Renewing a Visa

If you plan to take a trip outside the U.S. or to go back to your home country for a temporary visit, you must make certain that you will have the proper visa documents to return to the United States. Please read the following information if you need to renew your visa. The process of renewing a visa is almost the same as applying for the initial visa.

Special Considerations When Renewing a Visa

  • You do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again if you are an F-1 or J-1 visa holder.
  • Depending on your field of study and your country of origin, you could be put through a security check which could delay your return to the University. Please keep that in mind when planning a trip.
  • While you can apply for a visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate, it is always better to apply in your home country.
  • Please keep in mind that you must be able to prove your eligibility for a non-immigrant visa by presenting credible financial information along with the rest of your documents. You should also be prepared to answer questions regarding the length of your intended stay in the U.S. and how you will use your academic experience gained in the U.S. when you return to your home country. Consular officials expect to see evidence of your ties to your home country, such as family, property, employment, bank accounts, etc. If the consular official determines that you are not eligible for a non-immigrant visa because you have not presented sufficient evidence that you intend to return home, there is usually no recourse to the visa denial unless you are able to present new information that proves strong ties to your home country. You may also be asked to present evidence that you have maintained legal immigration status if you have worked, studied, or resided in the United States previously.
  • If you are on post-completion OPT or AT and have a pending or approved H-1B petition, you will still be required to prove ties to your home country. Please consult your HIO advisor before applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa while on post-completion OPT or AT.
  • Additional points to consider when renewing a U.S. visa can be found here.

What You Need to Return to the U.S.

In general, you will need the following in order to return to the United States:

  • Unexpired passport
  • Unexpired U.S. visa (except for Canadian citizens)
  • Unexpired immigration document (Form DS-2019, I-20, I-797)
  • Updated travel signature* on Form I-20 or DS-2019 (in most cases no older than 12 months)

*If you will need a travel signature, please check the HIO website for regular office hours. You do not need an appointment to get a travel signature from the HIO.

Please check your documents prior to making international travel plans. Note that it is also recommended that you take all related visa documents for domestic travel outside the Boston metropolitan area.

Renewing Your Visa

It is not possible to apply for or renew non-immigrant visas inside the United States. You must apply for a visa in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. You may check the estimated visa processing time on the web site of the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa.  Please see below for details.


You must have a passport that will be valid for entry and reentry into the United States. Your passport should be valid for six months into the future at any given time.

Unexpired U.S. Visa

Citizens of all countries except Canada are required to have unexpired U.S. visas in their passports in order to enter and reenter the United States. A U.S. non-immigrant visa is issued in an individual's passport by a U.S. consul in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. A visa is used solely for the purpose of entry and reentry to the United States. The visa does not determine how long an individual may remain in the United States. Therefore, an individual may stay in the United States beyond the expiration date of a visa as long as the visa document (Form I-20, Form DS-2019, or Form I-797) has not expired. If your visa will be expired at the time you plan to reenter the United States, you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate before reentering the United States. Please contact the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you plan to apply for a visa in advance to confirm its hours of operation, application procedures, and to see if any changes have been implemented. For a list of U.S. embassies and consulates abroad visit the U.S. Department of State website.

Visa Documents

Visa documents include the Form I-20, Form DS-2019, and Form I-797. For specific information go back to the immigration section of the HIO web site and click on your visa type. A visa document certifies the length of stay for international students, scholars and their family members and it indicates an individual's visa status. A visa document must be valid at all times.

Form I-94

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has created an on-line, electronic I-94. 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 United States:

  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. F-1, and can stay until a certain date or D/S (duration of status) in the case of F and J visa holders.
  2. Print out your I-94 via as you will need it for other purposes.

Transit through a Third Country

Please be aware that many countries (including the United States) do not allow visitors to transit through their countries unless they have an entry visa, a transit visa, or meet specific requirements. Before arranging travel that would require transit through a country that is not your home country, review that country's visa policies, and/or ask your travel agent.

Change of Visa Status within the United States

Those who have obtained an approval of a change of visa status in the United States through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will still be required to apply for a visa for the new visa status at a U.S. embassy or consulate when traveling outside the United States prior to retuning.

What if I Do Not Have the Required Documents?

If you left the United States with a visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019) that has an expired travel signature, i.e. one that will be more than 12 months old at the time of your reentry to the U.S. or forgot to take with you your visa document (Form I-20 or DS-2019), the U.S. immigration officials have the discretion to readmit you back to the U.S. for up to 30 days. It is the official's decision whether or not to use that discretion. If the temporary readmission is granted, you will be given the Form I-515A and an I-94 card that has a 30 day admission period. It is very important that you report to the HIO immediately after you are back at Harvard. You will be given instructions at the HIO on correcting the I-515A to extend your permission to remain in the United States.