If you are traveling outside the United States and do not have a valid F-1 or J-1 visa, you must obtain a new visa before you can return to the country. You will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. In most cases, the visa application will be filed in your home country. Appointments are required for virtually all non-immigrant visa applications. There may be significant delays at some U.S. visa issuing posts, especially during holiday periods and the summer.
Doctoral students and research scholars majoring in the hard sciences, engineering or computer science are likely to encounter additional delays due to "administrative processing" issues (security checks). You are urged to check with the U.S. consulate or embassy where the visa application is to be filed BEFORE leaving the United States to determine that particular post's policies and procedures. Information on visa appointment wait times is also available online.
You should start the visa process as early as possible upon your arrival back in your home country!
Keep in mind that holiday periods and the summer are extremely busy due to the large number of travelers and reduced staff due to vacations. U.S. embassies and consulates may temporarily close or alter their operational hours for several different reasons. The U.S. State Department has helpful information available online if you are applying for an F-1 student visa or a J-1 exchange visitor visa.
Have you maintained your visa status?
Have you been maintaining the conditions of your non-immigration status? If you are an F-1 or J-1 student, you must:
- Be registered full-time each semester while at the school you are authorized to attend.
- Report address changes within 10 days.
- Refrain from unauthorized employment.
- Not let your I-20 / DS-2019 expire.
- Follow appropriate procedures for school transfers and extensions
If you have a J-1 visa, you are required to have health and accident insurance for yourself and your J-2 dependents, and the insurance must include a medical evacuation and repatriation benefit. Be sure to contact ISSS before departing the U.S. if you think you may have violated any of the conditions of your status, or you may risk being denied permission to return to the U.S.
Security clearance requirements
Any student applying for a US visa may be required to undergo "administrative processing" or security checks. Graduate students majoring in "sensitive areas of study" as determined by the U.S. government are especially likely to be subject to this process. Your field of study (especially doctoral students majoring in a STEM field) might require your visa application to undergo a security clearance review.
Visa application requirements
When applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa, you must submit an Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160). The following is a list of the support documents you will also need:
- I-20 or DS-2019: Be sure there is an updated travel signature on the document. Check page 2 of your I-20 or the bottom right of page 1 of your DS-2019 for your most recent travel signature.
- Passport: Must be valid for at least six months after your return to the United States. Passports may be renewed at your country's embassy or consulate in the U.S., or in your home country.
- Financial documentation: Proof of financial support in the amount that appears on your I-20 or DS-2019. If funding is provided by anyone other than yourself, be prepared to show a letter of support from your sponsor stating they will cover the cost of your education and living expenses at Binghamton University.
- BU transcript: Official or BU BRAIN print-out, reflecting continued attendance (and future enrollment, if applicable).
- Research plan, resume/CV, advisor's BU web page (graduate students only): Graduate students should prepare the following:
Copy of your resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
Description of you research plan
Copy of your advisor's university webpage describing his/her research interests
To describe your research plan, it is strongly recommended that you obtain a letter from your faculty advisor explaining the nature of your studies and/or research. The letter should also include your faculty advisor's email address and telephone number. The letter should be written using language that is easy to understand, and should not exceed one page in length.
Optional Practical Training (OPT): If you are on post-completion or STEM OPT and need to obtain a new F-1 visa, you must have:
- Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) with you.
- Your I-20 endorsed for practical training with a travel signature on Page 2 that is less than six months old.
- A letter from your employer verifying your employment status.
It is also recommended that you carry two or three pay stubs with you to verify that you are employed.
Students are warned that visa issuance for students on OPT can be highly problematic, as it may be difficult to prove you do not intend to immigrate to the U.S. You are urged to contact the ISSS before traveling.