News Calendar About Statistics FAQs Contact Links
 International Students & Scholars Office
 Students Scholars Administrators

News

Travel Advisory

For

International Students and Scholars

December 10, 2004

Purpose 
This travel advisory has been prepared by the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) to keep you up-to-date on the many recent changes in federal regulations. In response to the events of September 11, 2001, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Department of State (DOS) have instituted many important changes of which you should be aware as they may significantly influence your travel plans.

This advisory will provide information about changes related to the specific issues listed below.

  1. US-VISIT Entry-Exit System
  2. NSEERS Special Registrant Departure Procedure
  3. Recommended “ISSO immigration status check”
  4. Documents required for re-entry into the United States
  5. Applying for a U.S. visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad
  6. Travel to Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands

US-VISIT Entry-Exit System
In January of 2004, the United States implemented new security measures through the US-VISIT entry-exit system. Upon arrival in the U.S., persons seeking to enter in any nonimmigrant classifications are subject to an inkless fingerprinting process and a digital photograph. This procedure was extended in September of 2004 and is now in effect in 115 major airports and 14 seaports. More information is available at: http://www.dhs.gov/xtrvlsec/programs/content_multi_image_0006.shtm

NSEERS Special Registration Departure Procedure
On December 16, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security changed certain requirements for person designated as NSEERS "Special Registrants." While call-in registration is no longer required at this time, persons who have been designated as special registrants must still comply with the established departure procedures by presenting themselves to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at a designated port of departure when exiting the U.S. Failure to depart as specified is considered a violation of nonimmigrant status and can result in difficulty returning the U.S. Detailed instructions on this procedure are available on the ISSO website at: http://www.bu.edu/isso/news/2003/2003-12-16-registration.html

Immigration Status Check
As of August 1, 2003, all international student and scholars in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are required to have a record in the electronic Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your Certificate of Eligibility Form I-20 for F-1 status or DS-2019 for J-1 status must be a SEVIS generated document with an identifying SEVIS number on the top right hand section of your document. Your SEVIS record contains information about your program of study or research and the dates of your registration. In order to ensure that all the information in the database is accurate, we recommend that you stop by the ISSO and complete an “immigration status check” prior to your travels. When you re-enter the United States, the Port of Entry officer may check the SEVIS database and we want to ensure that all the information in it is as accurate as possible to facilitate your entry into the U.S.

In order to request an immigration status check, please bring all of your immigration documents to the ISSO. We will check the validity of your passport, visa and I-94 card. We will then keep your I-20 or DS-2019 for one day in order to thoroughly review your SEVIS record. If necessary, we will renew the travel signature on your document. Status checks verify personal updates to your record including your compliance with semester verification, therefore, it is not necessary to complete a status check more than once each semester unless you have experienced other significant changes to your academic program and have questions regarding your immigration status or your documentation.

Documents Required to Re-enter the United States in F-1 or J-1 Status
The following documents are required to re-enter the United States in F-1 or J-1 status:

  1. Valid passport
  2. Valid visa stamp in your passport (except for Canadian citizens)
  3. Valid SEVIS Form I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status), endorsed for travel by the ISSO. Travel endorsements are generally valid for one year to most countries, but six months to Canada, Mexico, and the adjacent islands. Students on F-1 Optional Practical Training should also have a signature within six months.

Procedures for Nonimmigrant Visa Applications
Changes in policies and procedures have significantly increased the processing times for visa stamp applications at U.S. Embassies and Consulates. We anticipate additional changes and therefore the information provided in this advisory is subject to revision at any time. If you intend to travel outside of the U.S., we strongly suggest you contact your advisor at the ISSO so you may be given the most current information available.

In addition, we recommend that you contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate at which you intend to apply for the visa to inquire about their specific application process. A list of links to the websites of all U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad can be found at http://usembassy.state.gov/.

There have been a number of changes to the application procedures for a nonimmigrant visa stamp. The changes have led to significant delays in visa issuance. The major changes include:

  1. Required personal interviews
  2. Additional Security checks throughout the visa application process
  3. Supplementary nonimmigrant visa application forms DS-157 and DS-158

1) Required personal interviews
Effective August of 2003 , all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are required to schedule a personal interview with the consulate due to the addition of fingerprinting procedures. The U.S. Department of State recommends that all visa applicants expect delays to accommodate for this requirement. Consular posts at a few countries have resumed drop-off or mail-in visa application procedures for students renewing visas if they have already been fingerprinted in a prior application. If you are traveling during a holiday period please be reminded that U.S. Embassies and Consulates are often closed for extended periods. Please check the U.S. State Department website for updated information http://usembassy.state.gov

2) Security Clearance
The Department of State has been performing additional security checks at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates for visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45 from predominantly Muslim countries. Although the DOS has not published an official list of countries, it is likely that these procedures apply to citizens of the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen

It is estimated that the security checks could take anywhere from 20 business days to several months.Citizens of the above-mentioned countries, who plan to travel and apply for a new visa stamp, must be aware that the process could take much longer than it has in the past.

Even if you are not from one of the countries listed above, we recommend that you consult with an advisor in our office if you plan to travel and apply for a new visa. The consular official will determine if you are subject to a security check based on a number of different sources of information including, but not limited to, your application forms. Security checks are not limited to citizens of the countries listed above and are at the discretion of the visa officer. If your application is subject to a security check you will most likely experience a significant delay in your visa issuance. An advisor at the ISSO may be able to help you determine if you may be subject to a security clearance. Please recognize that potential delays in visa application processing may make it impossible for you to return to resume your studies or activities on time. Therefore, if you need a new visa, please seriously consider your travel plans. Travel over winter intersession is of particular concern since typically the U.S. Embassies and Consulates experience a high volume of visa applications during that period and many offices close or reduce their hours during the holidays.

In addition, many students and scholars studying or conducting research in areas considered to be sensitive technology and/or on the Technology Alert List (TAL) are subject to special security clearance by the Department of State when applying for a visa. Although the Officials at US Embassies and Consulates use an unpublished list when making determinations, you may wish to refer to the Department of State Technology Alert List at the following address for guidance:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/forms/tal.pdf

If visa applicants apply for a visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in a third country (a country other than their country of citizenship) they must remain in that third country while they wait for visa approval and possible security clearances. Finally, please also be reminded that citizens of countries on the DOS’s list of “states that sponsor terrorism” (currently Iran , Libya , Sudan , Syria , North Korea and Cuba) are prohibited from applying for visas at U.S. Embassies or Consulates in third countries.

3) Supplementary Nonimmigrant Visa Application Forms:
DS-156: All nonimmigrant visa applicants are required to complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. This form can be obtained at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad as well as on the DOS website at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/forms/forms_1342.html. Please be advised that the standard machine-readable, nonimmigrant visa application fee is now $100 plus the reciprocity fee for your country.

DS-157: The Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-157 is now required of all male visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45 regardless of their nationality and regardless to which U.S. Embassy or Consulate they apply for a visa. Please note that consular officials also have the discretion to require any nonimmigrant visa applicant, regardless of age or gender, to complete the Form DS-157, if deemed necessary. The form requires the applicant to list all countries to which he/she has traveled, previous employers and previous schools attended.Please be prepared to provide this information. You may access the form and download it from the DOS website at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/forms/forms_1342.html

DS-158 The Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-158 is now required of all individuals applying for student visas. The form requires the applicant to list contact information of family members and a work history that includes dates and contact information of previous employers. Applicants should be prepared to provide this detailed information. It may be advisable to bring a CV or resume with you. You may access the form and download it from the DOS website at http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/forms/forms_1342.html

Changes in Visits to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands with Expired U.S. Visa Stamps
As of April 1, 2002, there have been two significant changes to the Automatic Visa Revalidation benefit. Automatic Visa Revalidation allows nonimmigrant visa holders to travel to "contiguous territories" (Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands, except Cuba) for a visit of 30 days or fewer, and return to the U.S. with an expired U.S. visa stamp, provided they entered the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa category and have and are maintaining valid nonimmigrant status. The adjacent islands include: The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Jamaica, Martinique, St. Pierre and Miquelon, Trinidad and Tobago, The Leeward Islands (Anguilla, Antigua, Guadeloupe, Nevis, St. Kitts and the British Virgin Islands), the Windward Islands (Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent) and other British, French or Dutch territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.

The two changes to this policy are as follows:

  1. Citizens of certain countries are no longer eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation
  2. Nonimmigrant visa applicants who are denied a visa are no longer eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation

1. Citizens of certain countries are no longer eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation
Citizens of countries identified by the Department of State as a “state that sponsors terrorism” (currently Iran , Libya , Sudan , Syria , North Korea and Cuba) are no longer eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation. Please be advised that the countries included on this list are subject to change.

2. Individuals who apply for a new visa stamp are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation while their application is pending or if they are denied a visa.
An individual who chooses to apply for a nonimmigrant visa stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in a contiguous territory (Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, except Cuba) is not eligible to return to the U.S. while the application is pending or if the application is denied at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

If the visa application is denied, the applicant will be required to travel directly elsewhere (most likely to their home country) to apply again for a U.S. visa stamp before they may return to the U.S. Please note that this new restriction applies to citizens of all countries, not just the 6 countries listed above.

In summary, individuals traveling to the contiguous territories (Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands, except Cuba) for a stay of 30 days or fewer who have an expired U.S. visa, valid passport, valid immigration documents (i.e. SEVIS Form I-20 or DS2019) and a valid I-94 card are still eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation unless they are citizens of the seven above named countries. All others are eligible to take advantage of automatic visa revalidation and return to the U.S. with an expired visa stamp.

Additional Information
The ISSO is pleased to provide you with information, advice, and assistance on any visa or immigration matter, which relates to your activities at Boston University.  If you have any questions or would like additional information, please visit our office or call to make an appointment to meet with your ISSO Advisor and visit our website at http://www.bu.edu/isso.

 

ISSO
Boston University
February 28, 2005

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office