ISSO Advisory for Travel – Winter 2018/2019

in Travel Advisory
November 9th, 2018

Are you travelling outside the U.S. over Thanksgiving or Winter Intersession?

November is a great time to renew your “travel signature” and avoid the long lines at ISSO!
If you are planning to graduate in January of 2019, or if your I-20 or DS-2019 is expiring, then you may need to take steps with the ISSO before you depart the U.S. You may have difficulty returning to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status if your classes are done and you have no further academic activities to complete at BU. If you plan to request an I-20 extension, transfer to another school, or apply for post-completion OPT, we would encourage you to do this before you leave so that your I-20 correct reflects your future academic intentions.

Read below to make sure you have all the documents you need to return to the U.S.

Key Tips for International Travel:

  • Is your visa valid for your return?
  • Do you have a valid travel signature from the ISSO on your Form I-20 (F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 students and scholars)?
  • Do you have a copy of your I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt?

Do you need to renew your visa on this trip?

The F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport must be valid on the day you will reenter the U.S. in order for you to be eligible to return in a student immigration status. If your visa will expire before the date of your return, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy while you are out of the U.S. If this will be your first time applying for a visa renewal, plan to request a new travel signature before you leave the U.S. and to speak with an ISSO advisor to make sure you are prepared for your visa appointment.

Please note: Executive Order 13769 eliminated waivers of visa interviews for all countries. If you are planning to apply for a new visa during your travel, you may need to schedule an in-person visa interview at a U.S. consulate.

If your visa has expired and you are planning a short trip to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, read up on automatic visa revalidation to see if this special provision might apply to you.

If you will be applying for a new nonimmigrant visa while abroad, please be aware that U.S Department of State has introduced a new Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants, which may be required at the point of visa renewal. This supplemental form is not be required for all visa applicants, but may be requested at the discretion of a consular officer. If you are asked to complete this form, you will need to disclose your travel, address, and employment history, family information, and social media handles. A copy of the Form DS-5535 can be found here.

What is a travel signature?

  • A travel signature is a signature from an ISSO official on your I-20 or DS-2019
  • This signature is generally valid for one year, and can be used for multiple trips abroad. (The signature is valid for six months only for F-1 students on approved F-1 Optional Practical Training.)
  • You need to have a valid travel signature on the date you reenter the U.S. after international travel.
  • A more recent travel signature is recommended if you plan to renew your visa on this trip abroad.
  • If you have a valid travel signature already, there is no need to come to the ISSO to request one!

Do you need a travel signature?

Check to see if there is a travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 (for F-1 students), or on the right-hand side of your DS-2019 (for J-1 students). If your travel signature is up-to-date (within one year for continuing F-1 and J-1 students, or within six months for F-1 students on OPT).

If you already have a valid travel signature, then you do not need a new one! A travel signature is considered valid if it is dated no more than one year before the date you expect to return to the U.S. A more recent travel signature is recommended if you will renew your visa on this trip abroad.

A valid I-20 travel signature appears on page 2:

A sample DS-2019 signature appears on the right-hand side of the form:

How can I request a travel signature?

Bring your I-20 or DS-2019, along with your passport showing your most recent U.S. entry and your most recent visa, to the front desk of the ISSO to request a travel signature. Please plan ahead as travel signatures may take one business day for ISSO processing. Travel signatures can often be completed upon request if you choose to wait at the ISSO. Please come prepared to wait a few minutes for this expedited service. During our busiest times, we may not be able to accommodate same day travel signatures and next-day pick up of your document may be required.

What is my SEVIS Fee Receipt?

You may have paid your I-901 SEVIS Fee several years ago. All F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors with “initial” immigration documents issued on or after 10/27/2008 were required to pay this SEVIS Fee when you first began your program of study. When entering the U.S. you may be asked to provide proof that this fee was paid. If you have been continuously enrolled with the same SEVIS record, you do not need to pay the fee again, provided you have proof of payment. If you took a leave of absence, had a break in status or traveled to regain status with a new SEVIS number, you will need to pay a new SEVIS Fee for a new SEVIS record. Proof of SEVIS Fee payment can be printed from the I-901 SEVIS Fee website.

What should I do after I return to the U.S.?

When you arrive in the U.S. by air or sea, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will stamp your passport and electronically update your I-94 entry record to reflect the immigration status in which you were admitted and the length of lawful stay that you have been granted. For F-1 students, J-1 exchange visitors, and your F-2 and J-2 dependents, your passport stamp and electronic record should reflect your correct status for “D/S” (duration of status). Each time you reenter the U.S. it is important to check both your passport stamp and your electronic I-94 record to make certain these are correct. Errors to your admission status or length of stay can jeopardize your ability to study, work and remain lawfully in the U.S. If you discover an error to your passport stamp or your electronic I-94 record, come to the ISSO immediately do discuss how this can be corrected.


U.S. Passport Entry Stamp

“F-1 D/S” = F-1 status for “Duration of Status”

Both your passport entry stamp and your I-94 record (below) should read F-1 or J-1 status (as appropriate) and “D/S” (for “duration of status) if you are a student pursuing a full course of study.


A clear passport stamp is often sufficient to show your admission in a specific immigration status. 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 your electronic I-94 record.




I-94 Admission Number Retrieval





If you have further questions about international travel or visa renewal please contact the ISSO with or refer to the ISSO Travel Tips.

In addition, students should pay careful attention to Boston University’s Health and Safety Advisories for travel to high-risk countries.