Travel and Re-Entry to the United States
Individuals seeking entry into the U.S. are subject to a Port of Entry (POE) customs and immigration inspection performed by Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officers. During the immigration inspection, CBP officers will ask you to answer questions and present documents to determine your admissibility to the U.S. Listen to the questions carefully, stay calm, answer only the questions that are asked.
Keep in mind that the F-1 student visa status is a nonimmigrant status granted to individuals who seek entry to the U.S to pursue a full course of study in order to achieve a specific educational goal such as being awarded a given degree at an academic institution in the United States.
In addition to asking you questions, CBP officers also have the right to look through any electronic devices you may be carrying with you. More information on this can be found here.
More information on the legal authority of CBP can be found on their website. It is always important to know your rights as an F-1 visa holder. If you encounter any problems at the port of entry, please reach out to the ISSS office as soon as you are able.
You must keep the following documents in your carry-on luggage so you are able to present them to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer:
- Passport: must be valid at least six months into the future at all times.
- F-1/J-1 visa stamp: must be valid on the date of your return to the U.S. (Canadian citizens are not required to apply for a visa to enter the U.S.).
- Form I-20/Form DS-2019: make sure your original form I-20 or DS-2019 has been properly endorsed for travel by a Designated School Official (DSO). The travel signature must be less than one year old at the time of entry. Students on OPT or OPT STEM Extension must have a travel signature less than 6 months old.
- Evidence of enrollment at SJSU: It is recommended that students travel with proof of the new semester's registration (e.g. printout of full-time class enrollment with courses units and schedules from MySJSU).
- Proof of financial support: It is strongly recommended that F/J non-immigrants carry proof of the financial support and resources reflected on the Form I-20 or DS-2019.
- SEVIS (I-901) Fee Payment: It is also recommended to travel with proof of your SEVIS fee payment. If you need confirmation of your previous SEVIS fee payment,visit the SEVIS fee payment page and select the option to "Check I-901 Status/ Print Payment Confirmation."
- Tuition and/or Housing receipt(s): Make sure to bring your receipts if you have already made payments prior to your arrival.
To get your visa document signed for travel, please submit a completed Travel Request Form along with your most recently issued I-20 to the International Student and Scholar Services office (ISSS) at least two weeks in advance of your trip. If you are living outside of the Bay Area, please mail us your I-20 and we will return it to you with an updated signature. Be sure to provide us your I-20 at least 3 weeks before you plan to travel.
Students on OPT or OPT STEM Extension
In addition to the documents listed above, you should carry the following documents:
- Your valid EAD card (Employment Authorization Document)
- A letter from your current employer verifying employment or a job offer letter from a new employer.
If you forget an immigration document, the immigration officer may issue you a Form I-515 (A), which grants you temporary admission to the U.S. for 30 days. If this occurs, please visit the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) office during normal business hours as soon as possible after your arrival so we can assist you with resolving this issue. Please bring all of your immigration documents, including the form I-515 (A) issued at the port of entry.
During the immigration inspection, CBP officers may ask you questions similar to those asked at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate during your visa interview.
It is your responsibility to prove your intent to enter the U.S. as a non-immigrant in F-1 or J-1 student status. Remember that the primary purpose of the student visa program is to pursue and complete a degree through full-time study.
These are a few examples of questions you are likely to be asked and should be prepared to answer:
- What is your primary purpose for entering the U.S.?
- Where do you plan to study while in the U.S.?
- What do you plan to study while in the U.S.?
- Where will you be living while in the U.S.?
- How will you pay for your tuition and living expenses while in the U.S.?
- How long do you plan to study in the U.S.?
- What do you plan to do after completing your degree?