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After a few years on F-1 status (first, as a PhD student, then on my OPT and STEM OPT), I finally acquired an H1B status through my job a few days ago via change of status (without leaving the country). I would like to travel to a more exotic place than a regular US state and possibly less expensive than Hawaii. However, I know that if I leave the country, I will need to obtain a stamp/visa in the US consulate to come back. And I've heard that for Russian citizens (like myself) this process nowadays takes weeks and months and carries additional risks. Given my limited vacation time, I don't want to do leave the US now. I came up with an idea to go to one of US Territories, e.g. Puerto Rico, however I still don't know if I can do that without the need to obtain H1B visa/stamp in my passport. I've read that I may need my Russian passport to enter Puerto Rico, but have not yet found information about coming back to the mainland US relevant to my case. I even asked an attorney that works for our company this question and they said "Domestic travel" is fine (like if I did not know that) without really explicitly telling me if going to Puerto Rico or other US Territories is fully considered a domestic travel. So, my main question is:

Given my H1B status and Russian citizenship, will I need to obtain a stamp/visa when I return from a US Territory (one of: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands) to mainland USA? I do have an American driver's license.

I would really appreciate if you could reference a document or a legit website that supports your answer, but of course general immigration knowledge and life experience would be very helpful as well.

I found a couple of similar questions here:

  • First, some terminology: "Adjustment of status" is used if you are becoming a permanent resident. If the new status is a nonimmigrant status, then the term is "change of status." All I've been able to find on this is that it's virtually impossible to get an answer from official government sources. Statutes and regulations are inconsistent and applied inconsistently. I think you should be fine, especially if you have a US driver's license, and in any event I am fairly sure that you will not be able to get a new visa while you are in a US territory. I hope someone who has done it will answer. – phoog Oct 11 '19 at 23:17
  • @phoog, thanks for your comment, I updated the terminology and mentioned my driver's license as well. Indeed, I also spent quite a bit of time trying to find official information and about it with no success so far. – sd1074 Oct 12 '19 at 3:39
  • ¿Habla Ud. español? – Robert Columbia Oct 12 '19 at 12:41
  • @RobertColumbia, not really, pucito :) – sd1074 Oct 12 '19 at 16:44
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    American Samoa is outside the US immigration system, so if you go to American Samoa, you definitely need a valid US visa to return to the US. – user102008 Oct 12 '19 at 16:56
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Answering my own question. I have successfully traveled MA->Puerto Rico->MA and the only document they checked was my US driver's license. 

An attorney that works with my employer, however, told me to have my I-797 and a few most recent paystubs with me which I did, but again nobody asked me for them. I also carried my Russian passport (загранпаспорт).

  • You don't need a visa for purely domestic flights. – Michael Hampton Jan 21 at 20:48
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    @MichaelHampton, what is a domestic flight? I am not sure if it's true or not, but user102008 above said that going to American Samoa would require a valid US visa. American Samoa is a US territory. I did mention this term in my question. – sd1074 Jan 21 at 21:50
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    For the purpose of travel American Samoa is the only exception as they have an entirely separate immigration regime from the rest of the US, for long complicated historical reasons. You'd need a valid visa to return to anywhere else in the US if you were to go there. Even US permanent residents cannot go there without advance parole or they are considered to have abandoned their permanent residence. But since it's not very common to travel there, it usually doesn't get mentioned. – Michael Hampton Jan 21 at 23:39
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    @MichaelHampton CBP actually maintains that foreigners do require a passport to fly between Puerto Rico or the USVI and US states. The statutes and regulations don't treat these flights any differently from flights between Alaska or Hawaii and other US states, but they do seem to say that aliens generally require passports for all such flights. It's truly baffling. – phoog Jan 22 at 2:32

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