The winter holidays mean a break from school and the opportunity for many international students to return home to visit with family and friends. In order to make holiday travel a smooth experience, international students will need to have their paperwork handy and keep the following tips in mind when leaving and returning to the U.S.
1. Get your Form I-20 signed: Before you leave for break, make sure you have a valid, signed Form I-20, which indicates that you are actively enrolled at a U.S. school.
You will have to present this form to verify that you are indeed an international student. Before you leave campus, check with your designated school official that your Form I-20 will still be valid upon re-entry to the U.S.
2. Check your passport: All international students must have a valid passport to depart and return to the U.S. If your passport is slated to expire soon, make an appointment to obtain a new one. This can be done through one of your country’s diplomatic offices in the U.S. or while you are home on school break. International students traveling with an expired or soon-to-expire passport may have trouble re-entering the U.S.
3. Prepare for re-entry: Before international students can study in the U.S., they must demonstrate their financial ability to pay for school tuition and living expenses during their visa interview with the Department of State. On some occasions, you may be asked to present this same information when returning to the U.S.
In addition, international students may be asked to present evidence of acceptance to a U.S. school when they enter the U.S. An acceptance letter or recent tuition payment receipt are commonly accepted items that international students can provide to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry.
You may also be asked to present a paper receipt of your I-901 SEVIS fee payment. This is a mandatory fee that all international students must pay before they can study in the U.S. You can print your receipt at FMJFee.com.
4. Have your paperwork handy when traveling: Keep all of these documents easily accessible – not packed in your luggage. If an international student encounters issues at a port of entry, it’s helpful for the student to have the name and contact information, including a 24-hour emergency contact phone number, of an official at the U.S. school where her or she is enrolled.
If a student arrives without the required documentation, he or she may be denied entry into the U.S. or the border officer may issue the student a Form I-515A, a “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor.”
With this form, international students can still enter the U.S., but with caveats. International students have 30 days from entering the U.S. to submit the necessary paperwork noted on the Form I-515A to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
This has to be done before the admit date on your Form I-94, which serves as your arrival and departure record. If you are issued a Form I-515A, contact your designated school official as soon as possible so they can help you submit your paperwork on time.
Planning ahead can make your trip home and back to the U.S. a seamless process. If you have questions about how to prepare for your travels, visit the Study in the States website to learn more about the international student process.