Visas, Travel and Maintaining Student Status
What is a visa?
A U.S. visa is an entry document. You can apply for an entry visa only at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. It is placed on a page in your passport and certifies that the consular officer has found you eligible to apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry in a particular classification, such as F-1 student or J-1 research scholar.
The CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer makes the final decision on whether you are eligible to enter the U.S. with the visa and determines the length of time you may stay.
Things to know about your U.S. Visa
- The visa expiration date doesn't indicate how long you may stay: The visa expiration date is the date until which you can re-enter the U.S. in the same classification with valid, unexpired supporting documents. The period of time you may remain in the U.S. is connected to the end of F or J status. The length of your status is based on an academic program, or an authorized period of research or employment. Your visa may expire while you’re in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. it has no effect whatsoever on your status. However, if your visa is expired when you leave the U.S. to travel abroad, you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to return in the same status.
In short: a valid visa allows you to enter the U..S. Your status allows you to remain in the US.
- The length of a visa's validity is based on reciprocity agreements between your country and the U.S. The reciprocity agreements address both the duration and the number of entries that are allowed. A consular officer, after review of an individual’s visa application, has discretion in the application of the reciprocity agreement.
- You can continue to use an unexpired visa in an expired passport when: a)it is in an expired passport and you travel with both your expired and valid passports; b) it was issued for a previous school you attended and you travel with a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from Whitman; or c) it was issued for a previous or concurrent employer and you travel with an approved petition from Whitman College.
- If you lose your passport, you cannot replace the visa in a new passport in the U.S. After you have your passport replaced, you can apply for a new visa only at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.
- You can have more than one visa in your passport, but you can enter the U.S. on only one status. If you have visited the U.S. for different purposes, you may have more than one visa in your passport. However, you can have only one status while you are in the United States. The visa which is used for your admission to the U.S. becomes the status you will hold. This is very important. CBP agents at the airport are very busy. If you have multiple valid visas in your passport, you may need to remind them that you are seeking F-1 admission.
If you will be traveling to or through countries other than your country of citizenship, please plan well in advance to acquire the necessary visas for the countries you will visit or travel through. If you will be traveling through Canada, you can learn more about obtaining a Canadian visa.
F-1 students and J-1 Exchange Visitors should check their Form I-20 or DS-2019 for a recent travel endorsement signature prior to any international travel. Travel signatures are valid for one year from the date of the signature. If you are going to travel outside the United States and are unsure if you need a new travel signature, please make an appointment with the DSO at Whitman.
Important Housing Dates
Due to the logistical concerns of international travel, many international students plan their travel itineraries well in advance of the end of the semester or school year. Consult the important housing dates from the Residence Life Office when planning your travel over academic breaks.
F-1 students and J-1 Exchange Visitors in "Initial" status may not enter the United States more than 30 days before the Program Start Date listed on the Form I-20/DS-2019.
F-1 students have 60 days (grace period) after their Program End Date listed on the Form I-20 to apply for a period of Optional Practical Training, finalize a transfer of their SEVIS record to another SEVP-certified institution, depart the United States, or otherwise apply for a change of legal status. For J-1 exchange visitor grace period lasts only 30 days.
Students who transfer their SEVIS record to another school must begin their studies at the new institution within five months of the end of their studies at Whitman.