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Do You Have Travel Plans for Thanksgiving or Intersession?

Students who normally travel during the Thanksgiving holiday or intersession break are coming to the ISSS to ask questions about travel. Many of our students will be traveling within the United States, other may have the opportunity to travel abroad. Whatever your destination, we hope that the following information is helpful to you.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe or circumstance, we do not anticipate any changes for international student travel outside the United States. We are concerned for students whose U.S. visas have expired and will need to renew their F-1 or J-1 visa abroad, and whether they will have sufficient time to do so and return to Binghamton in order to begin the Spring semester, given on-going security clearance requirements.

Any student who feels uncomfortable or concerned about their travel plans in a time of uncertainty may prefer to cancel those plans. This is a personal decision. No one is capable of predicting the future.

Travel Within the United States
If you are planning a trip over the Thanksgiving break or during intersession within the United States by car, bus, train or airplane, to U.S. cities near or far, it is essential that you have your passport, I-94 card and SEVIS I-20 (or DS-2019 if you are a J-1 student) with you.  There is heightened security not only at all border crossings, but also at bus terminals, train terminals, and airports throughout the United States. Police from multiple agencies; federal, state and municipal, patrol these areas. People may be stopped and questioned randomly.

Therefore, you are urged to be sure to have your passport, visa documents (I-94 card and I-20 or DS-2019), and BU student ID card with you for ALL distance travel, even travel within New York State. In addition, be sure that the third page of your SEVIS I-20 has an authorizing signature that is less than one year old. If you are applying for a change of non-immigrant status, immigrant visa petition or EAD card, be sure to carry your receipt notice as well, which proves that you have an application pending with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Processing Center.  NOTE: Students with a pending change of non-immigrant status application or immigrant visa petition MUST limit their travel to within the United States only, as travel outside the United States has the effect of abandoning the application.

Before You Leave the United States

US-VISIT Exit Procedure: International travelers are no longer required to check out at a US-VISIT exit kiosk. All other exit procedures remain the same.  You must still return Form I-94 (Arrival Departure Record) to an airline or ship representative when departing the United States, unless you are making a trip of less than thirty days to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent Caribbean Islands (not including Cuba).

Travel to Canada or Mexico

For travel to Canada or Mexico, first check to see if a temporary resident visa (visitor's visa) will be required to enter either country. Information on Canadian visas is available in the Office of International Student and Scholar Services or at:

Be sure to have your passport, visa documents (I-94 card and SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019), and BU student ID card with you, and be certain that the third page of your SEVIS I-20 (or page 1 of your DS-2019) has an authorizing signature that is less than twelve months old if you are traveling to Canada.  If you will need a Canadian visa to visit Canada, you must also request a Letter of Certification from the ISSS. Please allow up to three business days for the letter to be prepared.

Be sure you know the rules for non-immigrants who use the "automatic revalidation of visa" benefit [22 CFR 41.112(d)] to re-enter the United States after a 30-day or less visit to a "contiguous territory" (Canada and Mexico), and, in the case of F and J non-immigrants, the "adjacent islands other than Cuba" without having to obtain a new visa prior to re-entry.

First, citizens of "state sponsors of terrorism" (as designated in the State Department's annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report) are not eligible for the automatic revalidation of visa benefit. The most recent State Department report lists the following countries as state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba. This means that a person who is a citizen of Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Cuba in the United States in any non-immigrant classification can only enter Canada and return to the United States IF they have an unexpired multiple-entry U.S. visa in their passport for their current status.

However, non-immigrants traveling to Canada or Mexico for less than thirty days and returning to the United States (other than citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Cuba) who do not intend to apply for a new U.S. visa can still make use of the automatic revalidation benefit, and re-enter on their expired U.S. visas, as long as they have a valid, unexpired passport, their I-94 card, and a valid and signed SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019.

Special Note About I-94 Departure Cards: F-1 and J-1 students with expired U.S. visas who are traveling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands for up to 30 days, who will not be applying for a new U.S. visa while there, AND who will be resuming their studies upon their return should NEVER surrender their I-94 card. Canadian or Mexican nationals returning to their home country should surrender their I-94 card as they enter their country, and obtain a new I-94 card the next time they enter the United States. Canadian nationals should be sure to carry with them their financial documentation that verifies the information on their SEVIS I-20 when getting ready to return to the United States.

Travel Abroad

Hundreds of new and current students traveled abroad this summer and entered the United States in time for their studies at Binghamton without untimely delays. But students who travel abroad should expect closer scrutiny of their documents upon their return to the United States. Students with valid U.S. visas should not anticipate too many difficulties in their travels. Be sure that your passport is valid for at least six months into the future, and that the third page of your SEVIS I-20 (or Page 1 of your SEVIS DS-2019) has an authorizing signature that will be less than one year old upon the date you return to the United States.

However, students who will need to apply for a new visa while abroad may not have sufficient time to obtain their visa and return to Binghamton to resume their studies in January. Students who will need a new F-1 or J-1 visa should take note of the following matters:

•  More and more visa applicants are being subject to security clearances, regardless of gender, field of study or country of nationality

•  If you are a graduate student, faculty member or research scholar and the State Department decides to require a security clearance based on field of study, it could take three to four weeks. If you have previously had a similar security clearance, that earlier clearance is valid for your period of stay on the I-20 or DS-2019, or up to four years (whichever is shorter) if annotated on your visa stamp.

•  If the State Department decides to require a security clearance based on your name being similar to or the same as an individual with a criminal record, or if you have an arrest record that will require a clearance, it could take eight weeks or longer

•  Appointments are now required for virtually all non-immigrant visa applications
•  Many U.S. embassies and consulates may temporarily close or alter their hours if there are any threats of terrorist attacks or protests
•  Holiday periods can be very busy times at U.S. embassies and consulates
•  Males and females from Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, and males older than sixteen from certain countries continue to be subject to security checks. The current list of affected countries include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

If you plan to travel abroad during intersession and will need to apply for a new F-1 or J-1 visa, read the ISSS information on applying for a US visa, available at the following link:
Also, check the web site of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you plan to apply to obtain the latest information on non-immigrant visa processing and delays by visiting:

A feature of the U.S. State Department's web site is the ability to check on the waiting periods for visas at U.S. consulates and embassies world-wide. To obtain this important information, visit:

You should do this while you are still in the United States! If visa delays will prevent you from returning to the United States in time to resume your studies in January, better to know this while you are still here so that you have time to cancel your trip!

Be sure to visit the ISSS with your passport and I-20 well before you travel. The ISSS will want to be sure that your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 is up-to-date. Visa applicants will also want to request a letter of certification from the ISSS, and obtain an official transcript and list of currently-registered courses from the Registrar's Office.
Returning to the United States From a Trip Abroad

Many of you are familiar with the procedure of I-94 arrival/departure cards and US customs declaration forms being distributed by the flight attendants on airplanes as they prepare to arrive at your US port of entry. It is essential that you correctly complete the white I-94 arrival/departure card before submitting it to the CBP inspector in the airport.  What you write on the I-94 card needs to exactly match what is printed in your passport (the exception being students with a single name). Please go to the following link for a sample I-94 card and instructions for completing it correctly.  We strongly recommend that you print the sample I-94 card and instruction page and carry it with you on the airplane, to assist you in filling out the card correctly.

Procedures at the U.S. ports of entry now accommodate SEVIS requirements as well as US-VISIT requirements. Immigration and customs at ports of entry are managed by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. You will see CBP officers at all U.S. ports of entry. You may also be required to go through a pre-inspection procedure at certain airports abroad.

SEVIS: CBP officials are required to record your arrival data into SEVIS at the time you enter, and return your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 to you, after they have stamped it. However, not all CBP officials will have access to SEVIS at their booths in the "primary lanes." Depending upon the port of entry, some students may be directed to a secondary inspection area or "student lanes" so that their data can be entered into SEVIS. CBP is advising that processing at land, sea, and airports may take more time, so travel and connecting flight plans should take this into account.

US-VISIT: U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology, or US-VISIT, is the entry/exit record keeping system for all non-immigrants traveling to and from the United States at airports, sea ports and land ports, including the border between the United States and Canada. In addition to the usual inspection procedure conducted by CBP officers, each non-immigrant will have their fingerprints taken by placing their fingers on an inkless fingerprint scanner. A digital photograph will also be taken.

Carrying U.S. Or Foreign Currency: Sometimes, a student carries a large amount of money into or out of the United States.  Please remember that it is a federal law that anyone carrying more than $10,000 in a monetary instrument of any form must declare that money, or risk having it seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.  Here is the explanation of the law:

"There is no limit on the total amount of monetary instruments that may be brought into or taken out of the United States, nor is it illegal to do so. However, if you transport or cause to be transported (including by mail or other means) more than $10,000 in negotiable monetary instruments on any occasion into or out of the United States or if you receive more than $10,000, you must file a Report of International Transportation of International Currency or Monetary Instruments (FinCen105) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection denoted in the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, 31 U.S.C. 1101, et. seq. Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal penalties, including seizure of the currency or monetary instruments. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coin, currency, travelers' checks, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form."

In past years, there have been students carrying large sums of money whose funds have been seized for failure to declare.  Do not let this happen to you.

Searches Of Laptop Computers And Other Electronic Devices At Ports Of Entry: Many individuals, both US citizens and foreign nationals, enter the United States with laptop computers and other electronic devices.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has recently updated its website with information on their search policy for such items.  Travelers should be aware that both CBP and ICE have the right to search any form of electronic media, which CBP and ICE define as any item that may contain information, including computers, floppy and compact disks, DVDs, drives, tapes, mobile phones, personal digital assistants or PDAs, BlackBerry smart phones, cameras, and music players (including iPods and MP3 players), without necessarily suspecting that the individual may be carrying unlawful information.  Part of this policy is based on CBP’s concern that such searches are essential to prevent terrorists from transporting information over the border.  CBP has stated that such searches are limited in scope, and that out of 400 million travelers passing through U.S. borders annually, only a tiny percentage are referred to secondary baggage inspection and of those, only a fraction have electronic devices that may be checked. 

Despite the limited number of electronic devices that are checked, travelers need to be aware of what is on their computers and other electronic devices.  You should remove any problematic content.  If the computer or other electronic device is used by others, check the browser history and make sure that the contents will not cause problems if searched.

To learn more, read the August 27, 2009 statement from the Department of Homeland Security regarding Border Searches of Electronic Information
From that link, you can also access the directives published by both ICE and CBP.

For full travel details, please read the "Travel Extra" at:

Last Updated: 4/12/16