Do I need to renew my visa?
If you plan on traveling outside the United States or returning to your home country for a temporary visit, it’s important to ensure you will have the necessary visa documents to be able to return to the U.S. If your visa will expire before you return, you will need to allow enough time while you are outside the U.S. to renew your visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It's not possible to renew a visa while inside the U.S. Renewing a visa is similar to applying for the initial visa, as each application is considered independent.
It's important to note that a visa is only used for entry to the U.S. and the validity period of a visa does not determine how long an individual can stay in the U.S. An individual can stay in the U.S. past the expiration date of their visa as long as the immigration document (Form I-20 or DS-2019) has not expired and the electronic I-94 record reflects the proper status.
It is okay to remain in the U.S. after your F-1 or J-1 visa expires as long as:
- Your passport is valid.
- Your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid.
- You are a continuing full-time student (or for students on post-completion OPT or Academic Training, you are following the OPT or Academic Training rules).
The F-1 or J-1 visa is only necessary for re-entry to the U.S. if you leave. After your visa expires, you must apply for a new F-1 or J-1 visa the next time you travel internationally in order to return to the U.S.
Visa Renewal Process
To apply for or renew a non-immigrant visa, you must do so outside the U.S. at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- To initiate the visa renewal process, you must complete the DS-160 online visa application again. The U.S. Department of State has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that may be helpful in completing the DS-160, including help for technical issues. You should also review the information on an Embassy's website to prepare for required documents at that particular embassy.
- You do not have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again if you are an F-1 or J-1 visa holder and have already paid the SEVIS fee before for the same SEVIS ID number.
- U.S. Embassies and Consulates may waive the visa renewal interview requirement if you meet certain criteria. After you have completed the DS-160 form, you will be directed to either schedule an interview appointment or submit your application and documents to the Embassy or Consulate under the interview waiver program. However, even if you are waived from the interview requirement, you still need to be physically present in the same country as the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to submit your visa application. You cannot mail your application from within the U.S.
Processing times and administrative processing
- You may check the estimated visa processing time on the website of the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. Wait times may vary considerably among consular posts, and processing times indicated may not be accurate.
- Depending on your field of study and your country of citizenship, you could be put through a security check called administrative processing, which could delay your visa. Administrative processing can occur regardless of whether you have cleared administrative processing on a previous visa application. Please keep that in mind when planning a trip.
Third country application
Applying for a visa in a country which is not your home country or the U.S., called a "third" country, can be more difficult than applying in your home country. You may need to prove that you have continuously maintained lawful non-immigrant status during your time in the U.S. or you may be sent to your home country to apply for the visa. Refusal in a third country is more likely than at home, so you should plan well in advance of your date of travel.
Financial information and ties to home country
- When applying for a non-immigrant visa, you must provide credible financial information and other required documents listed on the U.S. embassy or consulate website to prove your eligibility. You should also expect to answer questions about your intended length of stay in the U.S. and how you plan to apply the academic experience gained upon returning to your home country. Consular officials will seek evidence of your ties to your home country, such as family, property, employment, or bank accounts. If you don't provide sufficient evidence of your intent to return home, your non-immigrant visa application may be denied, and you'll need to submit a new application with stronger evidence of your ties to your home country. If you previously worked, studied, or lived in the U.S., you may be asked to show proof of maintaining legal immigration status.
- If you are on F-1 post-completion OPT, STEM OPT, or J-1 Academic Training with a pending or approved H-1B petition, you must still demonstrate ties to your home country.
To return to the U.S. you will need:
- Unexpired passport
- Unexpired visa (except for Canadian citizens)
- Unexpired immigration document (Form DS-2019 or I-20)
- Valid travel signature on Form I-20 or DS-2019
- No older than 12 months for continuing F-1 or J-1 students
- No older than 6 months if you are on F-1 post-completion OPT, STEM OPT, or J-1 AT
- Submit a “Travel Signature Request” via the OISS Portal to obtain an updated travel signature
- SEVIS Fee payment receipt
You should check your documents prior to making international travel plans. It is also recommended that you take your visa documents for domestic travel outside the Chicago metropolitan area. It is possible that a government official may request to see them even if you are staying within the U.S. when you travel.