Renewing a Visa
If you plan to take a trip outside the United States (U.S.) or return to your home country for a temporary visit, you must confirm that you will have the proper visa documents to return to the U.S. If your visa stamp will be expired at the time of your reentry to the U.S., you must budget time while outside the U.S. to renew the visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country. You cannot renew a visa stamp inside the U.S. The process of renewing a visa is almost the same as applying for the initial visa because each visa application is considered an independent application.
Process for Renewing a Visa
It is not possible to apply for or renew non-immigrant visas inside the U.S. You must apply for a visa in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. You may check the estimated visa processing time on the web site of the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. Wait times may vary considerably among consular posts, and processing times indicated may not be accurate. Please see below for details.
- You must complete the DS-160 online visa application again to initiate the visa renewal process. The U.S. Department of State has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that may be helpful in completing the DS-160, including help for technical issues. Please also review the information on an Embassy’s website to prepare for required documents (e.g. Research plans for researchers).
- Many U.S. Embassies and Consulates are waiving the interview requirement for a visa renewal if you meet certain criteria. After completing the DS-160, you will be instructed to either make an appointment for an interview, or submit your documents to the Embassy under the interview waiver. Even if you are waived from the interview requirement, you must be present in the same country as the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to submit your visa application. You cannot mail your application from the U.S.
- You do not have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again if you are an F-1 or J-1 visa holder and have already paid the SEVIS fee before, for the same SEVIS ID number.
- Depending on your field of study and your country of citizenship, you could be put through a security check, called administrative processing, which could delay your return to the University. Administrative processing can still occur regardless of whether you have cleared administrative processing on a previous visa application. Please keep that in mind when planning a trip.
- While you can apply for a visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate, it is always best to apply in your home country.
- Please keep in mind that you must be able to prove your eligibility for a non-immigrant visa by presenting credible financial information along with the rest of your required documents indicated on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate. You should also be prepared to answer questions regarding the length of your intended stay in the U.S. and how you will use your academic experience gained in the U.S. when you return to your home country. Consular officials expect to see evidence of your ties to your home country, such as family, property, employment, or bank accounts. If the consular official determines that you are not eligible for a non-immigrant visa because you have not presented sufficient evidence that you intend to return home, there is usually no recourse to the visa denial. You would have to submit a new visa application, during which time you are able to present new information that proves strong ties to your home country. You may also be asked to present evidence that you have maintained legal immigration status if you have worked, studied, or resided in the U.S. previously.
- If you are on F-1 post-completion OPT, STEM OPT, or J-1 Academic Training and have a pending or approved H-1B petition, you will still be required to prove ties to your home country. Please consult your HIO advisor before applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa while on post-completion OPT, STEM OPT or AT.
- Additional points to consider when renewing a U.S. visa can be found here.
What You Need to Return to the U.S.
In general, you will need the following in order to return to the U.S.:
- Unexpired passport
- Unexpired U.S. visa (except for Canadian citizens)
- Unexpired immigration document (Form DS-2019, I-20, I-797)
- Updated travel signature* on Form I-20 or DS-2019 (in most cases no older than 12 months)
- SEVIS Fee payment receipt
- Proof of COVID-19 Vaccination
*If you will need a travel signature, please note the following information regarding how to obtain a travel signature:
- F-1 students may request a travel signature to be sent via email by completing the F-1 Travel Signature Request Form. If you have dependents, you do not need to submit a separate request for F-2 signatures; all forms I-20 will be issued and sent to you automatically.
- J-1 students, scholars, and student interns and their dependents will need to visit the HIO during our walk in travel signature and document pick up hour, which takes place Monday-Friday from 12pm - 1pm on the 8th floor of the Smith Center to obtain a travel signature. DS-2019s cannot be sent electronically and must contain an original signature from the HIO.
- J-1 students, scholars, and student interns who are not in the Cambridge area will need to request a new DS-2019 with a new travel signature to be shipped via FedEx. To request this service, please follow the steps to purchase a FedEx label using eShipGlobal.
You should check your documents prior to making international travel plans. Note that it is also recommended that you take your visa documents for domestic travel outside the Boston metropolitan area. It is possible that a government official may request to see them even if you are staying within the U.S. when you travel.