Visa Services
Duke University School of Medicine School of Nursing Health System International House
Travel Abroad & Reentry into the United States
 

We have prepared this document to help you understand what is required for you to return home and then return to the United States in proper status or to visit another country and return to the U.S. in proper status. This document will help you organize your paperwork for travel.

KNOW YOUR VOCABULARY AND TERMINOLOGY
Understand the difference between a visa stamp, a visa document, and visa status.

  • A visa stamp in your passport gives you permission to enter the U.S. in a certain visa status. The modern, machine-readable "stamp" is not a stamp at all, but a specially designed "foil" that is affixed to a page in your passport and carries identity and other information. Many people still use the term "stamp," but consular officers may also use the term "visa foil." . This entry stamp does not tell you how long you have permission to stay in the U.S.; it simply tells you how many times and for how long you have permission to apply for entry into the U.S. in that particular nonimmigrant category. The visa stamp must be valid on the day an individual is physically entering the U.S. Once admitted, as long as a foreign national continues to hold a valid nonimmigrant document or otherwise maintains nonimmigrant status, the visa stamp in the passport can expire without rendering the individual out of status.
  • The nonimmigrant 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 nonimmigrant document, alone, does not give you permission to enter the U.S., but you must have a valid nonimmigrant document in order to obtain and use your visa stamp. The most common nonimmigrant 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.
  • The nonimmigrant status or classification is the immigration category you are granted when you are admitted to the U.S., and it is noted on your nonimmigrant document and on your Form I-94. The nonimmigrant status or classification determines the nature, location, and duration of your authorized activities, as well as your authorized length of stay in the U.S.

TRAVEL ABROAD: BASIC RULES
A. Before leaving the U.S., make sure you have:

  1. a valid passport or some other acceptable proof that you are a citizen or legal resident of that country and have the right to return to and enter it.
  2. your I-94 or a copy of the front and back of it. The original I-94 is not essential, but you will need the information on it. If it is not available because it is at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or has been lost, you may obtain the information you need from a copy. If you do not have a copy, you may be required to fill out a new I-94 at the port of departure. If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, see "Exceptions to the Rules" below.
  3. a valid U.S. visa stamp to return to the U.S. OR all of the documents you will need to obtain a new visa stamp abroad.


B. Before entering your home country you will probably need:
a valid passport or some other acceptable proof that you are a citizen or legal resident of that country and have the right to return to and enter it. Usually the passport is the document that identifies a person as a citizen of a particular country. It is important to keep your passport valid and to carry it with you when you leave the U.S.


C. Before entering another country you should:
contact the country's consulate or embassy and obtain a visa if one is required for citizens from your country of citizenship or lawful residence. One of the basic rights of any country under international law is the right to determine who may enter its borders, under what conditions and rules they may enter, and how long they may stay. Many factors affect whether you need a visa and how long it will take you to obtain one. These factors include, but are not limited to, the purpose of your visit; the relationship between your country and the country you plan to visit; your current visa class or status in the U.S.; your previous visa history with the country you plan to visit. Contact the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit before you leave the U.S. in order to save yourself much time, trouble, expense, and disappointment at the border or airport. To obtain contact information for the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit go to http://www.embassy.org/embassies/index.html, or call directory information in Washington, DC, at 202-555-1212 and ask for the telephone number of the embassy of the country.

REENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES: BASIC RULES
A. To reenter the U.S. you must have three things (see "Exceptions to the Rules" Item B, for citizens of Canada):

  1. A valid unexpired passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months into the future each time you enter the U.S. Please see the U.S. 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, barcoded, SEVIS Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. the 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 IO before you leave. If you need to obtain a new F or J visa stamp while abroad, contact the IO for a new document that specifically indicates its purpose is for obtaining a new visa stamp. 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.).
  3. 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 is 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.


B. To renew or revalidate your visa stamp:

  1. If your visa stamp will expire before you return to the U.S., then you will need to obtain a new visa stamp at the U.S. consulate abroad prior to reentry. Contact Visa Services at least two weeks before you leave to request updated or new documents you may need to obtain a new visa stamp. PLEASE NOTE: If you are applying for an F or J visa stamp, you also must be able to show proof that you have adequate financial support for the remainder of your program (i.e., assistantship award letter, bank statements, etc.). For more information on the visa application process, see the Department of State web site.
  2. Most temporary visas require that you have "non-immigrant intent" and a residence abroad that you have no intention of abandoning. In most cases, consular and immigration officers are required by law to deny visas and deny admission to the U.S. to persons who, they believe, intend to abandon their residence abroad and to immigrate to the U.S. permanently. One exception is the H-1B, which permits you to have "dual intent," or the intention to remain in the U.S. long-term, even though you hold the temporary status of H-1B now. The O-1 does not specifically permit "dual intent," but it functions in much the same way because it does not require that you have a residence abroad that you have no intention of abandoning. Before you travel, be sure to review the characteristics and requirements of your particular visa classification and be prepared to present appropriate evidence to the consular or port officers.


C. Following are some guidelines for checking whether all of your documents are in order for travel.

Visa Class
Visa Stamp
Visa Document
Obtaining the visa stamp
E E-3 for principal
E-3D for dependent spouse or child under 21
Appointment letter and academic and professional credentials for a new application at the consular post.
Copy of I-797 Approval Notice if an extension has been given in the U.S.
I-94 with E-3 notation for principal.
I-94 with E-3D notation for family.
Initial stamp and extensions are available only from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. You cannot extend your visa stamp inside the U.S.
F F-1 for principal,
F-2 for spouse
F-2 for children under 21
I-20 for F-1 principal.
I-20 for each F-2 family member.
Initial stamp and extensions are available only from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. You cannot extend your visa stamp inside the U.S. Be sure the most recent adviser's signature on the I-20 will be no more than one year old when you return to the U.S. (or no more than six months old if you are returning for OPT). Be prepared to show evidence of adequate funding.
J J-1 for principal,
J-2 for spouse
J-2 for children under 21

DS-2019 for principal
DS-2019 for each family member.
Initial stamp and extensions are available only from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. You cannot extend your visa stamp inside the U.S. Be sure the most recent adviser's signature on the DS-2019 will be no more than one year old when you return to the U.S. Be prepared to show evidence of adequate funding.
H H-1, H-2 or H-3 for principal,
H-4 for spouse
H-4 for children under 21
Copy of: I-797 Approval Notice, I-129, offer letter, and LCA for principal.
Copy of I-797 Approval Notice for family.
Initial stamp and extensions are available only from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. You cannot extend your visa stamp inside the U.S.
O O-1for principal,
O-3 for spouse and children under 21
Copy of: I-797 Approval Notice, I-129, and offer letter for principal.
Copy of I-797 Approval Notice for family.

Initial stamp and extensions are available only from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. You cannot extend your visa stamp inside the U.S.

TN No visa stamp required for Canadian citizens
Mexican citizens must have visa stamps.
Appointment letter and academic and professional credentials for a new application at the border.
Copy of I-797 Approval Notice if an extension has been given in the U.S.
I-94 with TN notation for principal.
I-94 with TD notation for family.

Visa stamps are not required for Canadian citizens. Mexican citizens may obtain initial and extension stamps from a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.



NOTE: TO ALL STUDENTS AND SCHOLARS. If ANY of the following statements apply to you, please contact Visa Services for document revalidation before you travel:

  • My most recent I-20, IAP-66, or DS-2019 is the color blue or pink, not white.
  • The most recent advisor's signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 will be more than 12 months old at the time I plan to return to the U.S.
  • I hold F-1 OPT status and the most recent advisor's signature on my I-20 will be more than 6 months old at the time I plan to return to the U.S.
  • Page 3 of my I-20 has not been signed or my I-20 does not have a page 3.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES
IMPORTANT: If any of the situations listed in item "A" below apply to you, reread "Travel Abroad: Basic Rules," Item D, and discuss your travel plans with the IO and/or an experienced immigration attorney before you travel.
A. Persons in the Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) process at any level.

  • 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 U.S. 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 the IO 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 be taken by you, but others may be taken by other people in your behalf.

B. Canadian Citizens. You must carry a passport and valid immigration documents (see chart above) to enter or reenter the U.S. from any country outside the Western Hemisphere. You are not currently required to carry a passport or to have a valid visa stamp to reenter the U.S. from Canada, but you must be able to prove Canadian citizenship with other documents, and you must have the appropriate immigration document (see chart above). The U.S. is now engaged in the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), a phased implementation that will, by 31 December 2007, require all travelers from all countries to have a passport or similar secure identity document. We strongly suggest that you obtain and carry a Canadian passport, as immigration officers at border locations and ports of entry will want very clear evidence of your Canadian citizenship, not just a birth certificate, driver's license, or evidence of residence in Canada. When returning to Canada for short trips, be sure to keep your I-94 to present it upon your return to the U.S. Do not surrender it to airline or other transportation authorities. It is a good idea to carry a photocopy (front and back) of the I-94 in case a transportation representative needs to collect the I-94 information. If you are forced to surrender your I-94 card when you depart the U.S., make absolutely certain that you insist upon being issued a new one upon reentry and that it records accurately your visa status. If you return to the U.S. without an I-94 card, then you have entered as a tourist, and all of the employment and other benefits connected to your old status are gone.


C. Automatic Revalidation. 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.

  1. If you have a visa stamp in your passport that matches your current 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.
  2. 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 and revalidated to a current date for your return to the U.S. even though it is not the same as your current status and has, perhaps, 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
A. 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 U.S., you are in the class in which you are admitted and which is written on your I-94 card by the immigration officer, 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 didn't 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 work or receive payments in the U.S. until DHS has changed your visa class back to one that permits work. This change can take months, so be careful when entering!

B. If you are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, meaning that you are allowed to enter the U.S. as a visitor without first obtaining a visa stamp, be sure that you do NOT enter the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. You will have to leave the U.S. and return in proper status - no exceptions.

C. If you go to a U.S. 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 at the following U.S. State Department webpage http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html  and note that additional time may be required for administrative processing.


D. Do not attempt to enter the U.S. 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)to deny you entry and send you back on the next plane; or (2)to 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 U.S. 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. You must remain in the immediate area, and you probably will not be allowed to leave the area to go to the bathroom or get something to drink.


E. Do not attempt to enter the U.S. 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 U.S., the immigration officer has two choices: (1)to 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 to submit proper documents to your local DHS Office before the expiration date on your I-94. The time you spend explaining to the immigration officer why you do not have proper documents will not be pleasant, so please make sure you have what you need before you leave. If you are issued an I-515, then you need to contact an advisor in the Duke Visa Services immediately for assistance. Failure to respond to an I-515 in a timely manner is a violation of status and could be grounds from deportation.


F. Do not attempt to enter the U.S. in the wrong nonimmigrant class with the intention of changing it to the correct one later. Some people enter the U.S. in the wrong nonimmigrant 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 nonimmigrant class 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 nonimmigrant class to avoid long delays and possible unpleasant exchanges with DHS.

SPECIAL CAUTION TO CANADIAN CITIZENS
If you are a Canadian citizen and are not entering the U.S. as a tourist, be certain to present the proper nonimmigrant documents to the immigration officer when entering the U.S. EVEN IF THE IMMIGRATION OFFICER DOES NOT ASK TO SEE THEM. Make sure that you are issued an I-94 card with the proper nonimmigrant classification noted on it. If you do not present the proper no-immigrant documents to the immigration officer for validation, you will have entered the U.S. as a tourist and will not be allowed to work until after DHS has approved your change to the proper nonimmigrant class.
If you are attempting to reenter in TN status, remember that the TN requires that you have an intention to return to Canada. See "Exceptions to the Rules" Item A.