Arriving in the U.S., HIO Registration, & Orientations

Welcome to Harvard!  This section details important information you need to know to enter the U.S. to start your academic appointment. After your arrival, you will need to bring your travel documents to register your immigration record with the HIO

Scholars should be aware that there are additional entry requirements in place due to COVID-19. Those traveling to the U.S. should carefully require the HIO's COVID-19 FAQ for updates. 

When to Arrive

The U.S. immigration regulations allow J-1 Scholars to enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on Item 3 of your Form DS-2019. If you hold an H-1B visa, you may enter the U.S. no more than 10 days before the start date listed on your H petition approval notice.

U.S. Immigration Inspection

Upon entering the U.S., all scholars must present the following documents to the Customs and Border Protection official at the airport or U.S. Port of Entry:

  • Valid passport
  • Visa document (Form DS-2019, or I-797)
  • Valid visa in passport (not applicable to Canadian citizens)
  • Appointment offer letter
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt (for J-1 Scholars only)

Dependents cannot enter the U.S. before the scholar.

You may not enter the U.S. in tourist visa status unless you are coming to the U.S. for tourism only. Do not use NEXUS or Global Entry, or an automated passport kiosk, to enter the U.S. You must always speak with a Customs and Border Protection Officer and present the above documents in order to be admitted to the U.S. in the proper scholar status.

COVID-19 Arrival Requirements

All air passengers entering the U.S. will be required to comply with the following COVID-19 safety measures in order to board a flight to the U.S.:

  • show proof of a negative viral COVID-19 test no more than one (1) day before their flight to the U.S. departs;
  • and take another COVID-19 test 3-5 days after arriving.

In addition to the documents outlined above, as of November 8, 2021, you will also need to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination to board your flight to the U.S. Please review the CDC website for guidance on COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for entry to the U.S.

More information about travel and visa issuance during the COVID-19 pandemic may be found on the HIO's COVID-19 FAQ.

Arriving in the U.S.

Once you enter the U.S., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) creates an on-line, electronic I-94 record that details your entry into the U.S. The traditional paper form I-94 may only be issued at Canadian land ports-of-entry.  You need to do two things when you enter the U.S.:

  1.  Check your passport to make sure that the CBP officer has put an entry stamp indicating that you entered on a certain date, in a certain visa status, e.g. J-1, and can stay until a certain date or D/S (duration of status) in the case of J visa holders.
  2.  Print your I-94  or keep an electronic copy of the I-94 on your phone as you will need it for other purposes.

HIO Registration

You must register your arrival with the HIO as soon as possible after your arrival in the U.S. so that we may activate your SEVIS record. Your SEVIS record will become invalid if not activated within 30 days of the start date on your visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019).

After arriving in the U.S., you must complete the HIO Registration Form and email it to to fulfill your required immigration registration. Please note, in order to complete this form, you will need to access your I-94 record online. If you have difficulty locating your I-94 record, or your I-94 record has incorrect information, please contact your HIO Advisor.

You will receive an email from the HIO confirming when your registration has been processed. 

After arriving, please review our Welcome and Travel informational handout, as well as our New Scholar Welcome Guide, for more information about your immigration status and your time in the U.S. 

HIO Orientations and Walking Tours

The HIO offers optional orientation sessions and walking tours of Cambridge and Harvard Square for all incoming scholars and their family members. Please see HIO Orientations for more information.