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1. I am a continuing student with a valid visa, if I leave the U.S. and travel abroad will I have problems when I try to return?

Travel during this pandemic period is risky. Please stay informed by reading emails sent from the Bechtel International Center. (NOTE:  See qt. 33 on contiguous territory travel.)  Guidance from the U.S. government requires students with I-20 or DS-2019 program start dates of March 2020 or later to be enrolled in at least one in-person or hybrid course. Additionally, the university has recalled all students to campus for a return to in-person courses.

2. What are the current health-related travel restrictions for entry to the United States?

Please visit the CDC website for the latest entry requirements as well as the Stanford University Health Alerts page for Stanford travelers. You should also be in touch with the airline you are flying with for the latest entry requirements.

3. What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S. if I am in F-1 / F-2 status?

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel by a Bechtel International Center advisor
  • Your I-20 must be signed within 12 months of the date of reentry
  • F-2 dependents must have their own I-20 forms with a valid travel signature and valid F-2 visa.  (F-2 dependents may re-enter independently of the F-1 visa holder.)

NOTE: If your most recent I-20 was sent to you digitally, please make sure that it is printed out and signed and dated  by yourself (the F-1 student) at the bottom of page one.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port Of Entry officials may be unable to accept a digital I-20 that is only contained on your electronic device. .

4. What documents do I need if I am on post-OPT / or STEM OPT extension?

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Valid I-20 signed for travel by a Bechtel International Center advisor
  • Your I-20 must be signed within 6 months of the date of re-entry
  • If your OPT or STEM OPT has been approved by USCIS, please request a new I-20 (I-20 Reprint Request). We will reissue you an I-20 to say "OPT/STEM OPT Approved" instead of "OPT/STEM OPT Pending" or "Requested".
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Evidence of a job offer or proof of volunteering/internship
  • Proof of sufficient funds in the form of a bank statement if your employment letter does not specify a salary
  • F-2 dependents must have their own I-20 forms with a valid travel signature and valid F-2 visa (except for Canadian citizens)

It is not advisable to:

  • Leave the U.S. and attempt to re-enter if you have not yet received your EAD card (you could be denied re-entry to the U.S.) or if your EAD is lost, and you are outside the U.S., you will need to return in F-1 status to re-apply for a replacement EAD card.
  • Travel on a cap gap I-20 and expired EAD card (You could be denied re-entry to the U.S.)
  • Travel without a valid job offer

Visit the travel under post-OPT webpage for updates. With the pandemic impacting U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, you may experience significant delays in scheduling a visa appointment which would prevent you from entering for many months.  Students who need apply for a new visa when they travel should be aware that because of government mandated name checks for all visa applicants, the issuance of visas now, in general, takes longer than it has in previous years.   (See also question 19.)

NOTE: If your most recent I-20 was sent to you digitally, please make sure that it is printed out and signed and dated  by yourself (the F-1 student) at the bottom of page one.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port Of Entry officials may be unable to accept a digital I-20 that is only contained on your electronic device. 

5. What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S. if I am in J-1 / J-2 status?

  • Valid passport
  • Valid J-1 visa (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Valid DS-2019 signed for travel by a Bechtel International Center advisor -Your DS-2019 must be signed within 12 months of the date of reentry. If Stanford is not your program sponsor, the signature must be from the J-1 sponsor (e.g. Fulbright, LASPAU).

J-2 dependents must have their own DS-2019 forms with valid travel signature and valid J-2 visa (except for Canadian citizens). (J-2 dependents may re-enter independently of the J-1 visa holder.)

6. How long is the travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 valid for?

For both F and J students (and their dependents) the travel signature is valid for 12 months.  However, in the case of post-OPT and the STEM Extension for F-1 students, the signature is only valid for 6 months from the date it was signed.

7. How do I request a new travel signature??

  • F-1 and J-1 students who need a new travel signature on their I-20/DS-2019 can drop it off in the red lockbox at Bechtel Monday-Friday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. during the school year. (During the summer, however, the building is closed to walk in traffic on Fridays, so drop off and pick up of documents can only take place Monday -Thursday).  Your document will be signed and ready to pick up in the lobby on the next weekday between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. No email will be sent to you when it is ready for pick-up., just come the next weeksday to pick it up. You will find your document in an envelope in a mail holder by the stairs. They will be sorted by last name.
  • Students who need an I-20/DS-2019 signed for unexpected or emergency travel in the next 24 hours should come to Bechtel between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday through the school year, and Monday-Thursday during the summer). Please use the Ring bell by the bottom of the staircase in the lobby. Our staff will be onsite to provide signatures.
  • For students outside the Stanford area who need a new travel signature please complete the I-20 Reprint request using Bechtel Connect.

8. I was issued a PDF endorsed I-20, is this document OK to travel with or use to apply for a visa?  Don’t I need a paper (wet signature based) I-20?

Based on U.S.  government guidance published on November 1, 2021, students are permanently allowed to use a print-out of scanned F-1 I-20s and/or F-2 I-20s for travel and visa appointments. After you receive the I-20 by email via Bechtel Connect,  print the I-20, and remember to sign your name and date on page 1 of the new I-20.  

Immigration officials at the port-of-entry do not want to see the PDF of the I-20 on your phone or computer.  (The officers  will only take your phone and/or your computer if you are being further questioned or detained.)  So, make sure that you print the latest I-20 and travel with that I-20 (sign it and date it) and also carry with you the previous wet signature I-20 for clarification at the port-of-entry.

9. I am J-1 (J-2) visa holder, can you send me a scanned copy of my DS-2019?

No,  federal law prohibits our office from sending PDF’s of the DS-2019 electronically.  (F-1 students do not have this restriction!).  If you live on-campus you will be able to come to the Bechtel International Center and pick-up your DS-2019 from the remote pick-up area. If you do not live on or near campus, our office will mail you the DS-2019 by regular mail, but it is best to arrange to be sent by courier service like FedEx through e-shipping.

10. I need to have my I-20 (DS-2019) sent to me as soon as possible.  How can I receive my document fast, can’t I just come over to Bechtel to pick up my document(s)?

Students in F-1 or F-2 status will have their I-20s emailed to them via Bechtel Connect (except in the case of an F-1 applying for a social security number as the Social Security Administration is requiring a "wet signature" on the I-20). For students in J-1 or dependents in J-2 status, the best way is for you to arrange to have your document delivered is to arrange for “e-shipping.”  You will create your own user name and password, and create the shipping label and pay for the service yourself.
Here is the link: A staff member will print the shipping label and drop off your FedEx envelope at a FedEx location, and you will be able to track the package yourself.  (This is a highly preferred option most students use.)

NOTE:  Scheduling an eship does not generate a new DS-2019. You  should only schedule eship after either receiving an "approved" email from our system for CPT, OPT, Extension, etc. OR immediately after submitting a reprint request where you have selected "Courier Delivery".

11. Can I remain in the U.S. with an expired visa in my passport?


12. I would like to travel outside the US.  Is there a risk in leaving the U.S. with an expired visa?

Yes, we have seen delays in already scheduled visa interviews, as well as in the processing of visas.  Be very careful about leaving in the U.S., especially if you are graduating soon.  Immigration law requires you to be in the U.S. on the day you mail your post-OPT employment application.

13.  Can Stanford assist me should I run into delays obtaining a visa or if I have difficulties re-entering the U.S.?

At this time Bechtel is urging caution when planning to travel outside of the U.S.  Visa issuing posts are slowly resuming operations, and there are still many reported delays to normal visa services.  There remains an increased backlog and limited services.  There is nothing that Stanford can do to ensure you would obtain a timely visa appointment or to guarantee your entry to the U.S.

14.  My visa is about to expire a few days before I plan to enter the U.S., can  I still attempt re-entry to the U.S.?

No, you must have a valid U.S. visa in your passport at the time of re-entry to the U.S., unless you are a Canadian citizen. If your visa has expired and you plan to travel abroad, you will need to go to a U.S. consulate or embassy (ideally in your home country) to apply for the new visa before returning to the U.S.

15.  Can I re-enter under a different status?

No, you must re-enter the U.S. in the same visa status you were using prior to your departure. Entering the U.S. in a different visa status will forfeit your current visa status and cancel any accrued employment benefits associated with the status.  If you enter the U.S. on a tourist visa (B-2, WB a.k.a. ESTA), you will also be prohibited from attending school.

16. But I thought a tourist visa allowed for study in the United States?

The Foreign Affairs manual states “If the student will earn academic credit toward completion of an academic program by engaging in the course of study, then it is not a "short course of study" for the purposes of this paragraph, and B-2 is not the appropriate visa class.” So, do not enter using any type tourist visa (B-2, WB a.k.a. ESTA)  or risk your current F-1 status and benefits.

17. My valid visa is in my expired passport, and my new passport does not have any visa at all.  Do I have to obtain a new visa in my new passport?

You do not need a new visa in the new passport, but just simply travel with both passports when you re-enter the U.S. 

NOTE:  If you have multiple passports from multiple countries, always use the passport from the country listed in the “country of citizenship” field of your latest I-20/DS-2019.

18. Can I renew the visa in my passport in the U.S.?

You cannot renew your visa within the U.S.  Ideally, you will renew your visa in your home country. (But you may remain in the U.S. with an expired visa.)

19. Can I apply for a visa in a country that is not my home country?

Yes, you may apply for a visa in another country as a “third country national.”  There is no guarantee that you will obtain the visa in another country, however, and if you are denied, you will be obligated to return to your home country.  Make sure that you are able to explain the ties to your home country, since applying from a different country may raise questions about ties to your own country.

20. I had an alcohol related incident (DUI), and my visa was revoked. What happens now if I need to go home?

You need to talk to an attorney about obtaining a new visa.  You will not be permitted to use the previous visa in your passport, even though no one has actually written “revoked” on the visa stamp page.  The revocation should not impact your current F-1 (or J-1) status if you are in the U.S. and you are allowed to continue attending school.  You need to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who is also familiar with both criminal law and immigration law about your situation.

For J-1 exchange students  there is a directive that the school official “should terminate the SEVIS records of J-1 participants whose visas were prudentially revoked because of a DUI arrest or conviction, if the participant departs the United States after the visa revocation.”  Please talk to an advisor at the Bechtel International Center and an attorney about your situation. (DOS Guidance Directive 2016-03   9 FAM403.11-3)

21.  Where can I find more information about applying for a visa?

You may find detailed information in:

22. My visa in my passport is valid, I would like to travel, but my passport will expire about a month after I plan to return.  Do I need a new passport?

You must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past the end date of your program unless your home country has a passport agreement with the U.S. Ideally, you will renew the passport in your home country before you return to the U.S.

23. I lost my passport. How do I replace it, as there are no embassy or consulate services in the Bay Area?

You will need to file a police report with your local police department.  If you are living at Stanford, then contact Stanford's Department of Public Safety.  You will need a record of the police report to process the replacement of your lost passport with your embassy/consulate.

If you must travel by air to the consulate or embassy in the U.S., you need to talk to the airline as to what type of identification will permit you to board the airplane. 

Make sure that you print  - and carry with you in your travels - your I-94 record (to replace your passport), along with your I-20 and a copy of your lost passport, and the record of your police report.

24. How do I report my lost passport (which had my U.S. visa in it) to the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad?

To report your U.S. visa lost or stolen, email the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the United States which issued your visa. Go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website to locate the email address and contact information. Be sure to include your full name, date of birth, place of birth, address in the United States, and an e-mail address (if available). Specifically state whether the visa was lost or stolen. If you have a copy of the passport or visa, scan and email this to the embassy or consulate. Otherwise, if known, report the category of visa, and the passport number from the lost/stolen visa.  If you have already reported your visa lost/stolen to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and then you later find your misplaced visa, then your visa will be invalid for future travel to the United States.  Therefore, in that situation you must apply for a new visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  More information can be found at the U.S. Dept. of State website regarding lost and stolen passports.

25. Do I need to travel within the U.S. with my passport and I-20/DS-2019?

Yes, but your visa in your passport does not need to be valid for travel within the U.S.  (A valid visa is only used to enter the U.S.)

NOTE:  You should always travel with the printed version of your I-20  / DS-2019.  Also, since you printed the I-94 Arrival record when you first entered the U.S., you should keep a copy of that printed record with your passport.  If you did not print your I-94 record, you may do so now to reflect your latest student status and entry to the U.S.

26.  I need to travel very soon, and will be applying for post-OPT, but I am worried about the form I-765 stating I need to be in the U.S. when I apply for OPT.

You must be in the U.S. on the day you submit the comnpleted I-765 application online through USCIS. You cannot apply for OPT from outside the U.S. Because the online application uses UTC time, we advise applying  for OPT no earlier than 89 days before degree conferral date. Please visit our Post OPT webpage for detailed instructions.

27. I am graduating but my current I-20 and visa stamp do not expire until some time after graduation. Would it be possible for me to re-enter the U.S. on my I-20 and then apply for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) within my 60 day "grace period?"

No. Your "grace period" is not valid for re-entry into the U.S. should you decide to leave and re-enter prior to the issuance of your EAD. (NOTE: Your new SEVIS I-20 will reflect the correct date of conferral of your degree, along with the post-OPT endorsement (on page 2) of your proposed period of OPT.)

You should apply for the EAD ideally 90 days before you graduate, and then travel after you graduate once you have received the EAD.  Also, if you are graduating this coming June, and you apply for OPT in a timely manner (in mid-March at the earliest), and are traveling between Winter/Spring quarters, you do not need the EAD in order to re-enter before completion of your studies. (You will also not forfeit your OPT request because of your trip outside the U.S.)

28.  There is a notation on the EAD card that it is "not valid for re-entry to U.S.," but you mentioned that I still need it to re-enter the U.S.?

You would not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. by simply showing the EAD. You will need the EAD in conjunction with your I-20 (endorsed for both practical training and travel), your valid passport (with a valid visa stamp), and proof of funding sources (i.e. job offer letter).

29. I know you have told us not to travel after graduation if we do not have the EAD, but couldn’t I travel home and then re-enter on a tourist (B-1 /B-2) visa or the visa waiver "90 day" tourist visa while my EAD application is pending?

Under no circumstances should you enter on a tourist visa (B-2, WB a.k.a. ESTA). You will cancel your F status upon entering the U.S., and you will forfeit your eligibility to work in F-1 status once the EAD has been approved!

30. My passport is expiring in a few months; will this affect my OPT application?

No, but make sure that your passport does not expire while you are in the U.S. You should contact your home country consulate or embassy in the U.S. and ask how to renew your passport.

31. My F-1 visa in my passport is expiring soon; will this affect my OPT application?

No, the visa stamp expiring will not affect your OPT application. As a matter of fact, your F-1 visa stamp may expire while you are in the U.S. without any adverse affects. However, if you decide to travel out of the U.S, you would need to apply for a new F-1 visa prior to returning to the U.S.

32. I am currently on STEM OPT, can I apply for a new visa even though my current visa is still valid?

Yes, we have seen students who are currently on STEM  OPT with a valid visa, issued when they first arrived to the U.S., who would like to extend their visa to the end date of the STEM extension.

33.  I plan to travel to Mexico with an expired visa.  What should I be concerned about?

Travel to Canada, Mexico or "adjacent islands other than Cuba" is permitted for most students. This process is known as “automatic visa revalidation.”However, borders to these two countries may be restricted due to the pandemic. You may also be required to have an entry visa to enter these countries, so contact the consulate to check if you need a visa.  (Please allow enough time before your travel for visa processing.) If you are maintaining lawful nonimmigrant status in the U.S., you do not require a new visa to re-enter the U.S. after a visit of less than 30 days to a "contiguous territory" (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) even if your initial visa may have expired. You can re-enter the U.S. with a copy of the electronic I-94 record, a valid passport, and a current I-20 or DS-2019 (with valid travel signature) and a previously-issued U.S. visa stamp. If you do not travel with a copy of your I-94 printed page, you may be denied re-entry to the U.S.
NOTE: Nationals of Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria are not eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa.

WARNING:  Student who apply for a visa while on a visit to a contiguous territory or adjacent island are ineligible for automatic re-entry and must obtain the visa before re-entering the U.S.!

34.  What are the “adjacent islands?”  Is it OK to travel to Puerto Rico?

The adjacent islands are:

  •  Saint Pierre
  •  Miquelon
  •  Cuba
  •  The Dominican Republic
  •  Haiti
  •  Bermuda
  •  The Bahamas
  •  Barbados
  •  Jamaica
  •  The Windward and Leeward Islands
  •  Trinidad
  •  Martinique
  •   Other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea

( INA, Section 101(b)(5))

According to ICE, traveling to Puerto Rico is permissible “unless your travel plans include entry to any other country en route to these U.S. territories.”  You can find more information on this topic in:

35.  Does the Bechtel International Center provide a travel support letter?

The only letter that is currently offered by Bechtel is in regards to Stanford being a hybrid school for this winter quarter.   The signature on the I-20 attest to the fact that you are in good standing with the university and your visa status is active and valid.
Link to the letter

36. On Nov. 6, 2020, in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government put in place travel restrictions on travelers bound to China.  Can you provide any more information on these restrictions and the required testing?

The requirements state that all passengers take nucleic acid and IgM anti-body tests and apply for a green health code before boarding the flight.  Detailed information can be found at Notice on Airline Boarding Requirements for Certificates of Negative Nucleic Acid and Anti-Body Blood Tests Results — Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United States of America.

We are aware that test results may not be obtained in a timely manner, further complicating the ability to travel. 

37. What is PCR testing?

It is a diagnostic test to detect COVID virus RNA in your system. Many countries require this type of testing.

You should review the embassy or consulate's web site of the country you will be visiting for the specific requirements.  And, you should also visit the U.S. Embassy and consulates web sites too.  A PCR test could be conducted at the airport upon arrival prior to granting visas or travel permission from abroad.

38.  The visa fee paid to consulates abroad is typically only good for one year.  What if I paid the visa fee over a year ago but still have not received a visa appointment?

The visa fee is valid for one year from the date of payment and may be used to schedule a visa appointment in the country where it was purchased.  However, the government understands, as a result of the pandemic, many visa applicants have paid the visa application processing fee and are still waiting to schedule a visa appointment.  The government is working diligently to restore all routine visa operations as quickly and safely as possible.  In the meantime, the validity of the visa fee has been extended until September 30, 2022, to allow all applicants who were unable to schedule a visa appointment due to the suspension of routine consular operations an opportunity to schedule and/or attend a visa appointment with the fee they already paid.

39.  Where can I find out about future zoom sessions and workshops?

You may check out the following links:

40.  What determines the end date/length of my F-1/J-1 visa in my passport?
The length of your F-1/J-1 visa in your passport (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement) is based on your citizenship and the length of your I-20/DS-2019 is based on the length of your academic program. These dates almost never match. Please also bear in mind that the consular official in the U.S. embassy who processed your latest F-1 visa application have great discretionary powers when issuing visas*. On occasions, they can give you a shorter OR longer length visa than reciprocity.

*Note: Sometimes, for students working after graduation, the consular official may use the end date of the OPT/EAD card when determining the end date of the new visa.

Last Updated: June 1, 2022