First-Time/New MIT Student Entering The U.S.


Documents Required For First-Time/New MIT Students Entering the U.S.

When a New/Incoming, Transfer-In, or Return from Leave Absence international students are entering the U.S., in F or J status, with their MIT ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (i.e., Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), they must carry and present the below documentation, which may be requested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officials at a U.S. Border/Port-of-Entry (POE). Students should NOT pack these immigration documents in their checked baggage and should carry them on their person to present at the time of entry into the U.S.:

  1. Valid Passport: It must be valid for at least 6 months into the future when entering the U.S.
  2. Valid U.S. F-1 or J-1 Visa Sticker/Stamp:  An unexpired visa sticker/stamp, issued by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, is required for every entry into the U.S., except for Canadian citizens.
  3. Valid “Certificate of Eligibility Form”: Most recently issued MIT ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (i.e., Form I-20 or Form DS-2019).
  4. Form I-901 (SEVIS Fee) Receipt: Copy of the students’ I-901 Fee Receipt.
  5. Letter of Admission to MIT: Student’s ‘Letter of Admission’ to MIT.
  6. Financial Support Documentation: F-1 students will need to carry proof of their financial support documentation (i.e., documentation provided and listed on the student’s ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (i.e., Form I-20 or Form DS-2019).
  7. Proof of Student’s Home Country Connections: Students and dependents (if applicable) must show “non-immigrant intent” when entering the U.S. in F or J status. This is also the documentation presented during the student’s entry visa sticker/stamp application at U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad.
  8. *Proof of vaccination against COVID-19: This is no longer a requirement after May 11, 2023, but recommended.*

NOTE: If a student will be traveling to or transiting in a country where they are not a Citizen or Permanent Resident/Immigrant of that country, other than the U.S., then they must verify the requirements needed to enter/transit through that country(s). Students should plan ahead and check the country(s)-specific Consulate General website for immigration/entry requirements and application procedures. A list of Foreign Embassies & Consulates can be found on the Department of State website.

IMPORTANT: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations allows new to MIT F-1 and J-1 students (and any F-2 or J-2 dependents) to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on their MIT ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (i.e., Form I-20 or Form DS-2019). The 30-day rule applies to ALL students entering the U.S. from abroad using their new MIT ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (i.e., Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), such as:

1.    ‘New/Incoming’ students with “Initial Attendance” listed on their ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’.
2.    ‘Transfer-In’ students with “Transfer Pending” listed on their ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’
3.    i.e., students who have transferred their SEVIS record to MIT from a previous U.S. institution but have left the U.S. between the end of their previous degree program/authorized post-degree employment and the start date of their program of study at MIT.
4.    MIT students returning to the U.S. after an approved ‘Leave of Absence’ from MIT.

U.S. Port-of-Entry Inspection & Questions

When entering the U.S. from abroad, every individual (including U.S. Citizens), will be subject to questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers. “Primary Inspection” will be where CBP Officers will ask a student to present their U.S. immigration documents and ask questions about where they are arriving from and the purpose of their stay in the U.S. NOTE: In addition to CBP checkpoints at U.S. Ports-of-Entry (i.e., airports and land border crossings), CBP also has Preclearance locations in certain countries, so some inspections/questioning may occur prior to boarding a flight to the U.S.

ATTENTION: Be advised that entry into the U.S. is at the sole discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at the U.S. Port-of-Entry.

Special Cases

  1. If a student has changed their U.S. immigration status while inside the U.S., and they decide to travel outside of the U.S. after their change of status has been approved, then they must apply for a new entry visa sticker/stamp at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad.
  2. Students who will/are married to a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident, and students who have filed/been included in a petition for U.S. Permanent Residency (i.e., Green Card), should make an appointment to speak with their MIT International Students Office (ISO) Advisor before finalizing plans for their trip to the U.S.

NOTE: Recent changes in U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidance allows CBP Officers to ask any question needed to determine a student’s eligibility to enter the U.S., including their past travel history, financial information, information about their family members, previous travel to the U.S., as well as request the student to provide access to their electronic devices, email and/or social media accounts for review. DHS guidance indicates that no passwords or other personal information will be retained. While such requests are not always made, we want to be sure students are aware that such requests can be made at the port-of-entry. If a CBP Officer cannot determine the student’s eligibility to enter the U.S. from the documentation/information provided by the student, or the officer requires additional information, the student may be directed for additional questioning at ‘Secondary Inspection’.

Secondary Inspection

‘Secondary Inspection’ is a separate, guarded area where students will be asked to wait to speak individually with a more senior-level CBP Officer. In Secondary Inspection CBP Officials have access to additional information, including more details about a student’s U.S. immigration status, visa sticker/stamp, and SEVIS record. In Secondary Inspection, students may be advised that they are not allowed to make any phone calls without permission from the CBP Officer — please follow their directions. NOTE: Wait times at Secondary Inspection may take several hours. If a student has to wait for an extended period of time, Secondary Inspection offices have bathrooms/toilets and access to water. If there are any concerns, the student will be advised to speak with a Secondary Inspection Officer for assistance.

IMPORTANT: There is no way to expedite or speed-up processing in Secondary Inspection, so it is advised for students to remain patient and calm.

Being referred to Secondary Inspection DOES NOT necessarily mean that the student has done anything wrong. Similar to a student’s visa interview and processing at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad, security procedures must be completed in order for a student to enter the U.S. and this can take some time to be resolved, but can vary based on the type of procedure and/or number of individuals in Secondary Inspection at the time of the student’s entry into the U.S. We ask that students remain patient. If a student is waiting for an extended period of time at Secondary Inspection, they may request from CBP (which may or may not be granted) the ability to contact anyone who may be waiting for them at the airport. CBP Officials also have access to MIT ISO contact information.

After entry to the U.S., a student is required to download a copy of their I-94 Entry/Arrival Record. The student must then complete the “Arrival at MIT Checklist”.

If any questions arise during or after a student’s time in U.S. Customs and Border Protection Primary or Secondary Inspection, the student and/or a CBP Officer can contact the ISO directly via email []or by calling the ISO main office by phone (617-253-3795) during normal business hours [Monday-Friday between 9:00am-4:00pm EST]. Outside of business hours (for emergency purposes ONLY – i.e., being denied entry into the U.S., etc.), students can call MIT Police (617-253-2996 or 617-253-1212) and MIT Police will notify ISO Staff to contact the student by the phone number they provide.

Travel After Arrival to the U.S.

Travel after arrival to the U.S., but BEFORE the Program Start Date[IS NOT RECOMMENDED]. Once an international student enters the U.S. in their U.S. student immigration status (i.e., F-1 or J-1), they must continue to do so until the completion of their U.S. student immigration status. Therefore, students re-entering the U.S. with their U.S. student immigration status, must have all the required documentation for re-entry to the U.S. as a “continuing student”. While there is never an issue for any international student to exit the U.S., all new/incoming international students to MIT (i.e., new incoming students, new transfer-in students, and return from leave of absence students), are required to enter the U.S. with specific documentation. This becomes even more important when new students enter the U.S., exit the U.S., and the re-enter the U.S. before the program start date listed on their ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’.

For Example:

  • Tim, an international student, enters the U.S. using their U.S. student immigration (F-1 or J-1) status on August 7th.
  • Tim then exits the U.S. on August 15th to take a “quick trip” to Greenland before the program start date listed on the Form I-20/Form DS-2019.
  • Tim wants to return to the U.S. using their U.S. student immigration status on August 27th and Tim will need to re-enter the U.S. on August 27th as a “Continuing Student”, because they already made their “Initial Entry” into the U.S. on August 7th.
  • Regrettably, Tim cannot meet the requirements for re-entry into the U.S. as a “Continuing Student” because the following two (2) requirements have NOT been met:
    • 1. Tim’s U.S. student immigration status/SEVIS record has been activated and the academic term must have begun (e.g., September 5, 2023).
      – AND –
    • 2. Tim’s ‘Certificate of Eligibility’ immigration document (F-1 Form I-20 or J-1 Form DS-2019) must be signed for travel by the ISO. Travel signatures may only be given after the academic term has begun and after the student has completed all required arrival steps.

Unfortunately, U.S. federal regulations state that actions 1 and 2 listed above can only occur after a student has been officially enrolled in classes for the academic term (i.e., after September 5, 2023, MIT’s enrollment/registration day). Therefore, entry into the U.S. in their U.S. student immigration status and travel outside the U.S. is possible, but only if Tim will re-enter the U.S. after the academic term start date has begun (e.g., September 5, 2023), with all their new student arrival requirements/steps completed.

As such, entering the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 student immigration status, exiting the U.S., and re-entering the U.S. before the program start date listed on a student’s ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), is very problematic and the ISO cannot guarantee a successful re-entry into the U.S. if the above situation occurs. Therefore, if a student must travel outside the U.S. before the program start date listed on a student’s ‘Certificate of Eligibility Form’ (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), then they must plan on first entering the U.S. in a “Tourist” status, exiting the U.S., and then entering the U.S. in their F or J student status before the start of the academic term.

Travel Within The U.S.

Students traveling within the U.S. (i.e, anywhere outside of the Cambridge/Boston area) are always advised to carry all their original immigration documents (i.e., passport, Form I-20/Form DS-2019, I-94 record, and proof of enrollment at MIT as evidence of their valid student immigration status in the U.S.). This information can be requested by local and federal authorities, especially if traveling by airplane, train, or bus. 

Be Advised: 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 random checks within a 100-mile radius border zone from Canada or Mexico. Therefore, it is important for students to always carry their original immigration documentation with them when traveling in these areas. If any questions arise, students can contact their ISO Advisor.

Additional Information

  • The ISO’s relevant ‘Entering the U.S.’ webpages.
  • The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidelines for Travel Re-entry for F-1 Non-immigrants webpage.
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Travel For International Visitors webpage.

Disclaimer: The information on this webpage is for MIT students only. For additional questions, students should email their ISO Advisor directly.