The U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have increased the level of review that international visitors face at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad, at airports, and at border crossing posts with Canada and Mexico. Ultimately, each individual must decide for him or herself whether or not to travel abroad.
The International Scholars Office's (ISchO) advice to scholars and their family members has not changed. We recommend that you contact our office at least 30 days before the date you plan to travel. We will review your documents, provide you with up to date travel advice, and sign your travel document (if necessary). See Travel and Visa Renewal information.
- Always consult with an ISchO advisor prior to travel (at least 30 days prior to your departure date).
- Always carry your passport and valid immigration documents for domestic or international travel; passports should be valid for at least six months into the future.
- J-1 scholars and J-2 dependents, please note: If you attempt to enter the U.S. without a valid travel signature on Form DS-2019, you may be allowed to enter after being issued an I-515A form. However, this is at the discretion of the immigration officer and cannot be guaranteed. If you are admitted with the I-515A, you will be required to do some additional paperwork to stay in legal J-1 status.
- Always carry proof of MIT employment or appointment such as an updated appointment letter or an invitation letter, and/or recent MIT pay statement.
- Be honest, patient, and courteous with all government officials even if they are not so with you.
- Departing the U.S.: If you have a paper I-94 card that was marked by an immigration inspector when you entered the U.S. or that was issued to you by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), be sure to surrender it* when you leave the United States.
*Some exceptions may apply to short trips to Canada, Mexico, and "adjacent islands."
- Arrival at a U.S. port of entry: International travelers should print/download a copy of their electronic I-94 admission record as soon as possible after arrival. The U.S. immigration inspector may also place an admission stamp in your passport. Please make sure the I-94 record and admission stamp (if applicable) contain the correct notations, and contact the ISchO if you have any questions.
- You should consult the Department Of State (DOS) website for appointment scheduling and visa processing information for any U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Be aware that Consulates may require in-person interviews before issuing visas.
- Expect changes in visa processing at some U.S. Embassies and Consulates, including mail-in or "drop box" service for visa applications.
- You may experience delays at U.S. Embassies and Consulates due to special processing requirements that have been imposed on non-immigrant visa applicants (particularly for certain nationalities, including Syria and Iran). This may lead to a delay from several weeks to several months in visa issuance. See the DOS notice.
- The cost of the machine-readable visa stamp is $160 for B-1/B-2, F-1/F-2, and J-1/J-2 visas and $190 for H-1B and H-4 visas. You will be required to pay this fee along with the reciprocity fee for your country.
- New F-1, J-1, and M-1 visa applicants must pay a "SEVIS fee." However, if you are applying for a visa extension, you are not required to pay this fee.
- All nonimmigrant visa applicants must complete and submit the online DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application. An additional security clearance may be conducted following review of the form that may take one to several months.
- For scholars from certain countries and scholars conducting research in certain technologically sensitive fields on the China Defense Universities Tracker, and others, the Department Of State is required to conduct a security clearance prior to issuing an initial U.S. entry visa or extension of visa through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Clearance may take one to several months.
- If you believe there is a possibility that a security clearance will be conducted, we recommend that you submit a letter from your faculty sponsor, along with a copy of your CV and list of publications, with your visa application. When in doubt, we suggest that you submit the letter. We recommend that the letter include the following information
- A detailed description of your research, in language a non-scientist can understand
- If applicable, the fact that you are conducting basic or unclassified research
- The fact that you are expected to return to MIT to resume your research
Please direct your letter writer to the Employment Letter for U.S. Consulate instructions.
- Delays in flights within the United States and returning to the U.S. from abroad due to heightened security measures at airports and delays along the Canadian border.
- You may have your fingerprints scanned and a digital photograph taken upon entering the United States. You may also be required to comply with new "check out" procedures when leaving the United States.
- Extensive questioning about your field of research, your position in your home country, what you will be doing at MIT, your immigration documents and other topics.
- Inspection of your phone, tablet, computer, or any/all electronic device(s) (see "Traveling with electronics or data" below) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Directive on Border Searches of Electronic Devices
- Multiple inspections by several immigration and/or customs officials.
- Possible photocopying of documents by immigration officials and possible videotaping of Immigration, Customs, or FBI interviews.
- Inspection of personal belongings, luggage, pockets, or other searches.
U.S. Customs officials are authorized to search or retain personal and work electronic devices, including laptops, digital cameras, cell phones, media players, and disk drives, even without probable cause, to look for violation of export control regulations as well as other laws and regulations.
- Detailed guidance on the topic from the Office of the General Counsel (MIT certificate required)
- Export control information from the Office of the Vice President for Research
- The MIT IS&T Travel and Technology page
To prepare for device inspection
- Don’t carry data you don’t want others to see: medical records, data files from your research, financial information, emails, photos, etc.
- Don’t carry the only copy of data that you can’t afford to lose.
- Have a “Plan B” if there is data you will need when you reach your destination.
- Consider taking a minimal device equipped with only ordinary, recognizable software and minimal data so any search can be fast and the consequence of a loss less disruptive.
- Consider cloud storage of information.
- If you absolutely must travel internationally with MIT data, materials or equipment, please see detailed guidance from MIT Global Support and the Office of General Counsel (MIT certificate required) and be sure to obtain all required authorizations and documentation
Page updated May 2023