OVIS Winter Break Travel Checklist

PLANNING WINTER BREAK TRAVEL

International students, scholars, faculty and staff who will be traveling outside the U.S. during the winter break should be sure to have your immigration documents in order prior to departing.

Document Requirements

For those making visa applications at U.S. consulates, be prepared for possible delays in visa issuance. This checklist can help you to prepare for your trip:

Valid passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the expiration of your period of authorized stay in the U.S.

Valid visa stamp

Unless you are Canadian and visa exempt, your visa stamp in your passport must be valid at the time of your planned reentry to the U.S. and must reflect your correct nonimmigrant visa status. If you have changed your immigration status since your last admission to the U.S., you will need to apply for a new visa stamp in order to reenter the country.  Please refer to the OVIS website for information about the visa application process and wait times and U.S. Consular posts around the world.

Valid Form I-20 (F-1 Students) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 Exchange Visitors)

Check your form to make sure you will reenter before the program end date, and that you have a valid travel signature from OVIS. The travel signature for F-1 and J-1 visa holders is valid for 12 months, unless you are a graduated F-1 student on OPT or STEM OPT, in which case your I-20 travel signature is valid for 6 months. To request a travel signature, see the instructions in the OVIS website.  Note that the U.S. government has made permanent its policy allowing electronic signatures on Forms I-20.  Students can use Forms I-20 with an electronic signature, or an electronically produced copy of a wet signature.  Students MUST print out the Form I-20 and carry the paper copy for presentation at a U.S. Consular appointment and when seeking admission to the U.S. as a U.S. port-of-entry.

The SEVP  policy can be found at:  https://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/I20-guidance.pdf  

Note that J-1 Exchange Visitors must continue to carry a Form DS-2019 with original signatures.  Electronic signatures are not acceptable for visa appointments at U.S. Consular posts or for admission at a U.S. port-of-entry.

Plan for possible visa issuance delays

The holiday season is a busy travel time and higher volumes of visa applications can be expected at U.S. consular posts worldwide.  Be sure to check the website of the U.S. consulate or embassy for hours of operation, specific application procedures including required documentation, and processing times. For students, bring a copy of your transcript as proof of enrollment. Dartmouth employees can bring an updated employment verification letter issued by Human Resources and copies of your two most recent pay statements. Visit the Department of State website at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html for more information.

Security clearances

U.S. Consular Officers can require visa applications to undergo additional security clearances based on country of nationality, a name that is similar to a name on a government watch list, study or work in a field involving sensitive technologies, or other reasons. If an application requires an additional clearance, it will be placed in "administrative processing" and the visa will not be issued until the process is complete, which can take several weeks or longer. For more information on administrative processing, visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/administrative-processing-information.html

Admission at U.S. port-of-entry and automated Form I-94 record

For F-1 students with a previously terminated SEVIS record, expect to undergo additional screening at the Customs & Border Protection Agency's (CBP) secondary inspection so that your valid F-1 status can be verified in the SEVIS system.

I-94 record

CBP at many ports-of-entry are no longer issuing an admission stamp in the passport upon entry to the U.S.  The CBP officer will create an I-94 record of arrival in the CBP database.  Once in the U.S. with access to the Internet and a printer, a copy of the I-94 record of arrival can be accessed on CBP's website. If traveling by land crossing from Canada or Mexico, you must request a "new admission" if you want your entry recorded in the agency's electronic system. OVIS recommends the I-94 record be accessed and printed for every new arrival to the U.S. to ensure accuracy. If there is an error in your I-94 record, contact OVIS for assistance in having it corrected. Visit the I-94 website at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/recent-search.

CANADIAN students and scholars should be sure to present their F-1 Form I-20 or J-1 Form DS-2019 for admission.  Failure to do so could result in admission as a visitor instead of a student, and the student could be instructed to return to the port of entry or make an appointment at the CBP Deferred Inspections Office at Logan Airport in Boston, MA to have the error corrected.