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What is a Travel Signature?

A Travel Signature on a Certificate of Eligibility I-20 or DS-2019 verifies that the student or scholar has maintained a valid status and is eligible to re-enter the U.S.

Those on F-1, J-1 or F/J dependent visas must make sure that their I-20 or DS-2019 documents have been signed for travel within the last 12 months before traveling outside the U.S. If the F-1 student is on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the OPT STEM Extension, the travel signature must be valid within 6 months from the date of re-entry to the United States.

Do I need a Travel Signature?

All I-20 and DS-2019 documents must be signed within 12 months of re-entry into the U.S. to be valid. If the F-1 student is on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the OPT STEM Extension, the travel signature must be valid within 6 months from the date of re-entry to the United States.

If you will be traveling either outside or inside the U.S., international students and scholars are advised by the Immigration Service to be sure that you have your SEVIS Form I-20 (F visa holders) or Form DS-2019 (J visa holders) signed within the past twelve(12) months to be valid.

Find more information on how to obtain a travel signature at Obtain A Travel Signature.

Given the potential scrutiny that individuals may face upon inspection, a signature during the current semester confirming current enrollment is recommended.

How do I obtain a Travel Signature?

Please do not wait until the last minute to request a travel signature.  Please plan ahead!

All you will need to do is drop your I-20 or DS-2019 off at the ISSO and you may pick it up on the next business day.

If you need an enrollment letter, you may request one from the Registrar's Office. Please plan accordingly.

Remember, one travel signature is valid for 12 months, regardless of how many times you leave and re-enter. If the F-1 student is on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or the OPT STEM Extension, the travel signature must be valid within 6 months from the date of re-entry to the United States.

Is my passport in order?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (DOS) have advised that all passports should be valid at least six (6) months into the future when traveling. If you need to extend your current passport, or obtain a new passport, please contact your Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. immediately to confirm the processing time and procedures.

What can expect at the port of entry?

On January 2, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the US-VISIT program. This program is for all non-immigrant visa holders who enter the United States. Below is from the US-VISIT fact sheet posted from DHS:

Many of the procedures in place today remain unchanged and are familiar to international travelers. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer will review each visitor's travel documents, such as a visa and passport, and ask questions about the visitor's stay in the U.S.

In addition, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer will use an inkless fingerprint scanner to automatically read the fingerprints of arriving visitors holding visas. The visitor will be asked to put the index finger of one hand and then the index finger of the other hand on the scanner. The Customs and Border Protection Officer will also take a digital photograph of the visitor.

The biographic and fingerprint data will be used to verify the identity of the visitor and compared against watch lists. At that point, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer will either admit the visitor or conduct additional inquiries based on the verification results. These procedures should reduce fraud, identity theft, and the risk that terrorists and criminals will enter the United States undetected.
Do I need a new U.S. Entry Visa Stamp to re-enter the U.S.?

If you are an international student or scholar, and your entry visa in your passport has expired or you have changed your visa status since obtaining your previous stamp, you will need to apply for a new entry visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Given changes in consular procedures at many posts abroad, it will be VERY important to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will be applying well in advance of your departure from the U.S.

Since August 2003, in-person interviews are required for all non-immigrant visa applications. In certain cases, the interview may be waived. Please consult the appropriate embassy or consulate web site for their visa renewal procedure). Processing times may be longer than your initial experience at the U.S. Embassy.

It will be most helpful to contact the embassy or consulate now to confirm what documents are needed, to confirm if an appointment is necessary, how to schedule the interview appointment, and how long it will take to obtain your new entry visa stamp. The U.S. Department of State maintains a listing of links to U.S. Embassies/Consulates worldwide.

Please note that the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State have advised that airlines may not allow passengers to board their plane back to the U.S. if they do not have a current and valid entry visa stamp along with the corresponding SEVIS visa document. It is therefore essential to make sure that you plan for enough time abroad to obtain your entry visa stamp prior to your return to the U.S.

Visa holders are not able to obtain new entry visa stamps from within the U.S.  You must apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate while abroad.

You will need to bring the following documents, and likely additional materials depending on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, for the visa interview:

  • Passport and Form I-20/Form DS-2019 signed for travel within the last six months.
  • Transcripts from Brandeis University [see Registrar s Office, Kutz Hall, first floor to request a transcript] or Letter of Appointment from your department for J or H Visa Scholars
  • Certificate of Enrollment letter from the Registrar s Office or your department
  • Financial Support Documentation for the amounts listed on page one of your current DS-2019 or I-20. If this amount has significantly changed, the ISSO will need to create a new DS-2019/I-20 Form for you.
What documents do my dependents need when traveling?

If you have dependents (i.e. F-2, J-2 visa holders), both the dependents and the primary visa holder must have their own SEVIS visa document signed for travel.

Please do not wait until the day before you are leaving the U.S. to bring in your visa documents for signature. You may bring in your documents now for signature for travel over the break.

What do I need to know about traveling to a country other than my home country?

If you will be traveling to a country outside the U.S., other than your home country, whether it be for study, tourism, business, or for an airport layover, it will be important to confirm if you will need to obtain a visa to enter, stop over, or work in that country.

To verify if a visa is required, and to obtain application information, you can contact the local embassy or consulate of that country located in the U.S. The following link at the U.S. Department of State Website provides a listing of foreign consular offices located in the U.S. Be sure to contact the consulate well in advance of your planned travel as some consulates require mail-in procedures that can take some weeks to process.

I would like to travel to Canada or Mexico. What do I need to know?

Here are some things to consider before planning your travel:

You may need a visa to go to Canada or Mexico. Please plan well in advance for your visa application. Obtaining the proper visa can take months. Failure to secure a visa would mean a canceled trip. Consult the Canadian Consulate and the Mexican Consulate

If your U.S. visa has expired, it may be possible for you to still return to the U.S. provided that your stay in Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands is less than 30 days. Please set up a meeting with ISSO staff prior to your departure to discuss whether or not automatic revalidation of the visa is possible for you.

It is vitally important for you to contact ISSO prior to leaving if your intention is to apply for a new Entry Visa Stamp at the US Embassy in Canada or Mexico. There are some significant risks involved and we want to be sure that you are aware of all aspects of your decision.

In most cases, you will not be giving your I-94 card away at the border. You will need the I-94 card to remain in your passport for your return to the United States.

Be sure to take all of the documents required for travel listed on the front page of this hand-out. We receive more calls from the Immigration Service from the Canadian border than anywhere else! Though the country is very close in proximity, you still need to remember you are crossing a border.

I forgot my I-20 / DS-2019 and traveled outside of the US...what do I do?

Contact ISSO ASAP to receive guidance.  If you need to receive documents from ISSO or ship documents to ISSO, you may do so via eShipGlobal, an online express mail service.

I need a travel signature but I do not have any more space on my I-20 or DS-2019. What do I do?

First of all, plan ahead!  Give the ISSO at least a week to issue you a new I-2o or DS-2019 with an updated travel signature.  In order to obtain this new I-20 or DS-2019 you will need to provide the following:

Updated financial documents (bank statements, letters of sponsorship, scholarship letters, etc).

There's a mistake on my I-94. What do I do?
If Customs and Border Protection (CBP) makes an error on a your electronic I-94, you'll need to fill out a CBP I-94 Correction Form and email it to CBP.BOSTON.I94@CBP.DHS.GOVThis CBP branch will only assist individuals living in MA or NH. If you have any other questions regarding mistakes on your I-94, please contact the ISSO directly.