Travel, Re-entry + Visa Renewal

If you are planning a trip within the United States by car, bus, train or airplane, near or far, or even if you’re going abroad, it is essential that you have your passport and visa documents with you. Students are urged to be sure to have their passport, visa documents (I-94 card and I-20 or DS-2019), and CWRU student ID card or other form of US identification (like a driver’s license) with them for ALL distance travel, even travel within Ohio.

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:

Documents Needed for Re-Entry to the U.S.

Individuals seeking admission to 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*
  • A valid, accurate, properly endorsed I-20 or DS-2019 that has a current travel signature**

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 criteria are met. Border officials have the authority to approve or deny entry to whomever they choose for reasons that may or may not be apparent.

*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; you cannot renew a visa within the United States. The renewal process should be the same as when you applied for a visa for the first time, but it’s always a good idea to visit the Consulate’s website to review the process. Students who have properly maintained status do not have to pay a SEVIS fee to renew a visa.

**Travel signatures typically are valid for 12 months. A student may use a single travel signature to return to the U.S. as many times as they need during that period. Two known exceptions are when returning from Canada and when authorized for Optional Practical Training. In those instances, travel signatures are only valid for six months at a time. Be sure to check the validity of your travel signature before departing the U.S. to ensure a smoother reentry process.

Renewing 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 know that consular offices are not required to provide service to TCNs. If they do, the process likely will be more time consuming—officers adjudicating TCN application must take extra necessary measures to become informed about the applicant’s relationship to his/her home country and the U.S.—and the possibility of denial of a visa is significantly higher than if the student were applying in his or her own country, due to the officers’ unfamiliarity with the applicant's situation.

International Student Services strongly urges students who are considering applying as TCNs to consult with an advisor before doing so.

Automatic Revalidation and Travel

Generally, nonimmigrants (and their dependents) must present a valid, unexpired visa in their passport each time they enter the United States. An exception to this rule exists when nonimmigrants (and their dependents) enter the U.S. after a short trip (less than 30 days) to Canada, Mexico or “adjacent islands” other than Cuba. In this case, the visas are considered to be extended to the date of reentry through “Automatic Revalidation of Visa Validity.”

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 present, valid and properly endorsed.

For more information about automatic revalidation, please read the automatic revalidation information on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website.

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 criteria are met. Border officials have the authority to approve or deny entry to whomever they choose for reasons that may or may not be apparent.

Taking a Cruise

Traveling is permitted while in F-1 or J-1 status, but it’s important to be prepared and well-informed. Taking a cruise is a popular activity for international students, so here’s what you need to know before you book yours.

Documents

You must travel with your passport and your most recent I-20 or DS-2019. Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States. The travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 or in the lower right section of page 1 of your DS-2019 must be less than one year old on the date you return to the United States.

If you are an F-1 student on post-completion Optional Practical Training or traveling to Canada, your travel signature must be less than six months old on the date you return to the United States, and you must also have with you your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). ISS also recommends printing out your most recently issued I-94 card from the Customs & Border Protection website.

Visas for the Countries You Will Visit

Some ports of call may require visas, be sure to research that information with the cruise line or by contacting the embassy or consulate of that country in the United States.

If Your U.S. Student Visa is Valid (Not Expired)

If you have an unexpired U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa inside your passport valid for multiple entries, you should not have any difficulties with your cruise plans, regardless of the itinerary, as long as your passport is valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States, you have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 (see the section on Documents, above), and you have secured any required travel visas for your ports of call.

If Your U.S. Student Visa has Expired

If your U.S. F-1 or J-1 visa has expired (or will expire during your cruise) your cruise destinations are limited to only U.S. territories, Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands of the Caribbean, and your combined visits to these countries must be limited to fewer than 30 days. It also must be your intention to resume your F-1 or J-1 status upon your return. This benefit is not available to citizens or nationals of Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.

Your passport must be valid at least six months into the future on the date you return to the United States, you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 (see the section on Documents, above), and you need to have secured any required travel visas for your ports of call.

U.S. territories in the Caribbean include Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John).

Adjacent islands of the Caribbean are defined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations at 8CFR 286.1(a); however, it's important to know that traveling to Cuba will make you ineligible for revalidation.

If your cruise itinerary includes even one port of call not on the above list (for example, Belize) and you have an expired U.S. visa, U.S. immigration officials will not allow you to re-enter the United States. Even if you stay on board the ship during the entire time the ship is docked in that country, it won't matter. The ship has physically entered that country's sovereign territory, and if you are on the ship, you've entered that country, too. Cruise officials may not even permit you to board the ship!

This is why it is so very important to carefully review a cruise itinerary for potential travel problems if your U.S. visa in your passport has expired.

If You are a Citizen of Canada

Citizens of Canada are exempt from needing U.S. visas, so you do not need to be concerned about having a valid U.S. visa in your passport. Just be sure to be compliant with the visa requirements at the ports you plan to visit!

Document Check

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the validity of your passport or I-20 or DS-2019, stop by International Student Services (Tomlinson Hall, Room 143) during walk-in hours before you travel. ISS staff will gladly look everything over and provide you with a fresh signature for your I-20 or DS-2019 if needed.

Travel on Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Students intending to travel during processing of their OPT application should be aware that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services 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.

It also may depend on the particular application and the timing of travel travel.

If you are a student who has applied for OPT and will return to the U.S. before the program end date listed on the I-20, it should be possible to travel. You’re still considered an enrolled student, so having applied for OPT has no effect on your travel plans.

If you are a student who has applied for OPT and will returned to the U.S. after the program end date listed on the I-20, don’t travel unless you are prepared! You are now maintaining your F-1 status by complying with all OPT regulations. Upon re-entry, you must be able to present:

  • Valid passport and visa
  • Valid I-20 with a travel signature not more than six months old. If you need to obtain a new one and are not in Cleveland, contact international@case.edu.
  • Offer letter of employment either stating start date or presuming date of employment
  • EAD Card

Can I Travel After OPT is Granted?

Yes, but you must carry the following documents with you:

  • Valid passport and visa
  • Valid I-20 with a travel signature not more than six months old. If you need to obtain a new one and are not in Cleveland, contact international@case.edu.
  • Offer letter of employment either stating start date or presuming date of employment
  • EAD Card

After Re-Entry to the U.S.

All students and their dependents should check their electronic I-94 information online 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 as your anticipated program completion date.

If your I-94 record is marked with a specific date rather than “D/S,” call the local Cleveland CBP office at 216.267.3600 then press option 2.