International students and scholars must plan for international travel by first reviewing their visa documents. In addition, if traveling to a country that is not your own, you need to confirm the entry visa requirements for that country. Please contact the embassy or consulate of the particular country you plan to visit for detailed information on what you need to do to apply for an entry visa should you need one. Note that it is also recommended that you take with you all related immigration documents for domestic travel outside the Boston metropolitan area.
In general, most international students and scholars at Harvard will need the following in order to return to the United States:
- Valid passport
- Valid U.S. visa stamp (except for Canadian citizens). It is not possible to apply for or renew non-immigrant visas inside the U.S. Please see below for details.
- Valid immigration document (Form DS-2019, I-20, I-797)
- Valid travel signature on Form I-20 or DS-2019 (in most cases no older than 12 months)
- SEVIS fee payment receipt (If you do not have the receipt and have paid the SEVIS fee before, please click here to print one out. If you have not paid the SEVIS fee, you may pay now via the same web site and print out the receipt.)
You are required to have a passport that is valid for six months beyond the period of your intended stay in the United States. Citizens of the certain countries are exempt the six-month rule and need only to have a passport valid for their intended period of stay. Please note that the list of countries is updated periodically. For the most up to date list click here.
Unexpired U.S. Visa
Citizens of all countries except Canada are required to have unexpired U.S. visas in their passports to enter and reenter the U.S. If you need to apply for a visa, please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you plan to apply for the visa in advance to confirm its hours of operation, application procedures, and to see if any changes have been implemented. For a list of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, visit the U.S. Department of State web site. A U.S. non-immigrant visa is issued in an individual's passport by a U.S. consul in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside theU.S. A visa is used solely for the purpose of entry and reentry to the U.S. The visa does not determine how long an individual may remain in the U.S. Therefore, an individual may stay beyond the expiration date of a visa as long as the visa document (Form I-20, Form DS-2019, or Form I-797) is valid.
Please check your documents prior to making international travel plans. Visa documents include the Form I-20, Form DS-2019, and Form I-797. For specific information go back to the immigration section of the HIO web site and click on your visa type. A visa document certifies the length of stay for international students, scholars and their family members and it indicates an individual's visa status. A visa document must be valid at all times.
Students and scholars on F-1 and J-1 visas (as well as their dependents on F-2 and J-2 visas) need a valid travel signature on Form I-20 or DS-2019 (in most cases, no older than 12 months). If you will need a travel signature, please check the HIO web site for regular office hours in Harvard Square, the Medical Area and Harvard Business School. You do not need an appointment to get a travel signature from the HIO.
If you leave the United States with a visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019) that has an expired travel signature, i.e. one that will be more than 12 months old at the time of your reentry to the United States, the immigration officials have the discretion to readmit you for up to 30 days. You will be given the Form I-515A and an I-94 card that has a 30-day admission period. It is very important that you report to the HIO immediately after you are back at Harvard. You will be given instructions at the HIO on correcting the I-515A to extend your permission to remain in the United States.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has created an on-line, electronic I-94. The traditional paper form I-94 may only be issued at Canadian land ports-of-entry. You need to do two things when you enter the United States:
- Check your passport to make sure that the CBP officer has put an entry stamp indicating that you entered on a certain date, in a certain visa status, e.g. F-1, and can stay until a certain date or D/S (duration of status) in the case of F and J visa holders.
- Print out your I-94 each time you enter the U.S. as you may need it for other purposes.
Transit through a Third Country
Please be aware that many countries (including the United States) do not allow visitors to transit through their countries unless they have an entry visa, a transit visa, or meet specific requirements. Before arranging travel that would require transit through a country that is not your home country, review that country's visa policies and/or ask your travel agent.
Change of Visa Status within the U.S.
Those who have obtained an approval of a change of visa status in the U.S. through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will still be required to apply for a visa for the new visa status at a U.S. embassy or consulate when traveling outside the U.S. prior to returning to the U.S. in the new visa status.