A visa is a document issued in a student's home country by the embassy or consulate of the country s/he plans to visit. Students need an unexpired and valid visa to enter the U.S. Once a student is in the U.S., the visa is valid for the duration of status (D/S) as long as the student maintains F-1 or J-1 status. If the visa expires while a student is in the U.S., s/he does not need to renew it unless planning to travel outside of the U.S. Most visas are issued for multiple entries to the U.S., but some visas are only good for a single entry. You can find this out by checking the "Entries" section of your visa - (M) for multiple and (1) for single entry. The exception to the expired visa rule is travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean islands for less than 30 days. Visit the travel webpage for more details.
Visas must always be renewed outside of the U.S. Although the Department of State recommends that you apply for a visa in your home country, you may renew it in another country. Before you travel to a country other than your own country to renew a visa, be sure to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to renew your visa to see if they will allow you to renew your visa there and for visa application guidelines. This could require a long stay or take a long time to process. If you leave the U.S. without a valid visa, you will not be able to return to the U.S. until the new visa is issued. If your visa is denied, you will not be able to return to the U.S. as a student.
You will need the following items to renew your visa:
- Letter of Support from the International Office (Letter Request Form PDF)
- Visa application, DS - 160
- Current I-20 or DS-2019 with valid travel signature
- All previously issued I-20s or DS-2019s
- Passport valid for at least six months
- Updated financial support documents
- Proof of home country ties, including but not limited to:
- Proof of property ownership
- Bank accounts
- Significant family relationships
- A job offer upon completion of your U.S. studies (may or may not be asked)
If you do not maintain your visa status, you will have to apply for reinstatement. If you are out of status for more than five months, you may have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee again and re-apply for a visa. Review the information on the Maintaining Status webpage for more details.
U.S. Department of State Website: http://travel.state.gov
Consular Electronic Application Center: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/
Student Visa Validity Following a Break in Studies: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_2941.html
Visa Wait Times: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html
Visa renewal in Canada & Mexico: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_5213.html
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