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 International Students & Scholars Office
 Students Scholars Administrators

 

Travel Tips

for

International Students and Scholars


Revised

December 6, 2006

Purpose 
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.  Individuals from Canada, Mexico and Bermuda should pay particular attention to item E which discusses new passport requirements for entering the U.S.

This advisory will provide information related to:

 
A.
Travel Endorsements (“Travel Signatures”)
 
B.
ISSO Immigration Status Checks
 
C.
US-VISIT Entry-Exit System
 
D.
Documents Required for Re-Entry into the United States
 
E.

New Passport Requirements for Citizens of Canadian, Mexico
and Bermuda

 
F.
Applying for a U.S. Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad
 
G.
Travel to Canada, Mexico and the Adjacent Islands
 
H.
NSEERS Special Registrant Departure Procedure
 
I.
Traveling after Completion of Your Program (Students)
 
J.
 Traveling after Termination of Employment/Research (Scholars)
 
K.
Report to the ISSO upon Re-entry to the U.S.
 
L.
Additional Information and Assistance from the ISSO

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 signatures are valid for one year, except for travel to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands.  When traveling to one of these countries, we recommend that the signature be no older than six months. The ISSO generally requires 24 hours to process a travel signature request.  For students in F-1 status who are in a period of Optional Practical Training following graduation, the travel signature is valid for only six months.

Additional information about traveling outside the U.S. can be found at:

For F-1 students:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/students/current/f1/travel/index.html

For J-1 students and scholars:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/students/current/j1/travel/index.html


B. ISSO Immigration Status Checks
All international students and scholars in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are required to have an electronic record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) 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 a SEVIS identification 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 academic activities. 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.

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
Many international students and scholars will be required to comply with the entry and exit requirements of the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indication Technology (US-VISIT) system when traveling through a U.S. port.

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 is currently in effect in 115 major airports and 15 seaports.

If exit procedures are in place at your chosen port of departure, you may be required to have your fingerprints, photographs and travel documents re-scanned so that the exit may be recorded.  This is usually done at a self-service kiosk.  US-VISIT exit procedures are currently operating at 12 airports and two seaports.

More information is available at: http://www.dhs.gov/xtrvlsec/programs/content_multi_image_0006.shtm

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:

  1. Valid passport

  2. Valid F-1 or J-1 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), with a travel signature from the ISSO.

    IMPORTANT NOTE:  Travel signatures are generally valid for one year when returning from most countries.   We recommend, however, that the signature be no older than six months when traveling to Canada, Mexico or 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, regardless of the country visited, as well as their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and a letter from an employer verifying they have a job in the U.S
    .

E. New Passport Requirements for Citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda
Beginning January 23, 2007, citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda will be required to present a passport or Air NEXUS card when entering or re-entering the U.S. by air from within the Western Hemisphere.  It is likely that passports will be required for entry via land ports beginning January 1, 2008.  More information can be found on the Department of State web site at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

F. 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 procedures. A list of links to the web sites 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:

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. Department of State web site 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 particularly 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 the potential for security clearances and plan for 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 these countries 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, and your field of study or research. 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, U.S. embassies and consulates experience a high volume of visa applications during this 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, will provide you with an overview of the types of areas the Department of State considers sensitive.  The TAL can be downloaded at 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 clearance.

Finally, please also be reminded that citizens of countries on the Department of State’s list of “states that sponsor terrorism” (currently Iran, 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 Forms:

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 (http://travel.state.gov/visa/reciprocity/index.htm).

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 of the U.S. embassy or consulate to which 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. 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 Department of State web site 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:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/students/current/f1/renewing/index.html

For J-1 students and scholars:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/students/current/j1/renewing/index.html

G. Visits to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands with Expired U.S. Visa Stamps
Automatic Visa Revalidation allows most 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 had previously entered the U.S. in a nonimmigrant visa category and have been maintaining valid nonimmigrant status.  For scholars in H-1B status, and their dependents in H-4 status, Automatic Visa Revalidation is only available when traveling to Canada or Mexico, not the adjacent islands.

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:

1. Citizens of certain countries are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation
Citizens of countries identified by the Department of State as states that sponsor terrorism (currently Iran, 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. under Automatic Visa Revalidation 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 five countries noted above.

3.  Citizens of Mexico and Adjacent Islands
Citizens of Mexico and countries of the adjacent islands are not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation when traveling to their home country.

In summary, most 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 with a valid travel signature) and a valid I-94 card are eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation unless they are citizens of the five 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.

H. 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 web site at:
http://www.bu.edu/isso/news/2003/2003-12-16-registration.html

I. Traveling after Completion of Your Program (Students)
Students in F-1 status may remain in the U.S. for up to 60 days after completing their program of study or after completion of Optional Practical Training.  Students in J-1 status may remain for 30 days after completing the program or completing Academic Training following the end of the program.  However, once you depart during this 60-day or 30-day "grace period," you may not re-enter the U.S. in F or J status unless you have a new I-20 or DS-2019 to begin a new program of study.  In other words, you cannot come and go to the U.S. using your same I-20 or DS-2019 during the grace period.  Once you leave, the grace period ends.

J. Traveling after Termination of Employment/Research (Scholars)
Scholars in J-1 status may remain in the U.S. for up to 30 days following the expiration of their Form DS-2019 or after they terminate their employment/activity, whichever is earlier.  However, once you depart during this 60-day or 30-day "grace period," you may not re-enter the U.S. in J status unless you have a new DS-2019 to begin a new period of exchange.  In other words, you cannot come and go to the U.S. using your same DS-2019 during the grace period.  Once you leave, the grace period ends.

No other scholar-related nonimmigrant status permits a grace period.  Therefore, scholars in H, TN, O and other non-immigrant classifications are expected to depart the U.S. immediately upon terminating employment with Boston University unless they have taken other steps to maintain a valid status (e.g., a new employer has submitted a petition on their behalf).  You may not re-enter the U.S. using Boston University-related immigration documentation if you are no longer employed at BU.

K. Report to the ISSO upon Reentry to the U.S.
The ISSO is required to keep copies of your current immigration documentation on file in our office.  Therefore, we ask that any time you return to the U.S. and receive a new I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (small white card usually stapled inside your passport), please bring the card to our office so we may review it and copy it for your ISSO file.  This also serves as an additional check for you since we will look carefully at the new I-94 to be certain you were granted the correct status and length of stay.

In addition, if you renew your passport or obtain a new visa at any point during your time at Boston University, please bring them to the ISSO so we may make copies for our files.

L. Additional Information and Assistance from the ISSO
The ISSO is pleased to provide you with information, advice and assistance on any visa or immigration matter relating 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.

 

ISSO
Boston University
February 28, 2005

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office