Aug 29, 2013

UK Transit Visa for a valid F1 stamp and H1B approval

[Note: This post should now be obsolete, since I haven't kept up with the rules that might have changed since this article was posted. Please don't use this as a reference.]

In a couple months, I'll be traveling to India from the US, transiting through London. Just today, it came as a shocker on learning that I would need a UK transit visa for my London layover. Googling around helped to a certain extent to learn that one should be good to go without a transit visa as long as one has a valid visa stamp in the passport. However, there are others that talk about the 6 month rule, and stand by their opinion that even with a valid stamping, one would need a transit visa if one is transiting UK from the US, Canada, New Zealand or Australia, after having stayed in the country longer than 6 months.

Here's my quick little analysis of the first two points mentioned on the UK border agency website. The first three points explain the conditions for the transit visa exemption. These three points, about departing by air, departing within 24 hours and possessing valid documentation for destination, are all very clear without any ambiguity.

The mind games begin with the next section, "Additionally, you must hold:". This section is where people start coming up with their own hundred different interpretations and what ensues is confusion and panic about whether one needs a transit visa or not.
  Here's my humble interpretation of what the first two points mean. This would best apply to people in the no-man's land between having a valid F1 visa and an H1B petition approval, but no H1B stamp, and traveling from the US, transitioning through the UK.

The web page says :



Here goes..
 - You only need to satisfy condition 1 or condition 2. There is a lot of misleading advice on forums such as immihelp.com that lead you to believe that you would have to satisfy both conditions.

- It is important to note that you only need to possess a valid visa. This provision offers a lot of flexibility. Take for instance an individual with a valid F1 stamp but who has already transitioned to a H1B status despite not having a H1 stamp. This individual is no longer in an F1 status. However, as long as the expiration date on his F1 stamp hasn't passed, he still satisfies condition 1. One doesn't have to worry about the fact that one is technically not in F1 status. All that matters is a valid visa. So, a person with an F1 stamp and an H1B approval is good to slide through London without a transit visa. One doesn't need to worry if his or her I-20, SEVIS or the EAD card does not support their case.

- Condition number 2 drove me nuts. This condition is what opens the can of worms and lands people in an indecisive mess. Let us ignore the "journey to" part of condition 1, and only focus on "journey from" part of it. For all you know, one would of course have a valid visa as well as a valid status while returning to one of these countries. Hence it would be safe to ignore the "journey to" part of it, and what I write further applies only for the "journey from" part of condition 1.

I wondered for I don't know how long as to what is different between condition 1 and 2. There is a heck of a lot of confusion here. Here's a sampler of some puzzling questions one can think of. For someone traveling from the US to India, which condition needs attention? Is it 1 or 2? If condition 1 is satisfied since one possesses a valid visa, what if one still violates condition 2 since one is traveling out of the US after more than 6 months? Is there any case where one satisfies condition 2 but fails condition 1? Seems impossible. Here's what I think of all this :

- Even if someone leaves the US after having stayed in the country for more than 6 months, condition 1 is satisfied as long as he possesses a valid visa, although condition 2 is violated. Since any one condition needs to be met, this should eliminate the need for a transit visa.

- The only case I can think of where one would satisfy condition 2, but fail condition 1 is when one is traveling out of the US with an expired US visa, but has stayed in the US for less than 6 months. This would mean that the person last entered the US with a valid visa within the last 6 months, thereby meeting condition 2, but failing condition 1 due to the expired visa. This however is my own fancy interpretation and I'm not sure if I would be so confident as to risk trying to sneak through the UK with an expired US visa and without a transit visa. It is best to go for a UK transit visa if the US visa is not valid anymore, although I strongly believe that this condition is specifically for people with expired visas who are traveling out of US within 6 months of entering.

[UPDATE - I transited through London without any hassle with my valid-until-2015 student VISA. Now I'm back to the US.]

25 comments :

  1. Very nicely explained and has cleared a lot of confuion from my head regarding the term 'Valid Visa' as I am in the same condition as you were. I am on valid F1 Visa expiring on 2015 and my H1-B petition is approved (No Stamping done yet). I am gng to India for H1-B stamping via London. Now, since I have my valid F1 visa to US, I believe I do not require a transit visa. I am just curious in knowing what happened in your case? Were you able to slide through London without transit visa?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Teja!

    I get my first blog comment from a reader! Yaey! :) Motivated me to restart writing on my inactive blog again. How did you come across my blog?

    I did not face any problem during my transit through London. My student visa was valid until 2015 just like yours and nobody had any question or objection.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the answer. Now, I can breathe easily since you have faced it personally and have went thru the process.

    Oh yeah Congrats on ur first comment....I cut the ribbon as being the uninvited guest....:)........I came across ur blog just thru Google search. I guess the topic that you have chosen is a bit unique which got pulled up during web crawling.
    Well, I wud say go ahead with some unique topics and try implementing SEO techniques.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Nitin,
    Extremely helpful blog!!! I am in the same situation - have a valid F1 stamped on Passport validity till 2015, but now transitioned to H1 with I797 approval. Going to India to get the H1 stamped on Passport. I am going through Frankfurt Germany. Do the rules discussed in the blog apply via going from Frankfurt Germany as well? Do you have any idea about it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Hi Abhishek, I am in the same boat. I am travelling to India this December and have a valid F-1 Visa and a approved I-797 petition. I am also transiting via Frankfurt, Germany. Did you face any issues, I am travelling from Indianapolis-Chicago-Frankfurt-Chennai

      Delete
  5. Hi Abhishek,

    For Frankfurt, you wouldn't need a transit visa, as you are exempt because you hold a valid F1 visa. I have transited a few times through Frankfurt during my US-to-India and India-to-US journeys on my F1, never needing a transit visa. Happy journey!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hay you also been in the US for more than 6 months?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Lindelwa,

    Yeah, I was in the US more than 6 months. But that did not impact my case.

    ReplyDelete
  9. F-1 visa is fairly simple to apply for and lets you stay & travel throughout the U.S as long as you are a student and also provides you opportunity to bring your Spouse and any children under the age of 21 into the country while you are here studying.

    F-1 Visa

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Nitin,

    Currently I am on vaild F1 visa doing masters and my visa expires in 2018.In august 2014 I will be going to india via london in british airways. Do I need a transit visa?? From your scenario as long as I have vaild visa I don't require direct airside transit visa.
    Please reply. ..

    Thanks,
    Shashank.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I am staying in usa for more than six months.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Shashank,

    You wouldn't need a UK transit visa as you possess a valid F1.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Nitin - came across your website while I was searching for examples of people traveling on valid F1's to get their H1B stamped in India via London (post a 6 month stay in the US).

    Seems like a lot of people have been in the same boat in the recent past. For all those who commented on this thread, would you please be kind enough to let me know of your experiences? Did anyone face any trouble?

    From what I read on the blog - seems like I should be fine. My F1 expires in 2016 and I am going to Delhi next month to get my H1B stamping done.

    Here's the most recent text from the UK. gov website:

    Transiting without a visa
    You might be eligible for the ‘transit without visa concession’ if:

    1) you arrive and depart by air
    2) have a confirmed onward flight which leaves within 24 hours
    3) have the right documents for your destination (eg a visa for that country)

    One of the following must also apply:

    1) you’re travelling to Canada, New Zealand or the USA and have a valid visa for that country
    2) you’re travelling from Canada, New Zealand or the USA and it’s less than 6 months since you last entered that country with a valid entry visa
    3) Others...

    The website clearly says that "one of the following must also apply". Bullet 2 works absolutely fine while coming back from Delhi via London. But bullet 2 does not while traveling from the US to Delhi via London...
    or, just having one of these bullets satisfied works??

    I know you guys have spoken about this in the past - but any information / replies here would make me more comfortable with my travel plans.
    Thanks for your help guys!

    -Anshuman

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Anshuman did u find any info on this? I am also in the same boat. Looks like the transit visa rules are changing from December 1st, 2014, but the uk visa check tool hasn't been updated to reflect these changes.

      Delete
    2. Vijay - I am still researching. Not so sure yet.

      What are the transit visa rules changing to? Also I am planning to travel right around thanksgiving....so thats before the Dec 1 timeline..

      Delete
    3. Anshuman, from what I see, looks like the rules have now changed for the worse and my blog post is now obsolete. It appears that you would need a transit visa if transiting from the US to India after having stayed in the US for more than six months, even if you have a valid US visa.

      http://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/21259/is-transit-visa-required-for-london-uk-when-travelling-from-usa-to-india-while

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/275926/Charging_Guide_Jan_2014_Version_6.pdf

      Here are a couple resources that say so.

      Delete
  14. Nitin and others - did you use London for transit both ways; i.e. USA-IND and IND-USA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anshuman/Nitin, Did any of you make this travel? I am travelling to Chennai via London Heathrow from USA on December 23 2014 on a valid F1 visa. Also coming back on the same route. Did you have any issues? Thanks in advance!

      Delete
  15. Hi Nitin,

    Seems like rules have been relaxed since you travelled. There is no six month clause. They just want people of have valid visa to travel to any other country transiting via London. I am on F1 with H1b approved. Does H1b approval changes status and makes F1 status invalid but F1 visa still remains valid? Does after H1b stamping F1 becomes invalid or it remains valid?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Ashish,

      Once you are out of United States, your status does not matter. Your visa stamp in your passport is the only thing that matters. If the expiration date on your visa stamp hasn't passed, that would mean your visa is still valid.

      In your case, H-1B approval doesn't change anything for transiting. As long as your F-1 visa date hasn't passed, you are still considered to have a valid visa while transiting London. After your H-1B visa stamping, your F-1 visa will no longer be relevant.

      Delete
  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete