The visa stamp in your passport acts like a "ticket" into the US. If you remain in the US and your visa expires, that does not mean that you are out-of-status.
If you will be traveling outside of the country, however, you will need a valid visa in order to re-enter the US. If you will have to apply for a new visa, ISSS recommends that you plan your travel accordingly, making sure you have enough time to obtain your visa and return in time for classes.
Your I-20/DS-2019 combined with your entry stamp and/or I-94 printout are the active documents that permit you to remain in the US. F-1/J-1 visa holders are allowed to stay for D/S or "Duration of Status", which means the period of time in which students are maintaining their non-immigrant status.
The completion date on your I-20/DS-2019 determines the expiration of your status, NOT your visa stamp expiration date. If you require more time to complete your studies, you must request an extension at least 2 weeks prior to your I-20/DS-2019 completion date. Please refer to the Extending Your Stay section of our website for further details.
You cannot apply for a US visa from within the US. ISSS recommends that you apply for a visa at the US Consulate or Embassy in your home country.
Some consulates allow students to renew their visa by mail or drop box. Check the website of the specific consulate where you will apply to verify if such processing is possible, and whether you are eligible.
It is possible for F-1/J-1 visa holders to apply for a visa in a third country (a country that is not their home country). However, it may be more difficult for the consular officer to evaluate your ties to your home country. You will also need to stay in that country while you application is pending, and if you are denied the visa, you will not be allowed to re-enter the US. You will need to depart directly to your home country in order to apply for a new visa to re-enter the US. If you choose this option, please remember to:
Check the website of the US consulate where you plan to apply to make sure they accept TCN (third country national) applicants.
Most consulates require a personal interview with a consular officer and collect biometric identifiers (e.g. fingerprints and digital photograph).
You should bring with you all the items mentioned in the general visa application information links above, along with any other items listed on the website of the specific consulate where you will apply.
Don’t forget to:
Request a new travel signature from ISSS, if the current signature on your I-20/DS-2019 will be more than one year old on your planned date of re-entry.
Request transcripts in a sealed envelope from the Registrar’s Office
Print your SEVIS fee receipt. If you have been outside the US for 5 months or more or if your SEVIS number has changed, you may be required to pay the SEVIS fee again.
Bring proof of finances. Students should be able to verify the amount shown as the total on their I-20/DS-2019 with a personal bank statement, Research Assistant/Graduate Assistantship (verification letter should include salary and tuition payment details), or sponsor's letter and sponsor's bank statement.
You can check on typical visa wait times for your consulate, but this is just an estimate. It is always best to check with the specific consulate or embassy where you will apply, as procedures may vary.
Consulates and embassies frequently conduct background checks that can result in possible delays in visa issuance. Background checks can be triggered by, but not limited to, arrests in the United States, country of citizenship, certain courses that appear on a student’s transcript, or by field of study.
If the consular officer suspects that you may be inadmissible or ineligible for the visa, he/she may request additional security clearances. If you are subject to a security clearance, it may take several months to receive your visa.
Some visa delays are caused by issues outside of your control. Examples include instability in the region and limited consular staff resources.
If you believe that applying for your visa may cause you to be unable to return to the US to resume your studies on time, we recommend that you think through carefully your decision to travel and weigh the pros and cons.