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Traveling to the United States in F or J Status


Getting a Visa to Travel to the United States


If this is a new I-20/DS-2019, sign your name and write your location and the date at the bottom of the first page. If you have dependents, you must also sign the bottom of their I-20s/DS-2019s. Use this I-20/DS-2019 for travel and all official purposes. Keep any previous I-20s/DS-2019s; you will need them for any future visa requests.

If you have an immigration emergency, or a situation arises where you require the urgent assistance of an OISS team member, you can call 504-865-5381.

TRAVEL: If you are going to travel outside the U.S., you should check your I-20 or DS-2019 to see whether you need a travel signature. If you do, please come to OISS and request your travel signature. We strongly suggest that you come at least two weeks before you travel. NO SAME DAY REQUESTS WILL BE PROCESSED.

The travel validation signature on the second page of your I-20/bottom right corner of the first page of your DS-2019 is good for one year for exchange students or scholars, and six months for short-term scholars. Learn more about travel signatures here. When you travel outside the U.S., you will need the following to re-enter:

  • Valid passport with valid U.S. visa (see below for more information)
  • I-20/DS-2019 with valid travel signature
  • I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt (to print, visit


Academic Training (AC): If you are a J-1 student on AC, you must present a DS-2019 with valid work authorization and proof of employment or an offer of employment on official letterhead. Readmission to the U.S. as a J-1 student on AC is at the discretion of the officer at the port of entry.


Optional Practical Training (OPT): If you are an F-1 student on OPT, you will also need proof of employment, such as an employment contract or letter from your employer, and an EAD Card. 

To prepare for travel, check your passport and visa.


Passport: Make sure your passport will be valid for at least six (6) months when you re-enter the United States. You can be denied entry to the U.S. if your passport is expired. If your passport needs to be renewed, start the process as soon as possible.  If you need to renew it within the U.S., contact your country’s embassy or consulate for the proper procedures and application materials.


Visa: If you travel outside the United States, you will need a valid visa for re-entry. If your visa has expired, you will need to obtain a new visa in the appropriate F or J category before you return to the United States. The best place to do this is the embassy or consulate nearest you in your home country. In cases where this would be an extreme hardship, you may be able to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in a different country. In this case, schedule an appointment with the OISS to discuss your options. If you have been arrested in the U.S., it may cause revocation of your visa, or a delay or denial of a request for a new visa. DUI arrests may result in visa revocation and require an evaluation by a physician assigned by the consulate before the visa can be reinstated. Contact the consulate where you will apply for a visa to learn about application procedures in case of an arrest.


Traveling to Canada or Mexico or Adjacent Islands and Automatic Visa Revalidation

If you are only traveling to Canada or Mexico or the adjacent islands (Saint Pierre, Miquelon, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, Other British, French, and Netherlands) for a period of less than 30 days, you may be eligible to re-enter the US on the basis of an expired visa in your passport under a process called “automatic visa revalidation.”

In order to take advantage of Automatic Revalidation all of the following must apply:

  • The visit is ONLY to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands and you may NOT travel to any other country.
  • You did not apply for a new US visa stamp while in Canada/Mexico/ adjacent islands. (This point is very important.)
  • Your passport must be valid for at least six months from your date of re-entry to the U.S., unless your country is a member of the so-called “six-month club.
  • You must possess your portion of the approval notice (bottom left side of the I-797) – if in H-1B status
  • You must possess an unexpired I-94 record* or admission stamp.
  • You must apply for readmission to the U.S. within the authorized period of your immigration status.
  • You must have maintained and intend to resume your non-immigrant status.

NOTE: When exiting the U.S. for Automatic Revalidation do not surrender your I-94—you will need it for reentry.

Automatic revalidation is not available to nationals from countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism. Individuals who apply for a new visa in Canada, Mexico and or adjacent islands, but are denied such a visa, are also not eligible to benefit from the automatic visa revalidation option.

We recommend that individuals planning to re-enter the US under the automatic visa revalidation process carry with them the CBP automatic visa revalidation memo. In addition, please print the relevant regulations.

If you will be traveling by air, you should confirm that your airline is familiar with the visa revalidation process and will issue you a boarding pass when returning to the US even though you have an expired US visa in your passport.


Know your Rights at the Airport

(from the American Civil Liberties

Given the recent Executive Orders issued by President Trump, and the current political climate, we are aware that some of you might be worried about what your experience might be at the port of entry when interacting with a customs officer. We would like to remind you to be honest and courteous to the officer at the port of entry, and to have your documents ready when you’re asked for them. If you have any doubts, below are some specific guidelines about what customs officers have the authority to do:


Q. What types of law enforcement officers could I encounter at the airport and at the border?

A. You may encounter any of the full range of law enforcement officers. In particular, at airports and at the border, you are likely to encounter Customers and Border Protection officers (CBP) and Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) officers.


Q. If I am entering the U.S. with valid travel papers, can law enforcement officers stop and search me?

A. Generally, customs officers may stop, detain, and search any person or item at the border. This is true even if there is nothing suspicious about you or your luggage. The government believes this authority to search without individualized suspicion extends to searches of electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones, but that is a contested legal issue.  

Officers, however, may not select you for a personal search or secondary inspection based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.


Q. Can law enforcement officers ask questions about my immigration status?

A. Customs officers have the authority to ask your immigration status when you are entering or returning to the United States or leaving the country. They have the power to determine whether non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have the right to enter the country. If you are a non-citizen visa holder, you may be denied entry into the United States if you refuse to answer officers’ questions. Officers, however, may not select you for questioning based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs. If you are told you cannot enter the country and you fear you might be persecuted or tortured if you are sent back to the country from which you traveled, you may tell the customs officer about your fear and ask for asylum.


Q. If I am selected for a longer interview when I am coming into the United States, what can I do?

A. If you are a non-citizen visa holder selected for further questioning, you may ask to talk to a lawyer but you generally do not have the right to consult a lawyer before answering the officers’ questions. Importantly, for anyone attempting to enter the United States, if a customs officer or border agent informs you that you are under arrest, or if it becomes clear that he or she suspects you have committed a crime, you have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any questions. 


Q. Do I have to provide my laptop passwords or unlock my mobile phone for law enforcement officers? Can law enforcement officers search my electronic devices or make copies of the files?

A. Officers have sometimes asked travelers to provide their laptop passwords or unlock their mobile phones. Whether you have a right to decline to provide this information is a contested legal issue. The extent to which officers have the authority to search or copy files in your electronic devices without any reasonable suspicion that the devices contain evidence of wrongdoing is also a contested issue. U.S. citizens cannot be denied entry to the United States for refusing to provide passwords or unlock devices, but refusal to do so might lead to delay, lengthy questioning, and/or officers seizing your device for further inspection. For lawful permanent residents and non-citizen visa holders, refusing to cooperate might also lead to officers denying your entry into the country. If an officer searches and/or confiscates your laptop or cell phone, write down his or her name and get a receipt for your property. 


Q. What if I wear a religious head covering and I am selected by airport security officials for additional screening?

A. You have the right to wear your religious head covering. You should assert your right to wear your religious head covering if asked to remove it before going through airport security screening. If an alarm goes off, however, airport security officers may request additional screening. They may then conduct a pat-down of your religious head covering or ask you to remove it. You have the right to request that the pat-down or removal be conducted by a person of your gender and that it occurs in a private area. If you do not want the TSA officer to touch your religious head covering, you must refuse and say that you would prefer to pat down your own religious head covering. You will then be taken aside and a TSA officer will supervise you as you pat down your religious head covering. After the pat-down, the TSA officer may rub your hands with a small cotton cloth and place it in a machine to test for chemical residue. If you pass this chemical residue test, you should be allowed to proceed to your flight. If the TSA officer insists on the removal of your religious head covering, you have a right to ask that it be done in a private area. Officers may not conduct additional screening based solely on your race, national origin, religion, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.


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