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The situation is this: my fiancée has traveled to Mexico from the UK, and we had a short layover of 3 hours in NYC, then headed to Mexico where we planned to stay for 180 days as she was allowed on her Mexican visa. Though, someone at the airline told her that because she touched us territory with the 3 hour layover done in the us, she is still under ESTA laws and needs to leave Mexico too, before 90 days instead of 180.

We have a plane ticket going back to the uk, direct flight with no layovers in the us, nor any intention of going back to the us at the moment. The question is if she needs to leave Mexico to not have problems with the us law in the future, or if going back to the uk in a direct flight, even after her 90 days of Esta are done, will reset her clock and allow her to enter the us in the distant future.

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[S]omeone at the airline told her that because she touched us territory with the 3 hour layover done in the us, she is still under ESTA laws and needs to leave Mexico too, before 90 days instead of 180.

This is not correct. The 90-day rule for the Visa Waiver Program only concerns travelers who wish to re-enter the US within 90 days after entry. Border officers are permitted to readmit them for the duration of the initial 90-day period instead of granting a new 90-day period. A traveler who seeks to re-enter the US after the expiration of the 90-day period can only be granted a new 90-day period (or be denied entry, of course). Since your plan is to return to the UK without transit through the US, you do not need to worry about that.

In no event can US law control when someone in Mexico is required to leave Mexico, of course, and the US will not keep track of your fiancée's travels after she flies to Mexico. In particular, it will not know when she leaves Mexico.

Furthermore, the answer to your question …

[Will] going back to the uk in a direct flight, even after her 90 days of Esta are done, … reset her clock and allow her to enter the us in the distant future[?]

… is yes. The only potential problem would be if she arrived in the US from Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean, but if this truly happens in "the distant future," the chance of such a problem is virtually nil.

For reference, the regulation that creates the "clock not resetting" rule is 8 CFR 217.3(b):

(b) Readmission after departure to contiguous territory or adjacent island. An alien admitted to the United States under this part may be readmitted to the United States after a departure to foreign contiguous territory or adjacent island for the balance of his or her original Visa Waiver Pilot Program admission period if he or she is otherwise admissible and meets all the conditions of this part with the exception of arrival on a signatory carrier.

  • My recollection is if a person enters the US from a distant place like the UK, leaving to a nearby place like Mexico doesn't count as an exit, so the 90 day clock continues to tick. There is a place to send evidence that one left if it doesn't get recorded automatically, but would sending evidence of leaving Mexico 180 days after entering the US satisfy the requirement? – Gerard Ashton Mar 13 at 21:50
  • @GerardAshton regarding "leaving to a nearby place like Mexico doesn't count as an exit": that's not how it works from a legal point of view. The person is most certainly not considered to be present in the US during his or her time in the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico. I've added a citation to the specific paragraph of the CFR. Also note the use of "may," which means that using this provision is discretionary. – phoog Mar 13 at 22:03
  • I was mixed up with the requirement to have a return or onward ticket to be admitted under VWP, and Mexico would not have counted as "onward" when arriving from the UK. But since the transit already happened, that's a moot point. – Gerard Ashton Mar 13 at 22:07
  • @GerardAshton the actual rule with regard to tickets is related to the traveler's residence, not the point of origin. So a British citizen (or any VWP traveler) who resides in Mexico can use a ticket to Mexico to satisfy the requirement, even if arriving from the UK or indeed from anywhere else. This is regulated 8 CFR 217.2(c)(1). – phoog Mar 13 at 22:18
  • I forgot a preposition in my previous comment! At or by, take your pick. – phoog Mar 14 at 2:33

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