Student Travel Requirements

COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS & SCHOLARS

UA International Student & Scholar Services maintains a separate page for all COVID-19 related immigration and travel related questions that international students and international scholars may have.

The ISSS COVID-19 Page includes information on:


Additional UA Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information

UNIVERSITY SYSTEM COVID-19 INFORMATION
The University of Alabama System maintains information for UA, UAB and UAH that addresses COVID-19 and international and domestic travel.  Please refer to the UA System Page on the COVID-19 and read the current policies carefully to ensure compliance in the interest of public health and safety.

UA COVID-19 RESOURCE PAGE
The University of Alabama has created a website at healthinfo.ua.edu with updated information for the campus community.

UA EDUCATION ABROAD CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION
For information about UA Education Abroad’s response for those studying abroad or planning to study abroad, please see the EA Coronavirus FAQ Page.

TRAVEL WITHIN THE UNITED STATES

Travel within the United States for any international student or scholar on a non-immigrant visa does not require any special documentation, letters, or any signatures from  International Student & Scholar Services.  Still, anyone on a non-immigrant visa should be able to present proof of their legal status within the United States at any time, and Alabama state law requires that you be able to document your legal visa status.

It is recommended that for travel outside of Tuscaloosa, you take your passport and accompanying documentation (i.e. I-20 or DS-2019 and I-94).

Also, it is recommended that you keep photocopies of your main passport page, visa page, I-94 record, I-20/DS-2019 and any other visa documentation with you at all times even when not traveling.

Travel Signature

TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES

Before you travel outside of the U.S., submit the Travel Signature Request Form to obtain a travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 prior to travel outside of US, and make sure your F-1 or J-1 Visa is valid for re-entry.

• You must complete a Travel Signature Request Form to obtain a travel signature on your I-20/DS-2019 from an Advisor at International Student & Scholar Services in order to re-enter the U.S. after any international travel.  To obtain a travel signature, you must visit ISSS and submit a Travel Signature Request Form.
• Travel signatures are valid for up to one year (up to 6 months for F-1 students on post-completion OPT) but are not valid for re-entry beyond the I-20 or DS-2019 expiration date.
• In order to be admitted back into the U.S. after travel abroad, you must carry your I-20 or DS-2019 endorsed for travel, visa, passport, and transcripts.
• Generally, you will need to have a valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport to be able to return to the United States.

Students should submit a Travel Signature Request Form to International Student & Scholar Services at least one week before any travel out of the United States.  One week is necessary to allow the ISSS Advisor to make any changes to your I-20/DS-2019 before your travel.  Travel signatures are valid for one year (or until the end-date of your I-20/DS-2019, whichever is earlier) and must be valid on the date which you wish to return.

Also, your I-20/DS-2019 must still be valid, meaning your program end-date must not have passed in order to be able to reenter the United States.

Generally, you will need to have a valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport to be able to return to the United States, with the exception of visits to Canada, Mexico, and the adjacent Caribbean islands that last less than 30-days [22 C.F.R. § 41.112(d); 8 C.F.R. § 214.1 (b) (1)].

The F-1 and J-1 Visa Stamps cannot be obtained within the United States.  Visa appointments must be made with a US Consulate or Embassy outside of the United States for the renewal or initial F- or J-Visa.

Please note: those who hold Canadian citizenship do not require a Visa Stamp, but they must carry a valid, signed I-20 or DS-2019 to prove their F-1 or J-1 student status as well as proof of payment of the SEVIS Fee (an I-901 SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt).

In addition to the above documents, the Department of Homeland Security has also identified the following as important items to carry when you travel:

• Transcript. It is highly recommended that F-1 and J-1 students who will need to renew their U.S. visa stamp during travel abroad carry copies of their University of Alabama transcripts with them to show the consular officials that you have been making satisfactory progress towards your degree. An increasing number of consulates ask for transcripts when students come to renew F-1 and J-1 visas. Official transcripts can be obtained at the Registrar’s Office; unofficial transcripts are available through MyBama.

• Confirmation of Enrollment. The confirmation of enrollment is an official document which confirms your status as an active UA student and can be obtained through MyBama.

• Financial Documentation. It is a good idea to carry financial documentation when re-entering the U.S. to prove your continuing ability to pay for studies. You must have updated financial documentation with you when applying for a new visa at a US Consulate abroad.

• Additional Proof of Identity. Carry your UA Action Card with you and any old passports which you may still have.

In the event of an emergency during your travels, contact International Student & Scholar Services:
Phone: 205-348-5402
Email: international@ua.edu

If International Student & Scholar Services is closed, contact UA Police Department:
Phone: 205-348-5454
UAPD will contact an ISSS Advisor to assist you.

AUTOMATIC VISA REVALIDATION FOR TRAVEL TO CANADA, MEXICO, AND ADJACENT ISLANDS

SPECIAL INFO: Travel to Canada and Mexico and the Adjacent Islands for those in F- or J-visa status
For visits to Canada and Mexico that last less than 30-days [22 C.F.R. § 41.112(d); 8 C.F.R. § 214.1 (b) (1)], it is possible to return to the United States without having to renew an expired US visa stamp.  Those in F- or J-visa status also may visit a limited number of adjacent Caribbean islands under the automatic visa revalidation program.

• Information on Automatic Revalidation of Visa
List of Adjacent Islands for those in F- and J-visa status holders

Note: Citizens of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation and must always have a valid US Visa Stamp in order to return to the United States.

Please remember that you may be required to obtain a visa to enter Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent Caribbean islands.

For Canadian Visas
For Mexican Visas

Sample visa page

RENEWING YOUR STUDENT VISA

If you will need to renew your F-1 or J-1 Visa Stamp while you are outside of the U.S., please review the following basic advice:

  1. First, if you are still on the same SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 that you first used to enter the U.S. and have not been out-of-status for more than 5 months, you do not have to pay a SEVIS Fee again.  The SEVIS Fee is a one-time fee.
  2. Second, you should submit the online visa application form DS-160.  The DS-160 now requires you to input your Social Media history as a standard question.  The question asks for all social media platforms you have used in the past 5 years and the username(s) or handle(s) you have used on those platforms.
    • The U.S. Embassy may ask you to also complete a DS-5535 Form, which is a supplemental questionnaire regarding your travel, employment, and residence history and family. Please note, not every visa applicant will be asked to complete the DS-5535 form.
  3. Finally, you should set your visa appointment.  You should plan to apply for your visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. Prior to scheduling your interview, you can check visa appointment waiting times online (Click here, to check Visa Waiting times at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply).

Please note that depending on your country of residence and field of study, visa processing times can exceed one month so apply early.  You will need to include the potential for visa delays in your travel plans.

Required Documentation To Take To Visa Interview Please refer to the U.S. Department of State Web site:

F-1 Student Visa Document Requirements
J-1 Student Visa Document Requirements

You should also consult the your U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will be interviewing to renew your visa to see if there are any additional country-specific visa application requirements.

Visa Interview – Proving Non-Immigrant Intent
F-1 and J-1 visas are considered non-immigrant visas. Accordingly, during the student visa interview, applicants must establish their non-immigrant intent to the satisfaction of the consular officer.  Non-immigrant intent means that you have binding ties to your home country and have a home which you have no intention of abandoning, and that you will depart the United States when you have completed your studies. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence of non-immigrant intent should take since applicants’ circumstances vary greatly.

VISA DELAYS – SECURITY CLEARANCES AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESSING

Please note that when you apply for a visa, even for a visa renwal, you may be subject to a security clearance that can cause delays of weeks or even months in the issuance of your visa and your arrival in the U.S. This clearance is most commonly known as Administrative Processing, and it is often connected to Section 221(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

You may be requested to provide additional information in order to receive clearance and be issued a visa.

Unfortunately, if you are selected for Administrative Processing, there is nothing that International Student & Scholar Services or any other office can do to expedite the processing.

The following are two common types of Administrative Processing delay that you might encounter:

  1. Field of Study:  If a visa applicant’s area of study is on the U.S. federal government’s “technology alert list,” which includes many of the science and technology fields, the U.S. Consulate may seek a security clearance prior to granting the visa.  This process may delay your visa application by anywhere from 10 days to 3 months.  There is no way to know for certain whether you will be subject to this type of clearance.If you study/work in a STEM field, we advise you to ask your faculty supervisor or department chair to write a letter that briefly describes the specific area of your study/research in layperson’s terms.  We have drafted a sample letter and explanation which can be modified by your faculty supervisor or department chair.  Often the U.S. Consulate will also request the CV and publication list of the faculty supervisor or department chair.We also recommend that you bring the following to the visa interview: a copy of your degree study plan (https://catalog.ua.edu/), transcripts, and a copy of your resume/CV.  These materials will not necessarily deter a security clearance, but they will help address most of the common 221(g) inquiry details.
  2. Country of Citizenship, Nationality or Birth:  A security clearance may also be required by the U.S. Consulate if a visa applicant was born in or is a citizen or national of certain countries. The list of countries is not published, but seems to include the following:  Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the territories of Gaza and West Bank.

Executive Order Suspending Entry of Some Chinese Graduate Students and Visiting Scholars

On Friday, May 29, the U.S. President announced a Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China.  This order went into effect on Monday, June 1, 2020.

While we believe the scope of impact from this proclamation will be relatively low at The University of Alabama, International Student & Scholar Services will continue to monitor the situation and update the community.

Until ISSS is advised otherwise by the U.S. government, we will continue to process immigration documents for all F-1 and J-1 students and visiting scholars from China.

Who is NOT impacted?

  • All new and continuing undergraduate students
  • All legal permanent residents
  • A spouse of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident
  • F-1 or J-1 graduate students or J-1 visiting scholars “in a field involving information that would not contribute to the PRC’s military‑civil fusion strategy”

Who is impacted?

  • New graduate F-1 or J-1 students and J-1 visiting scholars who:
    • Currently receive funding, are employed by, study at, or conduct research at or on behalf of “an entity in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] that implements or supports the PRC’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy'”
    • Have previously been employed at, studied at, or conducted research at or on behalf of “an entity in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] that implements or supports the PRC’s ‘military-civil fusion strategy'”
  • The U.S. Secretary of State shall determine if current F-1 or J-1 graduate students and visiting scholars who are in the United States and have a valid visa meet the criteria regarding involvement in “military-fusion strategy” and determine whether their visa should be revoked.

How will this be determined?

  • The Department of State indicated in a June 16 phone call that individuals subject to the proclamation should be notified immediately at the consular interview (refusal based on INA 212(f)), rather than having their applications placed in administrative processing.
  • As noted by DOS, an individual will only be subject if there is an identified association with an entity that supports China’s military-civil fusion strategy, AND the individual is studying in one of the fields of concern. Both criteria must be met.

The proclamation defines “military-civil fusion strategy” as “actions by or at the behest of the PRC to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities.”

The proclamation did not specify the list of the affected institutions or entities in China.  Instead, the proclamation directs the U.S. Secretary of State to identify the affected people as well as certain fields of study or research that would contribute to China’s military-civil fusion strategy.

During a June 16, 2020 teleconference, the Department of State indicated that the list of entities will not be made public. However, DOS did mention the following resources that could give individuals a better background understanding:

Additional resources on the Executive Order:

  1. NAFSA: Association of International Educators
  2. American Immigration Lawyers Association

F-1 Student 5-Month Rule – Reentry after absence of more than 5 months

If an F-1 student is out of the United States for more than five consecutive months (and not on study/research abroad), their SEVIS Record must be terminated.  They will need to obtain a new F-1 I-20, with a new SEVIS Number, and pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again prior to returning to the U.S. to resume studies.

F-1 students returning to the United States to resume their studies will not need to renew their F-1 visa stamp in their passport, if the F-1 visa stamp is still valid. The U.S. Department of State’s policy is that a student does not need to apply for a new F-1 visa if the student’s current visa is still valid, regardless of length of time outside the United States.

Please note, the 5-month rule only applies to F-1 student visa holders at UA.  It does not apply to F-2 dependents or those on other visa status enrolled at UA.

Exceptions to 5-Month Rule: If an F-1 student will participate on official study abroad through UA’s Office of Education Abroad or will conduct authorized research abroad related to a thesis or dissertation and will continue enrollment at UA, ISSS can process an I-20 update to reflect that the 5-month rule does not apply.

PASSPORT VALIDITY – DON’T LET IT EXPIRE

Additionally, students seeking to travel abroad or reenter the United States must have a valid passport to depart or enter the U.S.

Specifically for reentry, your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you intend to return to the United States.  If your passport is expiring, you should make plans to renew or extend your passport before your travel or prior to your return.

Please contact your home country’s Embassy or Consulate in the U.S. for information on how to renew or extend your passport from within the U.S.

VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR TRAVEL THROUGH OTHER COUNTRIES

VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR TRAVEL THROUGH OTHER COUNTRIES
Traveling through/to another country may involve obtaining a transit/entry visa to that country.  It is best to check the consulate website of the country you wish to visit to get the current visa procedures.  Do not assume that you will be allowed to transit through another country without a visa prior to your departure.  Failure to obtain necessary transit/entry visas may result in being denied entry onto your flight.

Please check the Embassy or Consulate for the country to which you will be traveling to determine if you require a visa.

As travel to and through Canada and Mexico is quite common, below are links to Canadian and Mexican visa information:

For Canadian Visas
For Mexican Visas

EAD Card

TRAVEL ON OPT

Travel after filing for OPT or while on OPT can be a challenge.  The following chart will help you to know what documents to carry with you.

Documents Before Completing Academic Program & Before OPT Approval After Completing Academic Program but Before OPT or STEM OPT Approval After Completing Program & After OPT or STEM OPT Approval
 Valid Passport Yes Yes Yes
 Valid F-1 Visa Yes Yes Yes
OPT I-20 with a valid travel endorsement on page 2, signed within 6 months by an ISSS Advisor Yes Yes Yes
Evidence of continued enrollment (e.g. Transcripts or Enrollment Verification from Registrar) Yes
Evidence of financial support – either through personal funds or salary listed on OPT employment letter. Strongly Recommended Strongly Recommended Strongly Recommended
I-797 Notice of Action (i.e. I-765 Receipt Notice) Yes
Job offer letter from employer OR current employment verification letter Yes Yes
EAD (Employment Authorization Document) STEM OPT students whose original 12-Month EAD has expired should check with ISSS about travel. Yes