Travel Abroad & Reentry to the United States
Duke Visa Services will issue electronic I-20s and travel signatures for F-1 students. J-1 students and scholars must report to the Duke Visa Services Office to receive travel signatures. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Effective November 1, 2021, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program which governs the F-1 program, will allow schools to continue to issue electronic I-20s and electronic travel signatures for the foreseeable future. F-1 students must print out the I-20s and present a paper document to U.S. consulates and U.S. port of entry officials.
J-1 students and scholars, governed by the Department of State, must receive original DS-2019s and inked travel signatures.
The Duke University International Travel Policy requires that all faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate/professional students enter their travel plans in the Duke Travel Registry if a trip abroad will be funded by, sponsored by, or entails earning credit to be transferred to Duke or used to earn a Duke degree. This University-wide policy applies to students in all programs at any of Duke's schools, institutes, departments, programs, and labs. Please check the Duke Travel Registry website for additional information.
Vocabulary And Terminology
Understand the difference between a Visa stamp, a visa document, and visa status.
Visa Stamp or Foil
The non-immigrant document indicates how long you have permission to remain in the U.S., what activities you have permission to pursue, and where you have permission to pursue those activities. The non-immigrant document, alone, does not give you permission to enter the U.S., but you must have a valid non-immigrant document in order to obtain and use your visa stamp. The most common non-immigrant documents on a university campus are the I-20 for F status, the DS-2019 for J status, and the I-797 for E, H, O, or TN status. If you need a new I-20 or DS-2019 document, before you leave the U.S., please complete the New I-20 or DS-2019 Request Form.
The non-immigrant status or classification granted when admitted to the U.S., and reflected on your non-immigrant document and in your electronic I-94 record. The non-immigrant status or classification determines the nature, location, and duration of your authorized activities, as well as your authorized length of stay in the United States.
Reentry Into The United States
To reenter the United States you must have three things (for citizens of Canada, please review the "Exceptions to the Rules" section below):
- A valid unexpired passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months into the future each time you enter the United States. Please see the United States Customs and Border Protection website for more information on foreign passport validity and for the list of countries with six-month validity agreements that make the passport valid for six months beyond the expiration date listed in the passport.
- 2. An immigration document that is valid on and beyond the date you plan to reenter the U.S. and that has been signed and updated, if needed, by the appropriate official. If you are in F or J status you must have a valid SEVIS Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. A Duke Visa Services Adviser’s most recent signature on the I-20 or DS-2019 should be less than one year old on the date that you plan to return to the U.S. (less than 6 months old if you are traveling while in F-1 OPT status). If you need an updated signature on the I-20 or DS-2019, contact the Duke Visa Services Office before you leave.
- If you are applying for an H or O visa stamp be sure to carry a copy of your approval notice and most recent I-94. PLEASE NOTE: Any time you apply for a visa or enter the U.S., you should be prepared to show proof that you have adequate financial support for the remainder of your program (i.e., assistantship award letter, bank statements, employment letter, etc.).
- A valid and unexpired visa stamp in your passport that matches the immigration document. All visa stamps include a visa type, such as B-1, J-1, F-2, etc., and an ending date. It is imperative that you read the visa stamp carefully and make sure it is valid for reentry. The visa stamp may be valid for multiple entries or it may be limited to one or two entries. It may be valid for only a few months or for the entire time listed on the I-20, DS-2019, I-797 Approval Notice, or other visa document. The duration of the validity of the visa stamp and the number of entries it permits based upon reciprocity with the sending country. The restrictions the U.S. puts on your visa are similar to the restrictions that your country puts on the visas of U.S. citizens traveling to your country for similar purposes. Certain visa stamps may have other limitations as well.
Exceptions To The Rules
Persons in the Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) Process (at any level)
Important Note: If any of the situations listed below apply to you, discuss your travel plans with your Duke Visa Services advisor and/or an experienced immigration attorney before you travel.
Applicants for LPR or "green card": DO NOT TRAVEL using temporary visa documents such as an I-20, DS-2019, I-797 Approval Notice for TN status, or TN documents. Once you file an application for LPR, your prior temporary status is generally considered canceled, and you should not use those old documents. If it is necessary for you to travel abroad while your LPR adjustment application is pending, you may need to apply for and receive "Advance Parole" from the DHS to give you special permission to enter the U.S. even though your temporary status has ended. If you leave the U.S. without Advance Parole, you may have no legal way to reenter and may have to wait outside the U.S. and complete your permanent residence processing at a U.S. embassy or consulate. There is a special exception for maintaining "H" status while LPR is pending.
Spouses of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents: DO NOT TRAVEL using temporary visa documents such as an I-20, DS-2019, I-797, Approval Notice for TN status, or TN documents. Consular and immigration officers generally assume that marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident indicates an intention to live in the U.S. permanently with the spouse. Consular and immigration officers have the authority to deny you a visa or deny you entry to the U.S. based on that assumption.
Others involved in the LPR process: DO NOT TRAVEL unless you have discussed your situation with Duke Visa Services or with an experienced immigration lawyer. Certain actions that you take or that others take for you in the LPR process can make it difficult or impossible for you to return to the U.S. in a temporary status. These actions include, but are not limited to, filing a labor certification application, filing an immigrant petition based on family relationship, filing an immigrant petition based on employment, or filing an asylum application. Note that some of these actions may have been taken by you, but others may be taken by other people on your behalf.
The Department of State regulations have a special provision called "automatic revalidation" that permits persons in F, J, H and O status to enter "contiguous territory" (Canada and Mexico) and return to the U.S. without a currently valid visa stamp in the passport. For those who hold F and J status, this special "automatic revalidation" also applies to travel to "adjacent islands" (islands in the Caribbean except Cuba). Automatic revalidation applies in two ways.
- If you have a visa stamp in your passport that matches your status, but has expired, that visa stamp is considered to be automatically revalidated to a current date for your return to the U.S. even though it has expired.
- If you have changed status while in the U.S., and you have a visa stamp that matches your old status (either expired or unexpired), that visa stamp is considered to be automatically changed to a stamp matching the new status. It is also revalidated to a current date for your return to the U.S. even though it is not the same as your status and may have not expired. Automatic revalidation is a very useful and convenient provision, but it has very strict rules for its use. Do not even attempt to use automatic revalidation until you have read Travel to Contiguous Territory and Adjacent Islands.
How To Avoid Problems
Multiple Visa Stamps
If you have more than one visa stamp in your passport, be sure to use the correct one to enter the country. When you reenter the United States, you are in the category in which you are admitted and which appears on your electronic I-94 record, regardless of what other stamps may be in your passport.
Example: You have a B-1/B-2 tourist stamp and a J-1 stamp. You use the B-1/B-2 stamp to enter the U.S. because it is easier or you did not want to take time to get a proper J-1 stamp. If you use the B-1/B-2 stamp, then you are officially present in the U.S. in a tourist visa class, not J-1, even though you may have been in J-1 class before you left. If you enter in the wrong visa class, you cannot perform your designated activities or receive payments in the United States until DHS has changed your visa class back to one that permits your designated activities. This change can take many, many months, so be careful when entering!
Visa Waiver Program
If you are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, meaning that you are allowed to enter the United States as a visitor without first obtaining a visa stamp, be sure that you do NOT enter the United States on this program. If you enter on this program, you will be admitted as a WT or WB and will only be allowed to remain in the United States for a maximum of 90 days. You will not be eligible for employment and other benefits normally afforded persons in other temporary visa classifications. A WB or WT cannot be changed to another visa status, nor can it be extended beyond the 90-day period. PLEASE REMEMBER that entry on the Visa Waiver Program in WB or WT status cannot be "fixed" in the United States. You will have to leave the U.S. and return in proper status. No exceptions!
Get A Visa Stamp
If you go to a United States embassy or consulate abroad to get a visa stamp, take the proper immigration documents with you. If you do not have the proper document, such as the I-20, DS-2019, or I-797 Approval Notice, the consular officer has no evidence that you are entitled to that visa and cannot issue it. It does not matter that you may already have an old visa stamp in the passport. The old stamp provides no information about your current situation. Always check the Visa Wait times-For Interview Appointments and Processing from the Department of State website and note that additional time may be required for administrative processing..
Invalid or Expired Visa Stamp
Do not attempt to enter the United States with an invalid or expired visa stamp or no visa stamp at all. If you try to enter the U.S. with an invalid or expired visa stamp or with no proper stamp at all, the immigration officer at the port of entry has two choices: (1) deny you entry and send you back on the next plane; or (2) call a supervising officer and request permission to let you in without a visa. If, and only if, the supervising officer agrees, may you be admitted without a visa stamp. You must pay a fee to cover the cost of this visa waiver request. DHS will make a record that you failed to present a proper visa stamp and that DHS gave you a visa waiver. If you again try to reenter the United States without a visa, you likely will be denied entry. Often you must wait until all of the other passengers on your plane, train, or bus have been admitted before DHS can take time to complete your admission. It may take several hours to do this. Reports from other students and scholars indicate that your wait will not be pleasant.
Do not attempt to enter the United States without the proper immigration document. If you fail to present a valid visa document, such as an I-20 or DS-2019, and you try to enter the United States, the immigration officer has two choices: (1) deny you entry and send you back on the next plane: or (2) to admit you for a very short period of time, usually 30 days. In the latter case, you will be issued a Form I-515 that requires you mail the appropriate documents to DHS before the expiration of your electronic I-94. If you are issued an I-515, then you need to contact an advisor in the Duke Visa Services Office immediately for assistance. Failure to respond to an I-515 in a timely manner is a violation of status and could be grounds for deportation.
Do not attempt to enter the U.S. in the wrong non-immigrant category with the intention of changing it to the correct one later. Some people enter the U.S. in the wrong non-immigrant class because it is easier, or faster, or they are not sure they will be able to get the proper visa. They then plan to change to the proper class after they arrive in the U.S. Examples: entering the U.S. as a tourist when the real intention is to enroll as a student or to change to J or H class in order to work. Generally, this is considered visa fraud, and the DHS will examine very closely any application to change non-immigrant category under these circumstances. In addition, you cannot work or attend school until you have obtained the proper class and the necessary approval. Therefore, it is imperative that you enter in the proper non-immigrant category avoid long delays and possible unpleasant exchanges with DHS.