ASK AN ADVISOR: Is It Safe To Travel This Winter?

November 12, 2021

Written By: Gaby Renteria-Poepsel, International Student & Scholar Advisor

Question: I am thinking of traveling outside the U.S. this winter, is it safe with the Pandemic?

Answer:  It’s hard to believe that the end of the semester will be here soon, and with it holiday travel season. As you make plans for the end of the semester, you may be wondering whether it is safe to travel. 

The answer is not so simple, as the end of the pandemic may be in sight for some countries but not others. Therefore our best advice is to consider the risks outlined below and stay informed on the latest COVID guidelines in the country you are visiting and upon returning to the U.S. 

For example, there are two new announcements from the U.S. government impacting members of the international community.

  • COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement for Air Travel. Beginning November 8, 2021, all non-citizens and non-immigrants traveling to the United States by air must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test. Few exceptions are available. To review the full policy and list of exceptions, please visit the CDC website. This Presidential Proclamation lifts the current travel ban restrictions and limitations, as well as National Interest Exemptions placed on foreign nationals who recently resided in or travelled to Brazil, China, India, Iran, Ireland, Schengen area, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

If you are planning to travel outside of the U.S., please review this interactive tool on CDC’s website to ensure you are eligible to enter the U.S.

  • New I-20 Guidance. On November 1, 2021, SEVP issued new guidance to permanently continue the practice of electronically signing and sending I-20s via email and/or a secure platform. This means that our office will continue to issue travel signatures in electronic form for F-1 students. To review the entire SEVP policy guidance, visit the ICE website. Please note: There are no changes to current guidance for J-1 visa holders (electronic signatures and transmission are not permitted).  

There are additional factors OISS Advisors encourage all international students to consider before traveling: 

  • Check current travel restrictions and COVID-19 related guidelines for each country you plan to visit or transit through and determine whether you will be able to return before the first day of classes in Spring 2022. Being unable to attend classes in a timely manner can negatively affect your visa status and even result in termination of your F-1 visa. 
  • If you are considering travel to renew your visa, please visit the U.S. Department of State website ahead of time to find out visa processing times for your local embassy/consulate. 
  • If you OPT application is pending, leaving the U.S. with a pending OPT application has risks. If this is your situation, we encourage you to wait until your request is approved and have received your EAD. If you are approved for OPT/STEM while outside the United States, you will need to arrange for your EAD card to be sent to you in order to re-enter the United States. 
  • New policies or announcements could potentially affect your status. You should continue to monitor your WashU emails from OISS. 

If after reviewing this information, you decide to travel this winter, make sure you have the following documents with you:

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid U.S. Entry Visa
  • Updated I-20/DS-2019 with a recent travel signature
  • Copy of your SEVIS Fee Receipt

All international students are required to have a travel signature on their I-20 to re-enter the U.S. If you do not have a recent travel signature (within 6 months at the time you return) on your current I-20, please fill out the below travel signature request form. 

  • F-1 students: If the travel signature is older than 6 months at the time you plan to return to the U.S., then you need to complete and submit the Travel Signature Request Form on our website. Remember that the signature should be requested no earlier than 30 days before you return to the U.S.
  • F-1 students with approved OPT or STEM OPT: Students on OPT can complete and submit a Request an updated I-20 before returning to the U.S. Students on STEM OPT need to complete and submit a Request a STEM OPT I-20. In addition to obtaining a new travel signature, if you are on approved OPT or STEM OPT you need to carry your unexpired EAD card and proof of employment, such as a letter from your employer.
  • J-1 Students: Check page 1 of your current DS-2019, and if the travel signature will be more than one year old at the time you plan to return to the U.S., then you need to request a new signature before returning to the U.S. Because J-1 students need to have the paper DS-2019 signed, you will need to make an in-person appointment with your alpha advisor.  
  • Finally, if you travel outside the U.S. be sure to check your I-94 record upon arrival to the U.S. to make sure it accurately indicates your F-1 or J-1 D/S status, the date, and location of your arrival. 

If you would like to discuss your specific travel plans, you can make a virtual appointment with your OISS Advisor. If you have any questions, please contact us at oiss@wustl.edu.

Additional links of interest: