The United States records millions of foreign nationals’ visit to the U.S. each year and that count is steadily rising, despite the economic downturn. Hundreds of thousands of individuals come to the United States as F-1 foreign students and J-1 exchange visitors. In fact, a report from the International for International Education, the number of foreign students coming to the U.S. on F-1 student visa increased by 3% last year. In light of this steady increase combined with looming security threats, security measures at all U.S. ports-of-entry have been increased. It is important to note that the purpose of these procedures is to ensure the safety of everyone, which includes U.S. residents as well as foreign national visitors to the U.S.
This article is developed to help F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors experience a safe and smooth arrival into the U.S., especially for those foreign students and exchange visitors who are visiting the U.S. for the first time. If you are a foreign student on F-1 visa or an exchange visitor on J-1 visa, the following are 10 very important things you should consider doing to ensure smooth admission in the U.S.:
- Plan Carefully and Ahead of Time: An old Chinese proverbs says, “If you are in a hurry you will never get there.” You cannot do anything properly in hurry. In order to experience a safe and smooth arrival procedure in the U.S., you must plan things out carefully. Make a list of all the things you will need and pack your bags well ahead of time. Let us tell you that you may have to pay a high price for ignorance.
- Confirm Passport Validity: Before you book your trip, confirm that your passport is valid for entry into the United States.
NOTE: Your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay in the U.S.
- Check Nonimmigrant Visa Classification: You should make sure that the nonimmigrant visa stamped in your passport (either F-1 visa or J-1 visa) accurately reflects your personal information (name, date of birth and country of birth) and correct visa classification.
- Confirm Visa Validity: After confirming that your passport has not expired and that the visa (either F-1 visa or J-1 visa) contains the correct information, the next thing that you should do is to confirm that the F-1 visa or J-1 visa is valid for entry into the United States.
NOTE: You cannot seek entry into the United States on an expired F-1 visa or J-1 visa.
- Verify the Other Information in Your Visa: If the F-1 visa or J-1 visa in your passport states the name of the institution you will attend or identifies the exchange program in which you are participating, verify that this information is accurate.
NOTE: If you observe any discrepancies or potential problems, it is advisable to visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to obtain a new visa.
- Plan Your Travel Dates Carefully: If you are travelling to the U.S. for the first time as an F-1 student or a J-1 exchange visitor, plan your trip carefully. Foreign nationals entering the United States for the first time under the F-1 visa or J-1 visa classification may only be admitted up to 30-days prior to their program start date.
- Carry Important Documents On Your Person: When you are travelling, you must carry some specific documents on your person. Do not check them in your baggage! If your baggage is lost or delayed, you may not be able to show these important documents to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer and, as a result, may not be able to enter the United States.
NOTE: For certain documents, a photocopy is sufficient. The original documents can be kept safe in your baggage.
Documents You Should Carry on Your Person:
Following are some of the important documents that you should carry with you all the time, at least, until you safely land in the U.S.
- Passport (including attached envelope of immigration documents) with nonimmigrant visa;
- SEVIS Form I-20AB, I-20MN, or DS-2019 that has been endorsed by a consular officer;
- Visa exempt nationals presenting a SEVIS Form I-20AB, I-20MN or DS-2019 issued on or after September 1, 2004, who are entering the United States for the first time should have a Form I-797, Receipt Notice or Internet Receipt verifying SEVIS Fee payment;
- Evidence of financial resources;
- Evidence of F-1 Student or J-1 Exchange Visitor status (recent tuition receipts, transcripts);
- Name and contact information for Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO) at your intended school or program;
- Writing instrument (pen).
- Submit Forms Upon Arrival: If you are traveling by air, the flight attendants on board will distribute the CF-6059 Customs Declaration Forms and Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record for immigration, before you land at your initial point-of-entry in the U.S. To save time and to avoid causing delays at Customs, complete these forms while you are on the plane and submit them to the appropriate Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer upon your arrival.
NOTE: You may seek assistance from the flight attendant in case you have any difficulty in completing the forms.
Upon arrival at the port-of- entry, proceed to the terminal area for arriving passengers for inspection. As you approach the inspection station, ensure that you have: your passport, SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019; completed Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record; and, CF-6059 Customs Declaration Form available for presentation to the CBP Officer. The Form I-94 should reflect the address where you will reside (not the address of the school or program sponsor). Do not present any other documents unless asked specifically to do by the Officer.
- Hand-Over the Immigration Documents to the Officer at the U.S. Port–of-Entry: When you receive your F-1 student visa or J-1 exchange visitor visa at the Embassy or Consulate in your country, in some instances, the consular officer may seal your immigration documents in an envelope and attach it to your passport. You should not open this envelope! The Customs and Border Protection Officer at the U.S. port–of-entry will open the envelope.
- Provide Your Purpose of Visit to the U.S.: Like all entering visitors, you will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States. You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. It is important that you tell the CBP Officer that you will be a F-1 student visa or J-1 exchange visitor. You should also be prepared to include the name and address of the school or exchange visitor program where you will enroll/participate.
It is critically important to remember that failure to provide proper documentation and to comply with entry procedures may cause the foreign student or exchange visitor to be denied an entry into the United States. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) often informs foreign students and exchange visitors and publishes guidelines helping them to prepare for their safe arrival in the United States. Careful planning and preparation by F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors can ensure that the delay based established procedure is minimal.
If you are held up in any unforeseen situation, you may consult our highly experienced immigration attorneys.
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