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Travel and Visas

F-1 Students

Documents Needed to Return to the U.S

During your studies at MSU, you may wish to travel outside of the United States from time to time.  In order to return to the United States after a temporary absence, F-1 students must present specific documents to the immigration inspector at the port of entry:

  • A valid passport (valid six months into the future)
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp (not required for Canadians)
  • A valid I-20 Form with a travel signature on page 2 within the last year (for continuing students)
  • Students on OPT: An EAD and an employment letter from the current employer
  • Students on OPT: Travel signature on your I-20 that is less than six months at the time of entry
  • Original financial documentation
  • A copy of your academic transcript
  • A copy of your SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt

What happens when I arrive in the United States?

  • At the port of entry, the U.S. Customers and Border Officer will inspect your I-20 Form and give it back to you.
  • The Border Officer will also inspect your passport and F-1 visa (if applicable), issue an admission stamp, write "F-1/DS", and return your passport to you.
  • The Border Officer may or may not request to see the other documents listed above.

Visa Stamp Renewal

OISS recommends that you contact your home country's U.S. Consulate for details regarding visa issuance and renewal requirements.

U.S. Consulate Application and Appointment

  • Go to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy website where you will apply for a list of required documents, forms, and instructions on how to apply for an F-1 visa. Please be aware that each consulate or embassy may require different information and have specific application procedures.
  • If allowed, schedule a visa appointment in advance with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
  • Find a U.S. Consulate or Embassy website on the U.S. Department of State website.

Required Documents

  • Passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you reenter the U.S.
  • Valid I-20 with a travel signature from OISS that has been signed within past 12 months (6 months for students on OPT and STEM OPT). Make sure that your I-20 is accurate and up-to-date, especially funding information.
  • Updated funding documentation matching the information displayed on your I-20.
  • For students on post-completion OPT and STEM OPT:
    • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
    • Letter from your employer that verifies your employment

Other Documents Consulates May Request

  • MSU Transcripts. If you have been dual enrolled with another institution such as Lansing Community College, you must also have transcripts from the other institution.
  • Proof of past, present and future enrollment at MSU. This can include transcripts, StuInfo print outs, or an Enrollment Verification Letter.
  • Current financial documents such as a copy of a bank statement, assistantship offer letter, or other documentation.
  • All previous I-20s.
  • Proof of your social and economic ties to your home country.

For more information, please consult with an OISS advisor.

 

I forgot to get a travel signature. What should I do?

If you realize that you need a new travel signature send an email to oiss(at)msu.edu to request an I-20 reprint with a travel signature. OISS will mail a I-20 to you. You will need to pay for shipping. OISS will send you an email with instructions on how to pay for shipping when your I-20 is ready. Allow for 3 days for OISS to create the updated I-20 and 5-10 days more days for shipping.

If there is not enough time before your flight we recommend that you change your flight date to allow time for OISS to mail you an I-20. If that is not possible, you can choose to attempt to enter the U.S. without a valid travel signature, however, this is risky.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers may deny entry into the United States if:

  • You do not have a valid travel signature on your I-20.
  • Your F-1 visa has expired.
  • You have not paid the I-901 SEVIS Fee on your current I-20.
  • Your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record is terminated, canceled, or completed.

Rather than deny your entry to the U.S., the CBP officer has the discretion to issue you a Form I-515A. This document allows you to enter the U.S. and remain in the U.S. for 30 days. To remain in the U.S. beyond 30 days, and to maintain your F-1 status, you must submit required documents to CBP within 30 days of arriving in the U.S. See the next section to find out what documents you need to submit to CBP. 

F-1 students who arrive at a U.S. port of entry and do not have any of the following:

  • Signed required documents
  • have not paid the I-901 SEVIS Fee on current Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” OR
  • have a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) status issue, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer
  • May deny your entry into the United States. As an alternative, the officer has the discretion to issue you a Form I-515A.
  • This document allows you to have temporary admission into the United States for 30 days. To maintain your nonimmigrant student status, you must address your Form I-515A within the time provided to you.

I received a Form I-515A. What do I do next?

It is very important to work with OISS to address the Form I-515A within the 30 days given to you. It is serious and can become a problem if you do not address the matter. Not taking action could mean that you will not be able to remain in the United States.

If you receive a Form I-515A, you must do the following, immediately:

  1. Meet with an OISS advisor the next business day after arriving in the U.S.
  2. Respond to the I-515A Notice with the help of an OISS advisor.
  3. Submit required documents to CBP within 30 days of your entry date.

If you fail to complete any required actions or send all of the required documents to SEVP within 30 days of entering the U.S., your SEVIS record and I-20 may be Terminated. If your SEVIS record and I-20 are Terminated, you will be required to leave the United States immediately or file for Reinstatement to F-1 status with USCIS, if you are eligible. 

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands

Individuals with expired visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. Learn more on our Automatic Visa Revalidation webpage.

In order to enter Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands you may need a visa issued by the government of the country you are planning to visit. It is your responsibility to know what documents you need to enter other countries and to find out how to get a visa for the countries you are planning to visit. OISS does not advise students on how to get non-U.S. visas. Here are links to the Government of Canada and Government of Mexico websites: 

Government of Canada Visit Canada

Government of Mexico Visas 

Travel in the U.S.

When traveling in the U.S. take the following documents with you:

  • Unexpired Passport
  • Valid I-20 
  • Electronic I-94 form or paper I-94 card. You can get and print your electronic I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website
  • Another form of photo identification such as a driver's license, state ID, or MSU ID

You do not need a valid visa or travel signature on your I-20 to travel within the U.S. This includes travel to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

J-1 Students

Documents Needed to Return to the U.S

  • Valid DS-2019 with a travel signature from OISS signed within the past 12 months
    • You must bring your most recent DS-2019 to OISS for a travel signature. Travel validations take one business day, so plan ahead.
  • Valid J-1 or J-2 visa stamp in your passport
    • Check the expiration date. If your visa stamp is expired, you must renew your visa at a U.S. Consulate during your travel outside the U.S. Canadians do not need J visas to enter the U.S. Individuals with expired J visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada and Mexico. Click on the Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands tab for more information.  
  • Valid Passport
    • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S. If your passport is valid for less than 6 months, then you should renew your passport prior to re-entry or you risk being denied entry into the U.S.

Re-entry to the U.S.

  • At the port of entry, the U.S. Customers and Border Officer will inspect the DS-2019, passport, and J-1 or J-2 visa.
  • If the officer is satisfied with the documentation, you will be granted admission to the U.S. The officer will document the admission with a stamp in your passport that says “J-1 D/S” or "J-2 D/S".
  • If the officer has further questions about your documentation or your status, you may be sent to secondary inspection. This may delay your travel plans.
  • If your documentation is found to be lacking, you may either be denied entry to the U.S. or be issued an I-515A, which only allows you to stay in the U.S. for 30 days. In order to extend your stay beyond the 30 days, you must see an OISS advisor immediately for assistance.

Visa Stamp Renewal

OISS recommends that you contact your home country's U.S. Consulate for details regarding visa issuance and renewal requirements.

U.S. Consulate Application and Appointment

  • Visit the U.S. Consulate web site for a list of required documents, forms, and further instructions on how to renew your visa. Please be aware that each consulate may require different information and have specific application procedures.
  • If allowed, schedule a visa appointment in advance with the U.S. Consulate.
  • Find a U.S. consulate nearest to where you will be.

Required Documents

  • Passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you reenter the U.S.
  • Valid DS-2019 with a travel signature from OISS that has been signed within past 12 months. Make sure that your DS-2019 is accurate and up-to-date, especially funding information.
  • Updated funding documentation matching the information displayed on your DS-2019.
  • For students on post-completion Academic Training, obtain an updated confirmation letter from your employer.

Other Documents Consulates May Request

  • MSU Transcripts. If you have been dual enrolled with another institution such as Lansing Community College, you must also have transcripts from the other institution.
  • Proof of past, present and future enrollment at MSU. This can include transcripts, StuInfo print outs, or an Enrollment Verification Letter.
  • Current financial documents such as a copy of a bank statement, assistantship offer letter, or other documentation.
  • All previous DS-2019s.
  • Proof of your social and economic ties to your home country.

For more information, please consult with an OISS advisor.

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands

Individuals with expired visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. Learn more on our Automatic Visa Revalidation webpage.

In order to enter Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands you may need a visa issued by the government of the country you are planning to visit. It is your responsibility to know what documents you need to enter other countries and to find out how to get a visa for the countries you are planning to visit. OISS does not advise students on how to get non-U.S. visas. Here are links to the Government of Canada and Government of Mexico websites: 

Government of Canada Visit Canada

Government of Mexico Visas 

Travel in the U.S.

When traveling in the U.S. take the following documents with you:

  • Unexpired Passport
  • Valid DS-2019
  • Electronic I-94 form or paper I-94 card. You can get and print your electronic I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website
  • Another form of photo identification such as a driver's license, state ID, or MSU ID

You do not need a valid visa or travel signature on your DS-2019 to travel within the U.S. This includes travel to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

J-1 Scholars

Documents Needed to Return to the U.S.

  • Valid DS-2019 with a travel signature from OISS signed within the past 12 months
    • You must bring your most recent DS-2019 to OISS for a travel signature. Travel validations take one business day, so plan ahead.
  • Valid J-1 or J-2 visa stamp in your passport
    • Check the expiration date. If your visa stamp is expired, you must renew your visa at a U.S. Consulate during your travel outside the U.S. Canadians do not need J visas to enter the U.S. Individuals with expired J visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada and Mexico. Click on the Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands tab for more information.  
  • Valid Passport
    • Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the intended date of entry into the U.S. If your passport is valid for less than 6 months, then you should renew your passport prior to re-entry or you risk being denied entry into the U.S.

Re-entry to the U.S.

  • At the port of entry, the U.S. Customers and Border Officer will inspect the DS-2019, passport, and J-1 or J-2 visa.
  • If the officer is satisfied with the documentation, you will be granted admission to the U.S. The officer will document the admission with a stamp in your passport that says “J-1 D/S” or "J-2 D/S".
  • If the officer has further questions about your documentation or your status, you may be sent to secondary inspection. This may delay your travel plans.
  • If your documentation is found to be lacking, you may either be denied entry to the U.S. or be issued an I-515A, which only allows you to stay in the U.S. for 30 days. In order to extend your stay beyond the 30 days, you must see an OISS advisor immediately for assistance.

Visa Stamp Renewal

OISS recommends that you contact your home country's U.S. Consulate for details regarding visa issuance and renewal requirements.

U.S. Consulate Application and Appointment

  • Visit the U.S. Consulate web site for a list of required documents, forms, and further instructions on how to renew your visa. Please be aware that each consulate may require different information and have specific application procedures.
  • If allowed, schedule a visa appointment in advance with the U.S. Consulate.
  • Find a U.S. consulate nearest to where you will be.

Required Documents

  • Passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond the date you reenter the U.S.
  • Valid DS-2019 with a travel signature from OISS that has been signed within past 12 months. Make sure that your DS-2019 is accurate and up-to-date, especially funding information.
  • Updated J-1 scholar invitation letter from your MSU host department.
  • Updated funding documentation matching the information displayed on your DS-2019.

Other Documents Consulates May Request

  • All previous DS-2019s.
  • Proof of your social and economic ties to your home country.

For more information, please consult with an OISS advisor.

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands

Individuals with expired visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. Learn more on our Automatic Visa Revalidation webpage.

In order to enter Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands you may need a visa issued by the government of the country you are planning to visit. It is your responsibility to know what documents you need to enter other countries and to find out how to get a visa for the countries you are planning to visit. OISS does not advise scholars on how to get non-U.S. visas. Here are links to the Government of Canada and Government of Mexico websites: 

Government of Canada Visit Canada

Government of Mexico Visas

Travel in the U.S.

When traveling in the U.S. take the following documents with you:

  • Unexpired Passport
  • Valid DS-2019
  • Electronic I-94 form or paper I-94 card. You can get and print your electronic I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website
  • Another form of photo identification such as a driver's license, state ID, or MSU ID

You do not need a valid visa or travel signature on your DS-2019 to travel within the U.S. This includes travel to Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

H-1B Employees

If you plan to travel outside the U.S. you must do the following before leaving the U.S:

  • Email oiss(at)msu.edu to request to pick up your I-797 approval notice
  • Check your documents to make sure everything is current and valid. Documents include: H-1B visa stamp, passport, and H-1B approval notice. If your H-1B visa stamp is not valid, before or soon after you leave the U.S. contact the U.S. Consulate in the country where you will apply in order to schedule a visa interview.

Documents Needed to Reenter the U.S.

H-1B Employees

  • Passport that is valid for 6 months beyond the date of reentry
  • Valid H-1B visa (Canadians do not need a visa)
  • Original H-1B approval notice

H-4 Dependents:

  • Passport that is valid for 6 months beyond the date of reentry
  • Valid H-4 visa (Canadians do not need a visa)
  • Copy of the H-1B Approval Notice
  • Copy of birth or marriage document establishing relationship to H-1B

Valid Passport

Non-immigrants need to have valid passports when entering the U.S. and at all times while in the U.S. Every time you travel, your passport expiration date will be checked. Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry into the U.S. If your passport is not valid for the entire length of your intended stay in the U.S., the DHS officer has ability to limit your stay to the expiration date on your passport. Check your I-94 form and entry stamp in your passport after every trip abroad for accuracy. 

Visa Stamp

At the time of entry, the H-1B or H-4 visa in your passport must be valid. If your visa is not valid, you must apply for new visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad (usually in your home country) before returning to the U.S.

Visa stamp expiration dates and number of entries can vary. Always check to make sure your H-1B or H-4 visa is valid on the date that you will enter U.S.

H-1B Visa Required Documents

  • Valid Passport

  • Original and valid H-1B approval notice, copy of form I-129, and copy of Labor Condition Application. Email oiss(at)msu.edu to request these documents.
  • Updated employment verification letter from your department stating that you are currently employed, dates of employment, salary, job title and brief description of job duties or several recent paystubs confirming H-1B employment.

  • Previously in J status in the U.S.
    If you were subject to the Two-Year Home Residency Requirement and you received a waiver of the requirement, when you apply for a H-1B visa you will need the original I-797 approval notice for the waiver Form I-612 from the Department of Homeland Security.

H-4 Visa Required Documents

  • Valid Passport
  • Copy of the I-797 H-1B approval notice
  • Copy of birth or marriage document establishing relationship to H-1B

Visa Application Procedures

Every U.S. Consulate has different requirements. Consult the website of the U.S. Consulate you plan to visit to schedule an appointment and to learn the specific document requirements. Find the website of the U.S. Consulate you plan to visit on the U.S. Department of State website. If you can, make your visa interview appointment before leaving the U.S.

 

I-94 Record

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admit you to the U.S. with an electronic I-94 at the Port of Entry or a paper I-94 when entering at a land border or sea border and other limited circumstances. Travelers will also receive a CBP admission stamp in their passports.

  • The new admission stamp will have the date of admission to the U.S., the class of admission (H-1B or H-4) and the date when the H-1B or H-4 status will end.

  • After entering the U.S., you will need to print out your I-94 on the I-94 website. Your I-94 printout will show your admission number. You will need your I-94 printout to apply for immigration and public benefits such as a Driver's License or Social Security Number.

  • After you print out your I-94, verify that all information is correct. For example, make sure the end date matches your current I-797 approval notice. If the I-94 information is incorrect, please contact OISS. OISS can advise you on how to request a correction. Also check dependent I-94 records.

  • When you leave the U.S., if you have a paper I-94 card, you will still give it to your airline at check-in or to CBP. If you have an electronic I-94, CBP will record your departure using Manifest information obtained from the commercial carrier.

Security Clearance (Security Advisory Opinion-SAO)

What causes a SAO?

An SAO may be required for many reasons, including:

  • name check
  • being a national of certain countries
  • conducting research in an academic field on the Technology Alert List (TAL). Boston University published the 2002 Department of State TAL on the International Student and Scholar Office website. While this list may no longer be accurate, it will give you an idea of the types of academic fields that the Department of State may consider sensitive for security purposes. For example, most visa applicants with a degree in physics should expect a security clearance. 

How long does an SAO take?

Most security clearance checks are done in 30 days or less, but some can take longer. Many in the academic community have reported wait times of 2 to 4 months or longer. 

Can OISS or MSU do anything to speed up the SAO?

There is nothing that OISS or MSU can do to speed up the SAO. We can send a support email to the Consulate if an email address is available, report the delay to professional organizations that advocate for improved immigration policies and practices in the U.S., or notify our Congressional representative. However, none of these actions have been particularly successful for individual cases. For the most part, these notifications only serve to help advocate for overall immigration reform in the U.S. 

Can I provide any documents to the Consulate in order to avoid an SAO?

There is no specific list of documents that guarantee that you will not be subject to an SAO. However, it may be helpful to provide the Consulate a letter from your Principal Investigator or Supervisor at MSU. The letter should briefly state, in simple terms, and in 5 bullet points or less:

  • applications of the research you will conduct
  • the type of research (basic or applied)
  • other information to help the Consular Officer determine whether an SAO is needed or not

Travel While the Change of Status to H-1B is Pending

DO NOT travel outside of the U.S. while your change of a status is pending.

USCIS considers you have abandoned the change of a status portion of the petition, if you travel outside of the U.S. while your change of a status is pending.

If you left the US while an application for change to H-1B status was pending and then reenter the US in another non-immigrant category, you are not considered to be in H-1B status. In that case, the individual would have to leave the US with the approval notice, obtain an H-1B visa stamp and re-enter in H-1B status.

Travel While Extension/Amendment Of H Status Is Pending

Those currently in H-1B status who have a pending H extension/amendment may travel as long as their current I-797 H-1B approval notice is valid and the visa stamp is valid.

Note: if the I-797 H-1B approval notice has expired, the applicant cannot enter into the U.S in H-1B status. Individuals in this situation should consult OISS before traveling.

Travel to Canada and Mexico

Individuals with expired visas may be eligible to reenter the U.S. after a short trip of less than 30 days to Canada and Mexico. This is called Automatic Visa Revalidation. Learn more on our Automatic Visa Revalidation webpage.

In order to enter Canada or Mexico you may need a visa issued by the Government of Canada or Mexico. It is your responsibility to know what documents you need to get a visa and enter Canada or Mexico. OISS does not advise on how to get non-U.S. visas. Here are links to the Government of Canada and Government of Mexico websites: 

Government of Canada Visit Canada

Government of Mexico Visas 

Travel in the U.S.

When traveling in the U.S. or to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands take the following documents with you:

  • Unexpired Passport
  • Electronic I-94 form or paper I-94 card. You can get and print your electronic I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website
  • Another form of photo identification such as a driver's license, state ID, or MSU ID

Inviting Family to Visit the U.S.


 

Visas to Enter Other Countries

You may need to apply for a visa to enter other countries. Check with the embassy of the country you wish to visit at least three months before your trip to find out if you need a visa and how to apply. It is your responsibility to know what documents you need to enter other countries and to find out how to get a visa for the countries you are planning to visit. OISS does not advise students on how to get non-U.S. visas.

GoAbroad.com maintains a list of Embassies located in the United States. This list is not affiliated with or maintained by OISS or MSU. GoAbroad.com Embassies Located in the United States

Visas to Enter Mexico and Canada

Government of Canada Visit Canada

Government of Mexico Visas