December 2, 2005
These travel tips have been prepared by the staff of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) to advise you of important information that will help facilitate your lawful exit and re-entry to the U.S.
This advisory will provide information related
to the specific issues listed below:
- Travel Endorsements (“Travel Signatures”)
- ISSO Immigration Status Checks
- US-VISIT Entry-Exit System
- Documents Required for Re-Entry into the United States
- Applying for a U.S. Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
- Travel to Canada, Mexico and the Adjacent Islands
- NSEERS Special Registrant Departure Procedure
- Additional Information
A. Travel Endorsements (“Travel Signatures”)
All international students and scholars in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are required to present an unexpired Form I-20 (if in F-1 Status) or an unexpired Form DS-2019 (if in J-1 status) bearing a valid travel endorsement from an official at the ISSO, usually referred to as a “travel signature,” at the port of entry when returning to the U.S. from a trip outside the country. Travel endorsements are valid for one year, except for travel to Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands, in which case the signature is valid for six months. The ISSO generally requires 24 hours to process a travel signature request.
Additional information about traveling outside the U.S. can be found at:
For F-1 students:
For J-1 students and scholars:
B. ISSO Immigration Status Checks
All international students 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) which is created by the ISSO. Your Certificate of Eligibility Form I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status) is a SEVIS generated document with an identifying SEVIS number on the top right hand section of the document. Your SEVIS record contains information about your program of study or research and the dates of your program/employment. When you re-enter the United States, a Port of Entry official may check your record in the SEVIS database. If you would like to ensure that all the information in the database is accurate, you may stop by the ISSO and request an “immigration status check” prior to your travel.
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 overnight 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.
C. 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 classification 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 15 seaports, and many more should be in place by December 31, 2005.
More information is available
D. 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:
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport (except for Canadian
- 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
that will be no older than six months at the date of entry, as
well as their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and a letter
from an employer verifying they have a job in the U.S.
E. Applying For a U.S. Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad
Processing times vary among U.S. embassies and consulates. If you intend to travel outside of the U.S. and need to apply for a visa to return, 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.
You can also get information on wait times for appointments and visa issuance at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/tempvisitors_wait.php.
Factors that affect visa application processing include:
- Required personal interviews
- Security checks throughout the visa application process
- Supplementary nonimmigrant visa application forms DS-157 and DS-158
1) Required personal interviews
As a general rule, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are required to schedule a personal interview with the consulate so that the consular post can take fingerprints of the applicant. Consular posts at a few countries have drop-off or mail-in visa application procedures for students and scholars renewing visas if they have already been fingerprinted during 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 Clearances
In recent years, the Department of State has been performing security checks at all U.S. embassies and consulates for male 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.
Security checks can take anywhere from five business days to three months or more, but most are approved in no more than three to four weeks. Citizens of the above-mentioned countries who plan to travel and apply for a new visa stamp must be aware of these possible delays.
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. Security checks are not limited to citizens of the countries listed above and are at the discretion of the consular officer. A security check is based on a number of different factors including, but not limited to, information in your application forms. An advisor at the ISSO may be able to help you determine if you are likely to 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 are on the Technology Alert List (TAL) are subject to special security clearance by the Department of State when applying for a visa. Although the Department of State no longer publishes updates to the TAL, the August 2002 version, the last published, found at the following link will provide you with an overview of the types of areas the Department of State considers sensitive: 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 Department of State’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 and consulates in third countries. An updated list is maintained on the Department of State’s web site at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm.
3) Supplementary Nonimmigrant Visa Application
DS-156: All nonimmigrant visa applicants are required to complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. 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.
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.
The above forms can be obtained at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad as well as on the DOS website at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/forms/forms_1342.html.
Additional information on applying for a visa can be found on the ISSO web site at:
For F-1 students:
For J-1 students and scholars:
F. Visits to
Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands with Expired U.S. Visa Stamps
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 been 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.
Exceptions to the rule:
- Citizens of certain countries are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation
- Nonimmigrant visa applicants who are denied a visa are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation
1. Citizens of certain countries are not
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. An updated list is maintained on the Department of State’s web site at http://www.state.gov/s/ct/c14151.htm.
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 restriction applies to citizens of all countries, not just the six 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 DS-2019) and a valid I-94 card are eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation unless they are citizens of the six 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.
G. NSEERS Special Registration Departure Procedure
If you were designated as an NSEERS “Special Registrant” upon entry to the U.S., you must comply with the established departure procedures by presenting yourself 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 to the U.S.
Detailed information about NSEERS is available on the ISSO website at:
H. 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.