The Visa Services department is here to help!

The Visa Services department is here to help!

Discuss your plans with us before you leave, and we can help you look at all the options. You can contact us by:

phone: 919-681-8472 or


In order to maintain continuous E, F, J, H, O, R, TN or similar non-immigrant status while outside the United States, the absence from the United States must “brief, casual, and innocent” and must not constitute a break in activities. The specifics vary by non-immigrant class and activity. We have prepared these basic guidelines to help you ensure that you maintain status and meet your status responsibilities.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is keeping records. DHS tracks entrances and exits through the USA-VISIT program. We are seeing denials of extensions, and orders for families to depart when the principal has a break in continuity of his/her status. Do not take the risk. Contact Duke Visa Services (DVS) to discuss any extended absences.

Your family’s status depends absolutely on your status. If you lose or abandon status, thus breaking continuity, then your family also loses status and cannot remain in the United States.

Brief, casual, and innocent absences do not break continuity. Generally absences of 30-days or fewer and for short-term activities such as attending a conference, consulting with colleagues, taking vacation or holiday, or attending to personal business do not break continuity.

How the 30-day Rule Applies

In general we will assume that any absence of greater than 30 days breaks continuity of status such that you will need to use a new visa document to enter the United States in a new activity. Before you leave the United States contact DVS regarding any absence that you expect to be greater than 30 days.

Exceptions to the 30-Day Rule

If you will be outside the United States for longer than 30 days, but you will continue in an appropriate activity related to your status, it is possible to have your status continued while you are away. Following are some general exceptions to the 30-day rule.

  • Usual summer vacation. Faculty and students may take annual summer vacation. Other employees may take vacation time due them. In most cases, standard employee vacation time will be fewer than 30 days.
  • Duke related business. Faculty or research scholars may engage in bona fide Duke related business while outside the United States. Examples include collaborating on a research project, or doing individual research for a book or project. Before you leave on such an extended absence contact DVS to ensure that your absence meets the requirements for an exception.
  • Study abroad. Full-time enrolled Duke students in F-1 status may study abroad while maintaining their F-1 status. There are special procedures and circumstances for this. Contact DVS well in advance of your study abroad semester so that we can help you maintain status.
  • Official Duke Leave of Absence (LOA). Duke employees may take official, formal LOA per the Human Resources guidelines. Just deciding to take time off is not the same as a formal leave of absence. Before you take the LOA consult DVS regarding the effect that will have on your non-immigrant status. In some cases your status can continue, in others it cannot.

Not Exceptions to the 30-Days Rule

Some actions are not exceptions to the 30-day rule and will result in DVS terminating your status and that of your family.

  • You cannot “park” your family in the United States. Faculty and staff sometimes come to the United States, bring their family, and then choose or need to return to the home country for an extended period of time for personal or business reasons. During that time you cannot leave your family here. If you are not engaged in the activities for which Duke provided your immigration documents, then you cannot continue to hold Duke sponsored status. If you do not have status, then your family does not have status and must leave the United States.
  • You cannot “visit” the United States for a few days each month to circumvent the 30-day rule. Faculty and staff sometimes bring their families and then attempt to pretend that they are living in the United States by really working or living outside and merely entering the United States for a few days each month. In this way they hope to “park” their families here in a status that does not really exist. If you are not maintaining proper status, then your family does not have status and must leave the United States.
  • Inability to return due to visa problems. If you have an extended absence due to a visa problem abroad, it may be necessary to terminate your current immigration documents and issue you new ones. We need to consider each case on its own merits. If a brief trip unexpectedly turns into a long absence, let us know as soon as possible so that we can work with you to keep your best options open.