International students in F-1 or J-1 visa status who wish to travel outside the United States before returning to Washington University in St. Louis should be aware of regulations concerning their re-entry into the U.S. It is the responsibility of each nonimmigrant to be informed about these regulations, especially given the development of enhanced national security procedures.
Travel Outside the United States
For information on gaining entry into specific countries, students should consult the embassy of the country they would like to visit. The following websites contain information on foreign consular offices:
- U.S. State Department list of Foreign Consular Offices in the U.S.
- Embassy: list of websites of foreign embassies in the U.S.
- Canadian Embassy
- U.S. State Department list of links to U.S. embassies and consulates in other countries
Documents Needed for Re-entry into the U.S.
Individuals seeking to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status must have:
- a valid passport or travel document
- a valid F or J entry visa in the passport
- your most up-to-date status document with a recent Travel Endorsement. You need to get a new Travel Endorsement each time you travel.
- For F’s the endorsement will be on the second page of the I-20
- For J’s the endorsement will be on the first page of the DS-2019
- I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt. Print payment confirmation at I-901 website.
If the entry visa has expired or will expire before return to the U.S., it must be renewed at a U.S. Consular office abroad. The renewal process will be same as when you applied for a visa for the first time.
Note: WashU students who apply for new entry visas while continuing in their academic programs are NOT subject to pay the SEVIS fee again, as long as they have maintained F-1 or J-1 status.
How to get a Travel Endorsement (i.e., Travel Signature)
Drop off your I-20/DS-2019 during one of the set times:
- On the Danforth Campus, come to Stix House Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
- On the Medical Campus, come to Mid-Campus Center Suite 2043 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m.
Drop off travel signatures take three business days to process, so plan ahead!
If you are based at the Medical School and cannot come during drop-off times, you can make an appointment for another time.
At the end of each semester we will provide special drop-in days when you can get the travel signature while you wait. Watch your email and our website for those notifications!
If your entry visa has expired or will expire before you return to the U.S., it must be renewed at a U.S. Consular office abroad. The renewal process will be same as when you applied for a visa for the first time.
Note: WashU students who apply for new entry visas while continuing in their academic programs are NOT subject to pay the SEVIS fee again provided they have maintained F-1 or J-1 status.
If you have further questions, an OISS adviser will be happy to discuss them with you during walk-in hours.
Applying for a Visa in a Country other than the Home Country
Nonimmigrants wishing to apply for a visa in a country other than their country of citizenship are referred to as “Third Country Nationals” (TCNs). Students should be aware that although some consular offices do accept visa applications from TCNs, the process will likely be more time consuming, and the possibility of denial of a visa is significantly higher than if the student were applying in his or her own country. The officer in these cases has to take the extra necessary measures to become informed about the applicant’s relationship to his/her home country and the U.S.
Students or scholars who want to apply for a U.S. visa in Canada or Mexico must have an appointment at a U.S. consulate.
Automatic Revalidation of Visa Validity after Travel to Canada or Mexico
For nonimmigrants with expired visas, trips to Canada or Mexico may not require a new visa application. This benefit is known as automatic revalidation and it refers to a one-time revalidation of the nonimmigrant visa. This benefit allows certain nonimmigrants with expired visas to reenter the U.S. after a 30-day or less visit to “contiguous territory” including Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands including Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
Individuals seeking to benefit from automatic revalidation must retain their I-94 when leaving the U.S. as it is essential for re-entry. In addition, all other travel documents relevant to the particular status (passport, I-20 or DS-2019) must be carried and properly endorsed.
If you are planning to use automatic revalidation, please read the automatic revalidation information on a website provided by the Bureau of Consular Affairs for further details and instructions.
Dependents (F-2s or J-2s) may re-enter the country under the same guidelines as the F-1 or J-1.
Please be aware that there is never a guarantee that an individual in F or J status seeking re-entry will be admitted, even if all of the above criteria are met. Border officials have discretion to approve or deny entry to whomever they choose for reasons that may or may not be apparent to the applicant for admission.
Travel after a Change of Visa Status
Nonimmigrants who travel and have changed status, whether within a visa category (e.g., F-2 to F-1, or J-2 to J-1) or between categories (e.g., F-1 to H-1B, of F-1 to J-1), while in the U.S. must apply for a visa in the new category in order to be readmitted.
Travel during Pending Optional Paid Training (OPT) Application and Approved OPT (F-1 students only)
Students intending to travel during processing of their OPT application should be aware that the USCIS may consider their departure from the U.S. an abandonment of the application. There is no way of predicting this; students choosing to travel are making the choice of possibly forfeiting their OPT employment eligibility. Furthermore, OPT applicants must be in possession of the EAD (card showing work permission, known as the “Employment Authorization Document”) upon returning to the U.S. Other required documentation includes a valid passport, a valid F-1 entry visa and an I-20 recently signed by an international student advisor – this signature can be provided only after seeing the student’s EAD. Pursuant to possible interpretations of F-1 regulations, students seeking admission to the U.S. during OPT may be asked by immigration officials to produce evidence that they are returning to “resume employment” (i.e., a letter verifying continued employment or a job offer).
Interviews are required of all visa applicants. Additionally, certain applicants may encounter security clearance procedures that could delay, or possibly even result in a denial of, the application; consulates often refer to them as administrative processing. The Department of State has its own reasons for running these “checks” on an applicant; there is no way of predicting with certainty who will finally be subject to them. Because of this, it is advisable that the student or scholar apply for a visa well in advance of the date they wish to travel to the U.S. Individuals already in the U.S. whose visas have expired and are planning to be out of the country for a short time should consider the risk having to delay their return to the U.S. in the event of a security check. As the worst case scenario is being refused re-entry, F-1s and J-1s must evaluate their reasons for travel in light of their desire to continue studying in the U.S.
After You Re-Enter the U.S.
All students and their dependents should check their electronic I-94 information upon re-entry to the U.S. For Fs and Js, the I-94 information should have an end date of “D/S,” meaning “duration of status.” This means that your stay in the U.S. is legal as long as you maintain your nonimmigrant status. Your status end date is indicated on the I-20 for Fs and the DS-2019 for Js. I-94 information can be checked at I-94 Official Website
If your I-94 record is marked with a specific date rather than “D/S”, you should contact the OISS immediately. Failure to do so could mean that you are not maintaining your status and thus accruing unlawful presence.
Students are encouraged to send their international student adviser a printout of their new I-94 information after every arrival in the U.S.
Travel During the Grace Period
F-1 students are granted a 60-day grace period at the completion of the F-1 program. The grace period begins the day after the end date listed on the I-20 (or completion of authorized post-completion OPT). Travel within the United States is allowed during this time period. However, F-1 students departing the U.S. during the grace period end their F-1 status effective on the day of departure. Thus, individuals will not be permitted re-entry to the U.S. in F-1 status.
J-1 exchange visitors are granted a 30-day grace period at the completion of the J-1 program. The grace period begins the day after the end date listed on the DS-2019. Travel within the United States is allowed during this time period. However, J-1 exchange visitors departing the U.S. during the grace period end their J-1 status effective on the day of departure. Thus, individuals will not be permitted re-entry to the U.S. in J-1 status.