Entering the U.S. (Continuing J-1 Students)

(Except for Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands for which different rules apply.)

If you are a student holding a J-1 visa and you plan to travel abroad, in order to be readmitted to the U.S. you need to present to the Immigration Officer, at the port of entry, the following documents:

  1. Valid Passport. It must be valid for at least 6 months when you enter the U.S.
  2. Valid American J-1 Visa. A valid J-1 visa stamped in your passport.
  3. Valid Form DS-2019. A new Form DS-2019 or your current Form DS-2019 which has been signed for travel in the lower right hand corner within 1 year by your sponsor. If MIT is your sponsor you will need the signature of an ISO advisor in the International Students Office, otherwise you need to contact your visa sponsor.
  4. Documentation of Financial Support (award letters, letters from departments, bank letters, etc.)
  5. Documentation of MIT enrollment (letter from department, unofficial transcript, MIT ID card, etc.)
  6. Form I-901 (SEVIS Fee) Receipt
  7. FOR CONTINUING MIT STUDENTS: If while abroad you will be applying for a new entry visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, we also advise you carry a letter from your academic advisor/research supervisor, to present at the Consulate and/or at your U.S. port-of-entry if requested, that details the nature of your academic research activities at MIT.  A template for your advisor/supervisor to use in crafting the letter is available here.

Please be advised that entry into the U.S. is at the sole discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) Officer at the U.S. Port-of-Entry. Also, please be aware that since the passage of the Immigration Act of 1996 it has become extremely hard to receive a new U.S. visa in a third country.

Special Cases:

  1. Students who have changed their visa type while in the U.S., if you decide to travel outside of the U.S. after the change of status has been approved, you must apply for a new entry visa at the American Consulate or Embassy before reentering the U.S.
  2. Students who are married to American Citizens or Permanent Residents, and students who have been included in a petition for permanent residency, please make an appointment with one of the International Student Advisors before you finalize the plans for your trip.

Inspection / Questions at the U.S. Port-of-Entry

When entering the U.S. from abroad, every individual (including American Citizens), will be subject to questioning by USCBP officers. Primary Inspection will be where a USCBP Officer will ask you to present your visa documents and ask questions about where you are arriving from and the purpose of your stay in the U.S. The USCBP Officer can ask any question to determine your eligibility to enter the U.S. If the officer cannot determine your eligibility to enter the U.S. from the documentation you present, or requires additional information, you may be directed for additional questioning at “Secondary Inspection”.

Secondary Inspection is a separate, guarded room area where you will be asked to wait to speak individually with a more senior level USCBP Officer. Secondary Inspection also has access to additional information, including more details about your visa/SEVIS record. In Secondary Inspection, you may be advised that you are not able to make any phone calls without permission of the USCBP Officer — please follow their directions. Recent changes in U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidance allows USCBP to ask any question needed to determine your eligibility to enter the U.S., including your past travel history, financial information, information about your family members, previous travel to the U.S., as well as request that you provide access to your email or social media accounts for review. Please note that wait times at Secondary Inspection can be under one hour or it may take many hours. If you have to wait for an extended period, Secondary Inspection offices have bathrooms/toilets and access to water. If there are any concerns, you will be advised to speak with a Secondary Inspection Officer for assistance. Please note there is no way to expedite (speed up) processing at Secondary Inspection, so it is advised to remain calm.

Being referred to Secondary Inspection does NOT necessarily mean that you have done anything wrong. Similar to your visa interview appointment and visa processing at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, security procedures must be completed in order to enter the U.S. and can take some time to resolve (based on the type of procedure and number of individuals in Secondary Inspection at the time of your entry to the U.S.). We ask that you be patient. If you are waiting for an extended period of time at Secondary Inspection, you may request from USCBP (which may or may not be granted) the ability to contact anyone who may be waiting for you at the airport. USCBP also has access to contact information for the MIT International Students Office.

After entry to the U.S., please be sure to download a copy of your I-94 record and upload a copy to iMIT.

If any questions arise during or after your time at U.S. Customs and Border Protection Primary or Secondary Inspection, you or USCBP can contact the MIT International Students Office (ISO) directly. During normal business hours (Monday-Friday between 9:00am-4:00pm Eastern Time), please contact the ISO main office by phone (617-253-3795). Outside of business hours, you may reach the ISO directly (617-258-5480) or by calling MIT Police (617-253-2996 or 617-253-1212) and MIT Police will notify ISO Staff to contact you by the phone number you provide.

Travel Within the U.S. (especially near Canada or Mexico Border)

Students traveling within the U.S. (anywhere outside of Cambridge/Boston) are always advised to carry their original passport, Form DS-2019, I-94 record, and proof of enrollment at MIT as evidence of their valid student visa status in the US. This information can be requested by Federal authorities, especially if traveling by airplane, train, or bus. 
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will occasionally conduct enforcement activities (transportation checks, traffic stops) near the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders, claiming authority to do such random checks within a 100-mile border zone from Canada or Mexico. Therefore, it is important to carry your original visa documentation with you when traveling in these areas. 
If any questions arise, please feel free to contact your ISO Advisor.

Request a Form DS-2019 with ISO Travel Signature

Students should check the bottom right hand corner of their current Form DS-2019 for an ISO advisor or program sponsor signed travel signature. This signature should be dated at least within 12 months of the day you plan to re-enter the U.S.

Requesting a Travel Signature for Form I-20 or Form DS-2019: With the ISO working remotely, it is NOT possible to drop off/pick up your Form I-20 or DS-2019 to request a travel signature. Students will need to request a new Form via iMIT. To request a new Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 with travel signature:
(1) Login to iMIT
(2) Click on the left-hand menu “(F-1 / J-1) Student Services”
(3) Click on and complete the eform “Request Replacement of Form I-20/DS-2019”, and select request reason “Travel Signature”
(4) Be sure to click “Submit” on the eform once you have completed all fields and document uploads to the eform.
Once your new document is completed, ISO can scan/email you an electronic version that you can print/sign and carry with your previous Forms.
If you are applying for a new visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate while abroad, you should receive the paper original document for your travels.
If you want your new document express mailed, follow the instructions to request a shipping label.
Processing time for a new document is 10 business days.

Forgot to pick up your Form DS-2019 before travel?

Create an express shipping label to have the ISO mail the document to you.

Please see our page on Returning from Canada, Mexico, or Adjacent Islands for different guidelines on travel, if your situation applies.

Disclaimer
This information is for MIT students only. For more complete information, come to the International Students Office and speak with an ISO advisor.