What is a US Visa?
A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States (US) generally must first obtain a US visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship.
The type of visa you must obtain is defined by US immigration law and relates to the purpose of your travel. There are two main categories of U.S. visas:
If you leave the US with an expired visa, you must renew the visa at a US consulate before returning.
Remember: If your F-1 or J-1 visa is about to expire, you may remain legally in the United States (US) with an expired visa because your I-94 card is marked D/S, which stands for Duration of Status. This means that you are eligible to remain in the US until you either reach the end date on your I-20 (F-1)/DS-2019 (J-1) or until the end of your academic program, whichever comes first. Your visa is simply an entry permit to get into the US.
Traveling with an Expired Visa
If your visa expires, you will need to renew it before you re-enter the US after traveling abroad, unless you are not eligible for automatic revalidation.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the authority and responsibility over the admission of travelers to the US. Under the automatic revalidation provision of immigration law, certain temporary visitors holding expired nonimmigrant visas who seek to return to the US may be admitted at a US port-of-entry by CBP, if they meet certain requirements, including, but not limited to the following:
Nonimmigrants who departed the US for brief travel to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island (for F and J nonimmigrants only) for thirty days or less;
Nonimmigrants with a valid (unexpired) admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, endorsed by DHS.
Automatic revalidation is not the same as applying for a new visa. If you apply for a new nonimmigrant visa, you cannot take advantage of automatic revalidation.
Visa Renewal Process
Whether you are applying for the first time or renewing your visa, you will use the same application process:
Some applicants seeking to renew their visas in certain visa classes may be eligible for the Interview Waiver (IW) which allows qualified individuals to apply for visa renewals without being interviewed in person by a US consular officer.
Review the instructions on the website of the US Embassy or Consulate where you will apply to determine if the IW is available and if you qualify.
Can Visa Be Renewed in the US?
Typically visas cannot be renewed while you are in the US unless you qualify for automatic revalidation or if the embassy/consulate for your country waives the visa interview. This is at the discretion of consular officers and is not guaranteed.
Once you have made a visa interview appointment check the embassy or consulate website for details on their visa renewal process.
Some visa applications require further administrative processing and may take additional time after your visa interview.
It is recommended to apply early for visa renewal visa, and well in advance of your anticipated travel date.
Renewing Visa as a Third Country National
Applying for a visa in a country that is not your home country (“third” country) can be more difficult than applying at home. You may need to prove that you have continuously maintained lawful immigration status during your time in the US or be sent back home to your country to apply for the visa. Since refusal in a third country is more likely to occur than in your home country, you should plan well in advance for your date of travel.
The Department of State (DOS), which operates embassies and consulates worldwide, prefers that applicants apply for visas in their home countries.
- However, consulates or consular posts located in Canada and Mexico - often referred to as “border posts” - will entertain an application by a “Third Country National” (TCN) applicant who makes an advance appointment.
- The possibility always exists that a consulate in Canada or Mexico will not grant a visa because it believes that only the US consulate in an applicant’s home country is equipped to make a visa issuance decision.
Any third-country national (TCN)* present in the US and visitors present in Canada or Mexico who wishes to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at the Embassy or consulates in Canada or Mexico, must make an appointment for an interview.
Find information at: How to Apply for a Visa at a US Embassy or Consulate if you are a Third Country National Present in the United States or Visiting Canada
If seeking this option, you must contact the embassy or consulate for additional information, have a “valid” reason to provide for why you must apply as a third-country national, and be prepared to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the visa officer that you have enough funding to complete your program and that you plan to return to your home country.
If you have relatives that are US citizens or permanent residents, this will be more difficult to do, and if your only reason for applying in this country is to avoid your home country consulate, you will more than likely be denied.
Good examples of valid reasons include: attending a conference, visiting family or friends, etc.
What is a Passport?
A passport is a travel document issued by your origin country which allows you to travel internationally. Usually, an ordinary passport is valid for 5 to 10 years; however, if your passport has less than 3 or 6 months left until expiration, most countries do not allow you to travel and must renew it.
Note: F and J students who have a valid visa and an expired passport are still able to use their visa (if they have the old passport), and must remember to carry and present the old passport along with the new passport when traveling.
A passport is different from a traveling visa, and as such, they are not valid for the same amount of time.
All non-immigrants in the US are required to maintain a valid passport at all times.
A passport must be completely replaced when it expires, either by renewing it in advance or by submitting a new application.
Passport 6-Month Rule
The 6-month passport rule states that your passport must be valid for another six months before you depart for international travel.
Depending on which country you are traveling to, the six-month period may begin from the date you leave that country or the date you arrive.
However, not all countries follow the six-month requirement; some countries require that you have a passport with a three-month duration period.
This requirement changes based on where you are traveling and sometimes even based on your nationality, and it is strongly advised to renew your passport or check with an embassy or consulate on what their requirements are.
Depending on the length of a student’s program, their visa may expire before they complete their program of study. Students are responsible for renewing their passports before it expires (check with your embassy or consulate on how early you may apply to renew. Please view the following links to learn more about the visa application process for your country:
Remember: There are delays in passport renewal services around the world; please make sure to provide ISS with proof that you have requested passport renewal before your passport expires.