The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) have amended certain policies, procedures and practices in conjunction with implementing the international student tracking system (SEVIS). The following is an advisory for students planning to travel within the U.S. or abroad. Information was derived from the DHS, DOS and other relevant sources and is subject to change. For further clarification, contact the Office of International Programs in Plant Hall, Room 300, or call (813) 258-7433.
When Entering the United States
All students traveling outside the U.S. should take their current passport and SEVIS I-20 with them when departing the United States. Per immigration regulations students must have a valid travel signature on the third page of the I-20 authorizing re-entry (less than one year old).
Students may drop off their I-20’s to be signed at the International Programs Office (Plant Hall, Room 300) at the front desk. Please allow two business day to have your I-20 signed.
DHS Immigration Processing - Port Of Entry (POE) Inspections
Students should expect increased scrutiny from DHS officers during inspection (i.e., more questions asked, increased scrutiny of travel documents).
Required documents for inspections:
- Valid passport – must be valid for at least six months beyond arrival date.
- Original SEVIS I-20 (or 2019 document for J visas). Returning students' I-20's must have a re-entry signature dated within the last 12 months.
- Valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport, as applicable.
It is also highly recommended to have the following documents with you:
- Student copy of transcript or proof of current enrollment
- Copies of financial certification documents, especially if re-entering on a new or renewed I-20 or visa
- Receipt for SEVIS Fee payment, if applicable
- If dependents travel with you, proof of relationship to dependents (i.e., marriage or birth certificate in English). Each dependent should have an individual SEVIS I-20.
If you are selected for Secondary Inspection (sent to a private examination/interview room for additional questioning):
- Do NOT panic!
- Be consistent and truthful with your answers
- Remain calm and avoid being confrontational
- At their discretion, an immigration officer may contact the school for further verification.
SEVIS I-20 Processing
- Notification of any student entering on an initial entry SEVIS I-20 is now being sent electronically to SEVIS. All students entering the U.S. via land borders will be routed to secondary inspections where their entry information will be updated in SEVIS.
- At this time, students entering at most air and seaports will not be admitted directly through the primary lane. Ports may be establishing separate student lanes and may also route students through the standard secondary inspection lanes.
- Students should be aware that processing at land, air and seaports may take more time, and should allow for that when making connecting flights.
- In all cases, initial student entry information is being entered by the inspector and updated electronically in SEVIS. This eliminates the need for the inspector to take the SEVIS I-20, so it should be stamped and given back to the student.
Students will be given a new admission number (I-94 number) each time they enter the U.S. As of April 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began implementation of the electronic version of the I-94. Travelers will no longer receive a paper copy of the I-94 when entering the U.S. at all air and seaports. CBP will stamp date of entry, admission category and duration of status in passports. Travelers then must print out a paper copy of their I-94 card by accessing their record online at www.cbp.gov/i94.
For more useful information about entering the U.S. under F-1 visa status, please visit Homeland Security Study in the States.
Obtaining a Visa
State Department – Visa Applications
Expect longer processing times as consulates are now conducting a more thorough background check on all applicants and interviews for most applicants are required. In some cases, students have been experiencing delays of more than 30 days. It is a good idea for you or a family member at home to check with the local consulate or embassy for the current processing time and schedule an appointment, if possible.
Unpredictable closing and Policy/Procedural Changes:
There could be occasional closings for security updates/checks beyond the regular closing periods. Consular posts may also enforce additional policy or procedural changes as necessary. It is highly recommended that you do the following:
- Check www.state.gov for bulletins on embassy/consulate closings and changes.
- Follow up with a phone call to the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply for the visa. Check USEmbassy.gov for contact information.
Special visa processing procedures pursuant to Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002:
Required Supporting Documents for Student Visa Applications:
- Valid passport (must be valid for at least six months)
- Original or new I-20 (or DS-2019 for J's) with recent signature
- Recent original financial documents (bank letters, sponsor statements, scholarship letters)
- SEVIS fee receipt, if applicable
Though not required, you may be asked for the following supporting documents:
- Official or student copy of a transcript or proof of current or subsequent term enrollment
- Dependents must have proof of relationship to principal visa holder, such as marriage or birth certificates in English.
Travel within the U.S. and U.S. Territories: It is advisable to have all of your travel documents with you (I-20, passport, I-94) plus proof of enrollment, especially if traveling by commercial airlines.
For more travel tips, please visit Travel Advisories.
Automatic Revalidation of Visa
Under certain circumstances, an F-1 student with an expired visa may re-enter the U.S. if traveling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands (contiguous territory) other than Cuba after an absence of fewer than 30 days. The student must have a valid passport, a properly endorsed I-20 and the original I-94 card reflecting F-1 status and marked by DHS for D/S (duration of status). In this particular situation students should not surrender the I-94 card before traveling outside the U.S. and should check with the International Programs Office before making travel plans.
This benefit is NOT available for citizens of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. It is also not available if you have applied for a new visa and it has not been issued, if you applied for a new visa and were denied, if you have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status, or if you have been out the United States for more than 30 days.
Any non-immigrant (not just someone from the countries listed above) who chooses to apply for a new visa while in contiguous territory must be prepared to wait for background checks as necessary. Should the application for a new visa be denied, the person will not be eligible for “automatic revalidation of visa.” For a student that means that you would be unable to enter the U.S. in student status to continue your education without returning to your home country to obtain the proper visa. Note: Once you have been refused a visa, it may become more difficult to obtain a future one, so students should consider very carefully before attempting to obtain a visa outside of their home country.
Travel to Countries Other Than Your Home Country/Country of Citizenship
Be sure to contact the consulate of the country you wish to visit and ask for entry requirements. The International Programs Office has a list of foreign consulates in the U.S. Most countries will require tourist visas for travelers who are neither citizens nor residents.