The United States records millions of foreign nationals’ visit to the U.S. each year. Hundreds of thousands of individuals come to the United States as F-1 foreign students and J-1 exchange visitors. In light of the events of the past decade, and 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.:
1. Plan Carefully And Ahead of Time: An old Chinese proverb says, “If you are in a hurry you will never get there.” 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. Also, please check with airline before you pack regarding items you cannot carry at all as well as items that are not allowed in carry-on baggage.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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. US immigration officials are not responsible for any issues that arise if YOU didn’t check to see if your visa stamp has the correct information.
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.
6. 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 under the F-1 visa or J-1 visa classification may be admitted up to 30-days prior to their program start date.
If you wish to come to the U.S. earlier than 30 days to prepare for your stay in the U.S. (find housing, get a vehicle, etc.) or as a tourist, you will need to enter on a B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa or under the Visa Waiver Program, if eligible. Once your trip is complete, you will need to leave the U.S. and re-enter using the F-1 or J-1 visa.
7. 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 until you safely land in the U.S.
a.Current passport with the nonimmigrant visa (if the visa is stamped in an expired or older passport, both passports must be carried);
b.Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for those with an F-1 visa endorsed by the Consular Officer
or Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status for those with a J-1 visa endorsed by the Consular Officer
c.Visa exempt nationals presenting a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 at the port of entry should also have the Form I-797, Receipt Notice or Internet Receipt verifying SEVIS Fee payment;
d.Evidence of financial resources;
e.If re-entering the U.S. after travel abroad, evidence of F-1 Student or J-1 Exchange Visitor status (recent tuition receipts, transcripts);
f.Name and contact information for Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO) at your intended school or program;
g.A Writing instrument (pen).
8. Submit Forms Upon Arrival: If you are traveling by air, the flight attendants on board will distribute the CF-6059B Customs Declaration Forms before you land at your initial point-of-entry in the U.S. To save time and to avoid causing delays at Customs, complete this form while you are on the plane and submit them to the appropriate Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer upon your arrival when requested.
NOTE: You may seek assistance from the flight attendant in case you have any difficulty in completing the form.
Upon arrival at the port-of- entry (or pre-clearance inspection area), proceed to the terminal area for arriving passengers for inspection. As you approach the CBP inspection station, ensure that you have:
- Your passport(s) and visa stamp
- Form I-20 or DS-2019
- Completed Form CF-6059B Customs Declaration Form available for presentation to the CBP Officer
Do not present any other documents unless asked specifically to do by the CBP Officer.
Note: Those entering the U.S. via land also have to prepare a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. Once endorsed by the CBP officer it will stapled in the passport and must be relinquished at the border when you leave the U.S.
For those traveling by air or sea, CBP captures the I-94 information directly from the electronic travel records. The F-1 or J-1 student should obtain their I-94 information after entry at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov.
For more information about the inspection process at the US port of entry or at pre-clearance locations, check out our article, “Immigration Inspection At A U.S. Port of Entry: Things You Must Know.”
9. 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 carry proper documentation and to comply with entry procedures may cause the foreign student or exchange visitor to be denied entry into the United States. Careful planning and preparation by F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors can ensure that any delays are minimized significantly and the inspection process proceeds smoothly and without any hiccups.
If you are held up in any unforeseen situation, you may consult our highly experienced immigration attorneys.
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