• Travel Information
    • Travel Information

The information below is intended solely as an overview and is only meant for current students and scholars whose visas have been sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. Students or scholars whose visas have been sponsored by other entities, should contact their visa sponsors for travel advice and requisite signatures.

  • It is recommended that all international students and scholars see or contact an ISSS advisor before committing to travel plans.
  • Depending on the visa type, obtaining the necessary documentation for international travel will likely involve the approval of several government agencies (DOS, CBP, ICE, USCIS, DOL, or in the case of a passport, the home country government).
  • Any missing item could take more time than expected to obtain or replace.

NEW: Automated I-94 Process (effective April 30, 2013)

Effective April 30, 2013, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has begun automating the Form I-94 process at air and sea ports by eliminating the paper Form I-94.  Foreign nationals, entering via air and sea ports, only receive an entry (or admission) stamp in their passports which includes their date of entry, class of admission, port of entry and their status expiration date.  At the time of immigration inspection at the port of entry, CBP will distribute a tear sheet with information about procedures for obtaining a printout I-94 to each foreign traveler who is issued an electronic I-94.

  • What is Form I-94?
    • I-94, which an Arrival and Departure Record, serves as evidence of a lawful admission and “alien registration” for foreign nationals. 
    • Form I-94 lists the person’s immigration category, the port of entry, the date of entry into the U.S., the expiration of their stay, and a unique 11-digit identifying number on top.
  • What is the detailed CBP implementation plan?
  • The new automated system is being implemented in four stages at U.S. air and sea ports effective April 30, 2013. 

    • First week:  elimination of paper Forms I-94 at the following international airports: Charlotte, Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami and Chicago O’Hare.  
    • Second week:  at major air and sea ports in New York, Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit, Tampa, Puerto Rico, New Orleans and Houston.
    • Third week:  at major air and sea ports at pre-clearance, San Francisco, Hawaii, Guam, El Paso, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego and Laredo.  
    • As of fourth week (by 5/21/2013), CBP will institute these procedures at all remaining air and sea ports. 
    • Please note that the rollout schedule could change.
    • The land border entry procedures are not affected by the new rule. 
  • What are the benefits of the new automated process?
    • CBP anticipates that this automation will streamline CBP’s inspection process and reduce wait times at passenger processing at air and sea ports. 
    • Foreign nationals will have the convenience of being able to access their own I-94 electronically at www.cbp.gov/I94, and will be able to print a new copy if one is lost, or to print multiple copies if needed.  CBP recommends waiting 48 hours before accessing www.cbp.gov/I94.
      • As you may know, currently the paper I-94 replacement application costs over $300 and takes a few months. 
      • Please note that the I-94 card comes with the I-797 Approval Notice (e.g. for H-1Bs) cannot be reprinted at the new CBP website as I-797s are USCIS documents
    • Additionally, carriers will no longer have to print, store, and distribute the paper I-94 forms.  Thus, this may result in significant cost savings for foreign travelers.
  • What should I provide to PennDOT and SSA offices?
    • We have received confirmation that both PennDOT and local Social Security Administration offices will require the I-94 printout from the foreign national  who has been issued an electronic I-94.
    • According to CBP, foreign nationals who want to verify proper admission and length, or need a I-94 printout could do so by going to www.cbp.gov/I94 by entering their biographical information, date of entry and class of admission.  CBP recommends waiting 48 hours before accessing www.cbp.gov/I94.
    • ISSS is working closely with local SSA, PennDOT, and CBP-PHL to clarify and ensure minimum disruption to our international students and scholars. 
    • As we have more information, we will update our website.
  • Will CBP issue a paper I-94 card for the I-515A process?
    • CBP stated that in some situations (like the I-515A), because it is a secondary inspection procedure, the foreign national will be given a special paper form annotated with the electronic I-94 number.  
    • In other words, if an I-515A is required, the recipient will still receive a paper I-94 so that she or he can complete the I-515A process with ICE.
    • For more information about the I-515A process, please visit the I-515A section of this page. 
  • Will this new process affect automatic visa revalidation?
    • CBP anticipates that nothing is going to change with automatic revalidation.  If you depart the U.S., and upon return,  if you meet the revalidation criteria, CBP will already have the electronic I-94 on record, and it will be revalidated.
    • You will be provided with another stamp in the passport, and the I-94 will just be revalidated electronically.  
    • Previously the requirement was that the traveler had to have the I-94 in her or his possession, but because it will be an electronic record, CBP will have the record, and there will be no need to present a paper I-94.
    • Those who fly back to the U.S. will receive a new passport stamp with entry/admission information, and those who drive in will be processed according to the land border port of entry process and receive a paper I-94. 
    • ISSS recommends foreign nationals to print their I-94 at www.cbp.gov/I94 before leaving the U.S. as a back up.
    • For more information about automatic visa revalidation (including eligibility criteria), visit the Automatic Visa Revalidation section of this page.
 

Obtaining a U.S. Entry Visa - Department of State (DOS)

Entry visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State and are obtained at US Embassies or Consulates abroad. The visa applicant should present the visa application materials during a scheduled interview at a US Embassy or Consular post in his or her home country.

  • Where Should I Apply for a U.S. Visa?
    • All students and scholars applying for visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying.
    • A complete list can be found at http://www.usembassy.gov/. Dependents will need to show proof of the relationship to the primary visa holder, e.g. marriage and/or birth certificates.
    • Instructions on completing the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form can be found at photos.state.gov/libraries/jamaica/231771/PDFs/DS-160%20Instructions.pdf.
    • It is recommended that students and scholars apply for visa stamps in their home countries.
    • Although many consulates will allow third country nationals to apply for visas, such individuals may face delays or difficulty proving non-immigrant intent.
    • If denied a visa, the individual will not be allowed to (re)enter the U.S. and will likely have to return to the home country directly from the country where the visa application was submitted.
  • F-1 & J-1 Visas
  • Per I.N.A. Sect 101 (a)(15)(F)(i), Students and Exchange Visitors must establish non-immigrant intent, i.e. prove that they have ties to their home countries such as family, property, or employment, and plan to return after their programs end.

    F-1 and J-1 students must also pay the SEVIS fee and bring their SEVIS fee payment confirmation (that can be printed from the fee website) to the interview and be ready to show that they are bonafide students with adequate funding. J-1 scholars must pay the SEVIS fee and show that they have adequate funding. F-2 and J-2 dependents are not required to pay the SEVIS fee.

    • An F-1 student visa may be issued no earlier than 120 days before the program start date indicated on the Form I-20. However, F-1 students can apply for the F-1 visa stamp earlier than 120 days before the program start date to allow for visa processing and security clearance delays. New F-1 students and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date indicated on the Form 1-20.

    • J-1 Exchange Visitors are not subject to the 120-day limit on how long before their program start dates they may apply for a J visa. However, like F and M students, new Exchange Visitors and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date indicated on the Form DS-2019.

  • Visa Application Status Check Website
  • On January 9, 2013, the U.S. Department of State introduced the online "Visa Status Check" site, which allows both immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants to check the status of their cases at the Consular Electronic Application Center.

  • DOS Administrative Processing Visa Delays
    • Certain non-immigrant visa applicants will be subject to additional security checks and visa application processing delay before the visa is issued.
    • Depending on the individual's country of origin, or whether the field of study, research or employment is in a sensitive area as referenced in the Technology Alert List (TAL), the consular officer might request a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C.
    • An SAO involves multiple database checks and may be extremely lengthy. Although the Department of State has made it clear that requests to expedite processing will not be considered, students or scholars experiencing security clearance delays of more than 30 days should report these delays to ISSS and to their Penn departments or schools. 
    • In case of visa issuance that is delayed by more than 30 days, ISSS will contact the US consular post to inquire about the case and to offer any possible assistance. 
    • By tracking visa delays and reporting to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) and University government relations representatives, ISSS continues to be involved in advocating for smoother visa processing for international students and scholars.
    • However, individual case resolution is not possible at this point. While it is at the discretion of consular officer whether to request an SAO, individuals can hopefully avoid delays by making sure the documentation they present to the consular officer is complete and transparent.
    • It is recommended that graduate students and scholars in the sciences bring a letter from a Penn Faculty or department member containing a brief description of their research in lay terms.
    • Returning students should also bring transcripts and proof of funding. For more information, please see the following NAFSA Practice Resource on Visas Mantis Security Advisory Opinions .
  • Visa Stamps
    • Once the visa application is approved, the consular officer will issue a visa stamp in the individual's passport.
    • The length of visas are determined by the DOS Reciprocity Table.
    • The purpose of the visa stamp is to gain entry to the U.S. and its expiration date has no bearing on the individual's immigration status and permission to remain in the U.S.
    • Therefore, an individual who is maintaining status may remain in the U.S., pursue his or her program objectives, and travel domestically with an expired visa stamp.
    • However, the individual must obtain a new visa stamp in order to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad.
    • Students and scholars applying for new visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying.
    • A complete list can be found at http://www.usembassy.gov/ .
    • An F-1 student or J-1 student or scholar with the same SEVIS ID is not required to pay the SEVIS fee again.
  • List of Countries with Limited or No U.S. Visa Services
    • As a result of various conditions such as wars, natural disasters or security reasons, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) is forced to limit or suspend visa services in certain countries. 
    • In order to accurately inform the public, DOS has posted a list of countries where U.S. visa services are limited, where visa services have been suspended, and countries where U.S. does not have embassies or consulates. 
    • Please see the complete list at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_1302.html.

 

Travel Documents

  • General Information for All Foreign Nationals
  • Below are lists of travel documents required for (re)entry to the U.S. Requirements vary according to visa type but all are meant to provide proof of identity and visa status.

    • Foreign nationals entering the U.S. for the first time will need to apply for an entry visa (stamp) at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy as described further below .
      • Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are visa exempt.
    • Continuing students and scholars whose visa stamps have expired will need to apply for a new entry visa in order to return to the U.S. from abroad and should plan accordingly. There are certain exceptions to the visa requirement for travel to contiguous territories such as Canada and Mexico.
    • Some countries have an agreement with the United States that allows their citizens to enter on a current passport up to the actual date of expiration. However, it is best not to rely on this policy as it is applied inconsistently by boarder officials.

    Due to heightened security measures surrounding domestic travel, i.e. travel within the U.S., it is strongly recommended that international students and scholars carry their passports, status documentation (e.g. Form I-94 and Form I-20, Form DS-2019, Form I-797, etc), and Penn ID's for all travel outside of Philadelphia.

    All travel documents should be hand-carried so that they are easily accessible and available for inspection.

  • F-1 Students and Dependents
  • F-1 Students

    • Valid Form I-20 endorsed for re-entry by ISSS within the past year or within the past six months for students on post-completion OPT
    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp
    • Valid OPT card if on post-completion OPT
    • Evidence of employment if on post-completion OPT
    • Transcripts (strongly recommended)
    • Financial document(s) listed on Form I-20 (strongly recommended

    F-2 Dependents

    • Valid Form I-20 endorsed for re-entry by ISSS within the past year
    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid F-2 visa stamp
    • If traveling alone, copies of the primary's (F-1) immigration documentation, including Form I-94. If the spouse/parent is on F-1 post-completion OPT, copies of primary's OPT I-20, Employment Authorization Document, and job offer letter or recent pay stub from the employer.

    NOTE: Citizens of Canada are exempt from the visa stamp requirement. However, Canadian F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must present the SEVIS fee payment confirmation (that can be printed from the fee website) for their initial entries to the U.S.

  • J-1 Exchange Visitors & Dependents
  • J-1 Exchange Visitors

    • Valid Form DS-2019 endorsed for re-entry by ISSS within the past year
    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid J-1 visa stamp
    • Letter from supervisor verifying continued employment/sponsorship if J-1 Research Scholar/ Professor or Short Term Scholar

    J-2 Dependents

    • Valid Form DS-2019 endorsed for re-entry by ISSS within the past year
    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid J-2 visa stamp
    • If traveling alone, copies of the primary's (J-1) immigration documentation, including Form I-94

    NOTE: Citizens of Canada are exempt from the visa stamp requirement. However, Canadian F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must present the SEVIS fee payment receipt for their initial entries to the U.S.

  • H-1B or O-1 Employees (and Dependents)
  • H-1B or O-1 Employees

    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid H-1B or O-1 visa stamp
    • Original valid Form I-797 H-1B or O-1 Notice of Approval
    • 2-3 most recent pay stubs or letter from supervisor confirming continued employment
    • Copy of I-129 petition

    NB: Scholars for whom the University is filing a petition for H-1B extension or those changing from one H-1B employer to another should contact an ISSS advisor regarding their travel options.

    H-4 or O-3 Dependents

    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid H-4 or O-3 visa stamp
    • Copy of primary's Form I-797 H-1B or O-1 Notice of Approval
    • Original Form I-797 H-4 or O-3 Notice of Approval if changed to or extended H-4 or O-3 status in the United State
  • TN Employees & Dependents
  • TN Employees

    • Valid Canadian or Mexican passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid TN visa stamp if Mexican national
    • Job offer letter specifying the Trade NAFTA profession and duration of employment
    • Requisite educational or occupational credentials such as diploma, license, etc.

    TD Dependents

    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid TD visa stamp if non-Canadian dependent
    • Marriage or birth certificate showing relationship to TN primary
    • Copy of spouse/ parent's job offer letter specifying the Trade NAFTA profession and duration of employment
    • If traveling alone, copies of the primary's (TN) immigration documentation, including Form I-9
  • E-3 Employees & Dependents
  • E-3 Employees

    • Valid Australian passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid E-3 visa stamp
    • 2-3 most recent pay stubs or letter from supervisor confirming continued employment
    • Copy of valid LCA
    • Original valid Form I-797 E-3 Notice of Approval if changed to or extended E-3 status in the United States
    • Copy of I-129 petition if changed to or extended E-3 status in the United States

    E-3D Dependents

    • Valid passport (for more than six months from date of intended return)
    • Valid E-3D visa stamp
    • Copy of primary's Form I-797 E-3 Notice of Approval if changed to or extended E-3 status in the United States
    • Original valid Form I-797 E-3D Notice of Approval if changed to or extended E-3D status in the United States

 

Admission to the U.S. - Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Admission to the United States is granted by the Department of Homeland Security/Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  Individuals applying for admission will receive I-94 Arrival-Departure Record (either stamp if air or sea ports, or paper card if land border) at or soon before reaching a U.S. Port of Entry (POE).

  • At the Port of Entry
    • The CBP officer will review the individual's travel documents and make the appropriate determination of immigration status which is then noted on I-94 (either stamp if air or sea ports, or paper card if land border)  showing the date of entry to the U.S.
    • I-94 is the only evidence of proper admission to U.S.
    • It is also important to check that I-94 is properly marked/annotated.

    If issued a paper I-94 card (for land border entry), I-94 is turned in to CBP upon departure from the United States, except for short trips to Canada, Mexico, or Adjacent Islands. For individuals traveling by air, the forms are usually collected by airline officials.

    US VISIT is a tracking system in which all foreign nationals (with limited exceptions) are registered upon entering the United States. Photographs and fingerprint scans are taken, then this biometric data is matched and stored with the individual's passport information, immigration status, U.S. visa number, and other information. US VISIT is currently in place at many airports and seaports across the United States. More information on US VISIT can be found on the government website.

  • F and J Status Holders
    • F and J visa holders should have the notation D/S (Duration of Status) on I-94, meaning that they can remain in the U.S. as long as they comply with the terms and conditions of their immigration statuses.
    • New F-1 and J-1 students and scholars and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date indicated on Form 1-20 or Form DS-2019.
  • H-1B, O-1, E-3, and TN Employees
    • H-1B, O-1, and E-3 visa holders and their dependents, and TN workers and their dependents, will have specific departure dates written on their I-94, usually corresponding to the employment end dates.

    • If entered via a land border, the CBP officer should also note the back of Form I-94 with the employer's name and/or position title for a TN employee.

    • H-1B/O-1/E-3/TN employees with more than one employer should have all employers noted on or next to I-94 annotations.

    • New H-1B employees and their dependents may enter the U.S. no earlier than 10 days before the employment start date as indicated on Form I-797 Notice of Approval.

 

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and/or the Adjacent Islands (automatic visa revalidation)

  • Travel to Canada, Mexico, and/or the Adjacent Islands
  • Under certain circumstances, non-immigrants with expired entry visa stamps may reenter the U.S. after visits of 30 days or less to "contiguous territories" (Canada, Mexico, and, for those in F and J status, the adjacent islands except Cuba*) without having to obtain a new visa prior to reentry. This benefit is called "automatic revalidation of visa". The individual should carry:

    • a valid passport

    • a U.S. visa stamp (expired or not, current immigration status or not)

    • I-94 (either stamp if air or sea ports, or paper card if land border). 

      • If issued a paper I-94 card (via land border), it is important that the individual not surrender Form I-94 at departure (e.g. at the airline counter as leaving the U.S.)  Without the current I-94 card, you will need a valid new visa to return to the U.S.

    • Appropriate immigration document (Form I-20 for those in F status, Form DS-2019 for those in J status or Form I-797 Notice of Approval for those in H, O, or E status).



    The automatic revalidation of visa benefit is not extended to  --

    • non-immigrants from countries designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism;
    • individuals who have ever overstayed their visas; and
    • non-immigrants who are applying for a new entry visa while in a contiguous territory.
      • Those who choose to apply for a new visa in a contiguous territory or cannot use the automatic validation of visa benefit must receive the new visa before being granted permission to reenter the U.S.  If denied an entry visa, the individual will most likely have to return directly to the home country in order to obtain a new visa. Please click here for more information.
    • All students and scholars must carefully weigh the risks of security clearance delays and the possibility of not being able to return to United States before making arrangements to apply for a new visa in a contiguous territory.


    NOTE: Individuals in H, O, and E visa status are eligible for automatic revalidation for travel to Canada and Mexico ONLY, not the adjacent islands



    * List of Adjacent Islands



    Please note that entry visas to these countries may be required for certain foreign nationals. For travel to Canada, please see links below

 

Travel Difficulties (including I-515A)

  • I-20/DS-2019 Missing or Not Properly Signed [Possible I-515A]
    • F and J status holders should have their immigration documents (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019) endorsed for re-entry to the U.S.
    • The date of the travel signature should be no older than one year before the date of entry, or in the case of those on F-1 post-completion OPT, 6 months.
    • If the student or exchange visitor tries to enter the U.S. with an outdated signature, the individual might be admitted without further question or be sent to secondary inspection where a CBP officer could issue Form I-515A and admit the person for only 30 days, as indicated on the I-94. In the worst case, the individual may be denied entry.
    • Form I-515A includes instructions on how to correct one's status by mailing the requisite documentation to the DHS office in Washington D.C. for deferred inspection.
    • If you do not mail the requisite documentation to DHS to the correct address in a timely manner, your legal status in the U.S. will be seriously jeopardized. 
    • Per DHS, your SEVIS record status will terminate if DHS does not receive the requisite documentation by the (I-515A) I-94 expiration date. 
    • Within 2 business days from entering the U.S., meet with an ISSS advisor for assistance with Form I-515A.
  • Forgotten/ Lost/ Stolen Documents
    • Entry to the U.S. without the proper documentation is more problematic.
    • It may happen that the individual is not even permitted to board the aircraft without I-20, DS-2019, or I-797.
    • If the individual is allowed to board, the inspecting officer might issue Form I-515A as described above for Fs and Js.
    • In any case, it is recommended that the individual make every effort to retrieve his or her document by calling a friend who can ship it express mail or by contacting ISSS to prepare a duplicate.
    • Photocopies of lost or stolen passports are not sufficient for reentry. An individual whose passport is missing will have to postpone travel until a new passport can be obtained from the home country government. It will also be necessary to obtain a new U.S. visa stamp from a US Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Obtaining an Entry Visa section.
    • Students: In the absence of the immigration document, students can print out an unofficial transcript from Penn InTouch to show that they have been registered full-time.
    • Scholars/Employees should gather any documentation that shows their association with the University, e.g. letters, Penn ID, pay stubs.
  • Visa Delays
    • Visa processing times, appointment scheduling, and documentary requirements vary from consulate to consulate.
    • It is important to allow enough time for the entire visa application process and to come prepared with the proper documentation.
    • Missing or unclear documentation can lead to delays and possibly be reason for the consular officer to request an additional security clearance.
    • Also read the DOS Administrative Processing Visa Delays section.
  • Improper Notation On Form I-94 Or Visa Document
    • Occasionally Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will make mistakes when admitting an individual to the U.S.
    • Individuals in F status should have their Forms I-94 date-stamped and noted F-1 D/S or F-2 D/S.
    • Those in J status should have their Forms I-94 date-stamped and noted J-1 D/S or J-2 D/S.
    • Those in TN, H, O, and E statuses will have a specific departure date noted on the Form I-94.
    • Anyone with doubts about what is written or not written on his or her forms should consult an ISSS advisor. If there is indeed a problem, the advisor will instruct the individual to take the passport and visa documents to the Customs and Border Protection office at the Philadelphia International Airport or nearest port of entry. The Philadelphia CBP office hours are 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and the office is located in Terminal A West. SEPTA Regional Rail R-1 from 30th St. Station runs to the airport.
  • Paper I-94 Card Not Turned In Upon Departure
    • In a case where a paper I-94 card per land border entry, occasionally an individual will depart the U.S. without turning in the Form I-94.
    • It is important that one's departure be properly recorded so that there is no question of visa-overstay.
    • Please refer to the instructions on the CBP website on how to return the Form I-94 here .
  • Repeated Questioning at the Port of Entry/Border
    • Some individuals may encounter lengthy questioning or visits to secondary inspection every time they enter the U.S.
    • In some cases this may be caused by a problem with an immigration record, which can sometimes be corrected with the help of an ISSS Advisor. However, not all border issues are within the purview of ISSS.
    • Individuals can make their own requests to correct their records and facilitate travel through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). For more information, please refer to the CBP website here .

 

Travel Resources