Coming Back to the United States
Procedures at the different ports of entry into the US vary and they tend to change quickly as new regulations and guidelines are introduced and as new federal agencies manage the process of admitting non-immigrants into the US. Expect delays, allow flexibility in your travel plans, and do your best to be calm, patient, and organized.
When you are going through passport control, present the immigration officer with only your passport, I-94 card (which was distributed to you before you boarded the plane or during the flight), and your I-20 or DS-2019. In your carry-on luggage, have your supplemental documents (financial certification, Certificate of Attendance, transcript, previous I-20), but do not present these unless you’ve been asked specifically. Expect close scrutiny of your documents. Answer all questions politely, clearly, and briefly, do not volunteer information which goes beyond the scope of the questions you were asked.
Immigration officials are required to record your arrival into SEVIS at the time you enter. However, not all ports of entry are equipped with SEVIS access at all booths, so you may be asked to step over to the “student lane” so that your information could be recorded.
US-VISIT, or the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology, is a new entry-exit record-keeping system which is launched by the US Department of Homeland Security. The installation began in January 2004 at most US airports. In addition to the regular inspection of documents by immigration inspectors, US-VISIT calls for digital fingerprinting and photographing upon arrival into the US. Eventually, there will also be an exit procedure which will require non-immigrants to scan their travel documents and repeat the digital fingerprinting procedure prior to their departure from the US. Expect possible delays as this new technology is installed at the ports of entry.
Problems With Your Documents
Examine your travel documents after you go through passport control. You should get back your original I-20 or DS-2019, there should be an entry stamp in your passport (usually near the page with the visa), you should get back the smaller portion of the I-94, stamped with the date of your entry. Examine the I-94 card closely – it should be marked D/S, or Duration of Status. If the I-94 does not say D/S but instead has an expiration date, come to OIP as soon as you return to Ithaca. If there are other problems with your documents, you may be issued a Form I-515, so come to OIP with it as soon as possible so we can assist you. If you are denied admission to the US at the port of entry, be very careful about arguing with the immigration officer. You may risk being placed in “expedited removal,” which also includes a five-year bar on admission to the US.