If an F-1 or J-1 student or scholar plans to travel outside the country, he or she will need the following papers in order to depart and re-enter the U.S.:
- Current I-20 with the DSO's signature on the third page (F-1) or DS-2019 with travel validation signature of the RO (J-1)
- Unexpired passport (passport must be valid for at least six months upon return to the U.S.)
- Unexpired visa (See information about renewal under F-1 or J-1 visa information.)
- Travel letter from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISSS)
Additional documents are required if the F-1 student is on OPT.
Some travel exceptions exist for Canada, Mexico and islands adjacent to the U.S. when leaving for less than 30 days. In such cases when the visa is expired but the I-20 or DS-2019 is valid, the traveler must keep the I-94 upon departure. The airlines will want to collect the I-94, but the student or scholar should hold on to the I-94 and explain why they must keep it.
When traveling to country other than his or her country of citizenship, the student or scholar should always investigate what visa documents are required by that country's government for international travelers. OISSS suggests the student consult with their embassy in the U.S. when traveling to another country.
The student is permitted a maximum of five months out of the U.S. More than five months is not considered a temporary absence, and the visa will automatically expire regardless of the dates on the visa and the I-20 or DS-2019. If a student or scholar must leave the U.S. for more than five months, he or she should see OISSS about possible options for returning to the U.S. Be aware that returning after five months of absence is considered an initial entry, and restarts the clock to be eligible for benefits like CPT (with a couple exceptions).
If a person changes immigration status while in the U.S., his or her original entry visa is considered expired. To renew an entry visa, he or she will likely need to return home and reapply at the U.S. consulate. Always consult with OISSS before traveling.
The F-1 student and J-1 exchange visitor has a notation of D/S on his or her I-94, indicating he or she can remain in the U.S. for the duration of status. The date on the visa sticker may be subject to reciprocal agreements between his or her country and the U.S. Even if the visa sticker expires, the student remains in status as long as he or she has a valid I-20, and the scholar as long as he or she is abiding by the program specifications on the DS-2019. However, if the student or scholar leaves the U.S., he or she will not be able to re-enter on an expired visa. (Some travel exceptions exist for Canada, Mexico and the contiguous islands.)
To renew a visa, the student or scholar must return to the U.S. consulate in his or her home country. Usually with a valid I-20 or DS-2019, a valid passport and a letter from OISSS, it is possible to renew the visa without problems. Applying for a visa renewal in a third country (other than country of citizenship) might or might not be possible, but students or scholars risk being refused renewal, being stranded outside U.S. borders, and/or deportation from the third country. OISSS strongly advises students to inquire of the consulate in the third country where they plan to renew the visa and set up an interview date before leaving the U.S.
Travel and Re-Entry to the U.S. for F-1 students while on OPT:
1. Regulations indicate that an F-1 student with an unexpired EAD issued for post-completion OPT may re-enter the U.S. to resume employment after a period of temporary absence. However, departure from the U.S. while an application is pending is often considered an abandonment of that application.
2. There are three scenarios that could result differently if traveling in OPT status.
a. You filed for OPT, but adjudication is still pending. Technically, if you return to the U.S. and the application is still pending, you may re-enter to search for employment. But this scenario is risky because if the application is approved while you were out of the U.S., you will not be permitted re-entry. We don't recommend traveling while OPT is pending.
b. If your OPT was approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot re-enter the U.S. We do not recommend traveling on OPT if you haven't already begun your employment.
c. If your OPT was approved and you have begun your employment, you may travel and re-enter the U.S. to resume work at the same job. We recommend travel only under these circumstances.
3. Documents you will need when traveling and re-entering the U.S. while on OPT:
- An I-20 with OPT authorization on the third page and endorsed by the DSO within the preceding six months.
- A valid F-1 visa
- A current passport
- A letter from your present employer confirming your employment will continue upon your return.
- A travel letter from OISSS.