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What to expect at U.S. port of entry for F-1 and J-1 students and scholars

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is committed to facilitating your stay in the United States while you take advantage of our nation’s academic, educational, and cultural offerings. To enhance security without slowing legitimate travel, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has instituted some changes in U.S. entry and exit procedures. Careful planning and preparation by international visitors can ensure that any delay based on these procedures is minimal.

Plan Your Arrival

Exchange Visitors are prohibited from entering the United States more than 30 days in advance of the program start date identified on  your I-20 or DS 2019. 

Always Hand Carry Your Documents

Do not check the following documents in your baggage. If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will be unable to present the documents at your port of entry. As a result, you may not be able to enter the United States.

  • Your passport, valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay and, if re-entering the United States, the I-20 or DS-2019.

In addition, it is strongly recommended that you also hand carry the following documentation:

  • Evidence of financial resources;
  • Transcripts (for continuing students)
  • Letter of acceptance as a participant in the Exchange Visitor Program;
  • Paper receipt for the SEVIS fee, Form I-797; and
  • Name and contact information for your sponsoring organization, including a 24-hour emergency contact number. WVU's emergency number is: 304-293-9456.

For greater detail on procedures for traveling and arriving in the United States, visit: https://educationusa.state.gov/your-5-steps-us-study

Complete Your Entry Paperwork

If Arriving By Air: Flight attendants will distribute Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059). These must be completed prior to landing.

If Arriving By Land or Sea: The CBP Officer at the port of entry will provide the necessary Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059) to be filled out upon your arrival.

As You Arrive at the Port of Entry

Proceed to the terminal area for arriving passengers. Have the following documents available for presentation:

  • your passport;
  • I-20 or DS-2019;
  • Customs Declaration Form (CF-6059).

All visitors entering the United States must state their reason for wishing to enter the country. You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. It is important that you tell the CBP Officer that you will be an student or exchange visitor. Be prepared to include the name and address of the school program where you will enroll/participate.

Once your inspection is successfully completed, the inspecting officer will:

  • Stamp your passport for duration of status (“D/S”) for F and J visa holders with date and port of entry
  • Update your I-94 arrival/departure record online. Be sure to retrieve your I-94 online immediately after arrival using the information in your passport. You can access it here - https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/

Following Admission Into The United States

Students and Exchange Visitors must report to their Program sponsor within 30 days of the program begin date identified on your I-20 or DS 2019 to have their participation in the program activity validated. This is done via SEVIS check-in at orientation or with your immigration specialist for J-1 scholars.

Additional Information

Secondary Inspection Requirements

If the CBP officer at the port of entry cannot initially verify your information or you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

The CBP officer will first attempt to verify your status by using the Student and Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In the event that the CBP officer needs to verify your admission/participation with your sponsor we strongly recommend that you have the name and telephone number of your Program sponsor available. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evenings, weekends, holidays), you should also have the emergency phone number.

Failure to comply with U.S. government entry-exit procedures may result in your being denied entry to the United States. Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may issue a “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor” Form (I-515A), which authorizes temporary admission into the United States. Work with your program sponsor to submit proper documentation without delay.