In the wake of the hurricanes that have brought massive flooding to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico, many foreign nationals are reporting that their passports and visas have been water-damaged. Foreign nationals with water-damaged documents are advised to replace them prior to traveling internationally (if possible) or ensuring that they allow time to apply for a new visa or passport abroad before attempting to return to the United States. The ink that is used in the documents does not hold up to water, and if the damage is apparent by looking at the document, there is a high likelihood that the visa/passport will not be machine readable. Individuals who seek reentry to the United States by air will not be permitted to board an airplane if their passports cannot be scanned. There is very little room for discretion for those entering by air, as the airlines will likely deny boarding before CBP ever sees the applicant.
Those who seek reentry by land may receive greater favorable discretion, as they may be granted a waiver of the required entry document (on Form I-193). Such waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the port, and there is no guarantee that it will be done in any particular case. In cases that merit favorable discretion (e.g., emergency travel due to hardship), an attorney may be able to facilitate the process by having the foreign national return to the United States through a land border port of entry and contacting that port in advance of reentry to discuss the case and explain why the case merits an I-193 waiver approval. Ports will never pre-adjudicate admissibility, but entry may be facilitated by making this type of inquiry in advance. The I-193 waives only the lack of a travel document and does not waive any other grounds of inadmissibility.