Students and Scholars
These travel tips have been prepared by the staff of the International
Students & 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:
Documents Required for Re-entry
into the United States
Applying for a U.S. Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad
||i. Application Forms and Fees
||ii. Required Personal Interviews
||iii. Security Clearances
Travel to Canada, Mexico and the
Traveling to U.S. states and territories
outside the continental U.S.
Traveling after Completion of Your
after Termination of Employment/Research (Scholars)
Check your documents upon Re-entry
to the U.S.
|Form I-515A issued at the Port
of Entry upon entry to the U.S.
Port of Entry Processing and Assistance
from the ISSO
A. Documents Required for Re-entry into the United States
The following documents are required to re-enter the United States as a student or scholar in F-1, J-1 student or scholar status:
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport (except for Canadian citizens)
- Valid SEVIS Form I-20 (F-1 status) or DS-2019 (J-1 status), with a valid travel signature from the ISSO (see Section B below).
The following documents are required to re-enter the United States as an employee in H-1B status:
- Valid passport
- Valid H-1B visa stamp in your passport (except for Canadian citizens)
- Valid I-797A H-1B Approval Notice
- Proof of continued employment, such as appointment letter and/or recent pay stubs
IMPORTANT NOTE: Although employees in H-1B status can at times continue to work in the U.S. on the basis of a timely-filed extension petition, a valid H-1B Approval is required in order to apply for a visa and in order to return from travel abroad. Special provisions may apply for persons who have filed a pending petition for U.S. Lawful Permanent Residence.
B. Travel Endorsements (commonly known as "Travel Signatures")
When returning to the U.S. from a trip outside the country, all international students and scholars in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are required to present to the port of entry official an unexpired Form I-20 (if in F-1 status) or an Form DS-2019 (if in J-1 status) bearing a valid travel endorsement (commonly referred to as a "travel signature") from an official at the ISSO.
Travel signatures are generally valid for one year, except in the following cases: (1) Students renewing their visas during a trip abroad are advised to have a travel signature no more than six months old on their expected date of return to the U.S. (2) F-1 students on Optional Practical Training following graduation should have a travel signature no more than six months old on their expected date of return to the U.S., as well as their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and a letter from an employer verifying they have a job in the U.S.
C. Applying For a U.S. Visa Stamp at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate Abroad
International students and scholars must have a visa stamp for the appropriate immigration category valid on the date he or she will enter the U.S. Citizens of Canada are exempt from the requirement to have a visa, but must meet all other requirements for entry to the U.S. in a particular status.
Students and scholars traveling abroad whose visa has expired or will expire before the date of their return are advised 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.
Processing times vary among U.S. embassies and consulates. You can also get information on wait times for appointments and visa issuance at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html.
Factors that affect visa application processing include:
i. Nonimmigrant Visa Application Forms and Fees:
Electronic DS-160: Students and scholars applying for a nonimmigrant visa are required to complete the on-line Nonimmigrant Visa Application to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. There is a fee for the standard machine-readable, nonimmigrant visa application, plus a possible reciprocity fee for your country.
You can find further information on the following websites:
on applying for specific visa types can be found on the ISSO web site at:
ii. Required Personal Interviews
As a general rule, applicants for nonimmigrant visas are required to schedule a personal interview with the consulate so that the consular office can take fingerprints of the applicant. Consular posts in many 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. Check the website of the consulate where you will be applying for country-specific visa application instructions: http://usembassy.state.gov.
If you are traveling during a holiday period, please be reminded that U.S. embassies and consulates are often closed for extended periods. Be certain to check the schedule for local holiday hours.
iii. Security Clearances
The Department of State performs 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.
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.
Security checks can take
anywhere from three business days to three months or more, but most
are approved in 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. However,
while an ISSO advisor may be able to help you determine if you are
at high risk of being subject to a security clearance, security
checks are not limited to citizens of these countries and are at
the discretion of the consular officer. The decision to subject
a person to a security clearance check may be based on a number
of different factors including, but not limited to, information
in your visa application forms, international travel patterns, and
your field of study or research. Violations of U.S. immigration
status as well as criminal arrests or misdemeanor infractions (including
certain motor vehicle charges) may also subject a student or scholar
to security clearance procedures and affect visa eligibility.
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 U.S. embassies and consulates typically experience a high
volume of visa applications during this period and many consulates
close or reduce their hours during the holidays.
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 may not
return to the U.S. while they wait for approval and a possible security
The decision to grant
a visa to any individual is at the discretion of the consular officer.
Denials of visa applications, like security clearances, may be based
on a number of different factors including, but not limited to,
information in your visa application forms, immigrant intent, or
insufficient financial support. Violations of U.S. immigration status
as well as criminal arrests or misdemeanor infractions (including
certain motor vehicle charges) may also affect visa eligibility.
D. Automatic Visa Revalidation: Travel to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent
Islands with an Expired U.S. Visa
Entry to the U.S. normally requires a valid visa stamp in your passport. However, an exception exists for nonimmigrant students and scholars who travel for 30 days or fewer solely to Canada or Mexico, or, in the case of F and J nonimmigrants only, to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands (other than Cuba). The rule, known as Automatic Visa Revalidation, permits these travelers to 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.
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 Automatic Visa Revalidation 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, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Cuba) are
not eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation. 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.
who apply for a new visa stamp.
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) 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
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.
For F-1 or J-1 students and scholars, you must have a travel signature on your Form I-20 or DS-2019 that is no older than one year from the date on which you will re-enter the U.S. Scholars in H-1 or O-1 status should also have their I-797 Approval Notice available to present at the port of entry to be eligible for Automatic Revalidation
E. Traveling to U.S. states
and territories outside the continental U.S.
If you travel directly to, then return directly from, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or any other U.S. territory, you are considered to be traveling within the U.S. Therefore, the visa in your passport (if you are normally required to have one) does not need to be valid upon re-entry to the continental U.S. However, in most cases, you will be required to go through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection port-of-entry inspection – usually before leaving the outlying state or territory -- where you must present your immigration documents to prove that you have continued to maintain lawful status while in the U.S. This includes passport, visa (expired or unexpired) and any other status-related documentation. We recommend that students in F-1 status and all J-1 exchange visitors have a valid travel signature on their Form I-20 or DS-2019 upon re-entry. (See section B above regarding travel endorsements).
Scholars in H-1B status
should pay particular attention to their travel itinerary to ensure
that they will travel directly to a U.S. territory. Travel through
another country outside U.S. territory may require a valid H-1B
visa stamp as employees in H-1B status do not qualify for automatic
visa revalidation in the Caribbean islands (See "Automatic
Visa Revalidation" in Section F above).
Please consult with an
ISSO advisor before traveling to one of these states or territories.
F. Traveling after Completion of Your
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 current I-20 or DS-2019
during the grace period. Once you leave, the grace period
G. 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 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 current 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.
H. Check your documents upon Reentry to the
Each time you re-enter the U.S. from outside of North America, your passport will be stamped with your date of entry, class of admission(F-1, J-1, etc) and expiration date. It is important that you check
the passport stamp carefully for errors as soon as the port of entry official
issues it to you. If there are errors, respectfully notify
the official of the error and request a correction.
If you notice an error
on passport stamp after you have departed the port of entry contact the ISSO.
Sample of passport stamp and Electronic I-94.
Form I-515A issued at the Port of Entry upon entry to the U.S.
If a Customs and Border
Protection Officer determines that your documentation is incomplete
when entering the U.S., you may be issued a Form I-515A and a date-specific passport stamp. These documents will grant you temporary
admission to the U.S. (generally for 30 days). You
must submit the required response and documents
as instructed on the Form I-515A prior to the expiration date of
your passport stamp to prove that you entered the U.S. lawfully.
If you receive a Form I-515A, you must contact the ISSO immediately as additional documentation from the ISSO is often required in order to respond to the I-515A by the deadline.
Failure to submit the proper original documentation prior to the
expiration date of your passport stamp will result
in termination of both your F-1 student status and your Student
and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
J. Port of Entry Processing and Assistance
from the ISSO
USCBP started automating the I-94 Arrival/Departure records so you will no longer receive small white paper I-94 cards at the U.S. port of entry.
The new electronic process means that you will no longer need to fill out a paper form when arriving to the U.S. by air or sea, as USCBP (US Customs and Border Protection) will upload your biographical data directly from your existing visa record and machine-readable passport. The USCBP officer will update your U.S. entry record electronically and will stamp your passport. A clear passport stamp will be sufficient for most basic immigration processing at the ISSO. However, if the stamp in your passport is not clear, OR, you need to apply for employment authorization or other benefits from federal government agencies, you will need to present a print out of the detailed arrival information from a USCBP website. Please see more detailed information regarding this transition at : http://www.bu.edu/isso/electronicI94.html
USCBP has implemented extra security measures at ports of entry effective immediately that may cause long lines and delays when you re-enter the U.S. The new security measures may require additional processing time for USCBP to verify passport and visa validity as well as active records in
SEVIS (Student Exchange Visa and Information System) so you should make certain, if you have another flight in the U.S. from where you first enter the U.S. to Boston, that you allow for significant time for USCBP processing so you will not miss connecting flights.
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.
copies of your immigration documents and keep them in a safe place
separate from the originals.