Coming Back to the United States

Procedures at the different ports of entry into the U.S. vary and tend to change quickly as new regulations and guidelines are introduced. As federal agencies manage the process of admitting non-immigrants into the U.S., expect delays and allow flexibility in your travel plans. Do your best to remain 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) ready, but do not present these items unless you have been asked specifically for them. 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 have been 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. It is possible that you may be asked to step over to the “student lane” so that your information can 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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The installation began in January 2004 at most U.S. airports. In addition to the regular inspection of documents by immigration inspectors, US-VISIT calls for digital fingerprinting and photographing upon arrival into the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 also 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 U.S. 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 U.S.