) and I get so “paranoid” about the custom policies and officers that I usually take originals, copies, digital copies saved on my iphone as JPG’s and also a post it with my passport/visa/hotel and plane confirmation tickets written on it. One can never be too cautious. Thanks once again!

HRHM May 11, 2011 at 8:54 am

Your agency knows this and they screwed you (I mean steered you wrong LOL). On the CC website it clearly states that the AP will need her unexpired passport, her I-94 AND her DC-2019 (that form they asked for) which MUST be signed by the agency clearing her for international travel. So they know she needs it because THEY have to sign it. I would be seriously talking to them about compensating you financially (at least partially) for the expenses associated with having to rearrange your travel, lost work, etc.

German Au-Pair May 11, 2011 at 11:28 am

Agreed. AuPairCare also tells you that this is how it’s done.

HRHM May 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Sorry, I meant DS-2019

Julie May 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm

CC tells all families and au pairs to call operations before taking any trip outside the US–au pairs from some countries will have more leniency, particularly in their second year, but it sounds like a very scary situation. I think au pairs sometimes take some of the paperwork too lightly, but the US State Department doesn’t. Thanks for the important warning!

Taking a Computer Lunch May 11, 2011 at 9:51 pm

Our agency reminds APs to contact them several weeks before traveling outside the country so that all appropriate documentation may be countersigned in time. During a family vacation in which we were taking an outgoing and incoming AP, we wanted to travel to Canada. However, the outgoing AP was in her 13th month (and did not yet have her returned flight booked) and our incoming AP had been in the US less than 2 weeks. Not enough time to get either one paperwork, and so we stayed in the US.

DarthaStewart May 12, 2011 at 12:47 am

We had a situation a few years ago where we had a family reunion in Jamaica the week that the AP arrived. We were with Cultural Care at the time, and they stepped up to the plate. We pre-arranged that they would get the form from the AP the second she got off the plane from Germany, and get it signed and returned, in time for her to fly to us to Jamaica on Friday. It all worked out.

Not that I recommend necessarily setting expectations that way.

HRHM May 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

About the “original” business. Anytime your AP can’t find her DS-2019, she can call the agency and they will get her a new “original” so it’s not a big deal if it gets lost/eaten by the dog/covered in makeup and nailpolish, so long as you call in advance of leaving for your vacation and get her a new, SIGNED, original for the trip.

KM May 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm

FYI, the “new” original will not have the Embassy signature and stamp on it. Some port of entry officials may not accept the “new” original without an Embassy signature and stamp. They do not consider it an original unless the DS form is signed by the Embassy and has their stamp on it. It would help if govt workers were consistent in their procedures. Is there anything on the State Dept web site about this?

MsA May 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm

The DS-2019 is crucial for the visa. Only with the DS 2019 the visa is valid!

chithu May 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm

I have interned in the US and got my J1 from my home country in Asia. It’s drilled into us every moment of the orientation program that we should always have the DS-2019 (original one stamped by the US Embassy in our home country) with us at all times during travel inside and outside the USA, in case of random checking by any border official.

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