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Questions from DSOs: Do Students Returning from Temporary Absences Need New Visas?

January 26, 2017

Questions from Designated School Officials is a blog series on Study in the States for designated school officials (DSOs). Each month, we will answer a question that will help you advise your F and/or M students. If you are a DSO and would like to submit a question, you can email us or ask us via social media, your field representative or the SEVP Response Center. We may edit questions for clarity and consistency, and may not feature all submissions on Study in the States.

Students returning to the United States to resume their studies after an authorized temporary absence will not need to renew their visa, if the visa is still valid. The U.S. Department of State’s policy is that a student does not need to apply for a new F-1 visa if the student’s current visa is still valid, regardless of length of time outside the United States.  

An F-1 student may take an authorized temporary absence if they need to take time away from their studies due to an unforeseen circumstance while school is in session. When a student takes an authorized temporary absence, their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record must be set to Terminated for Authorized Early Withdrawal.

If you manage an international student who took an authorized temporary absence of less than five months, you can correct their record in SEVIS to Active status when they are ready to return and re-enroll in school. Returning their record to Active will allow that student to re-enter the United States using their previous SEVIS ID number. For information about how to properly correct a student’s SEVIS record after a temporary absence, please refer to the Study in the States blog and the SEVIS Help Hub.

However, if a student has been out of the United States for more than five consecutive months (and not on study abroad), they will need to obtain a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” and pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again.  Again, the student would only need to apply for a new visa if their original visa was no longer valid.

Please also note that a valid visa does not guarantee entrance into the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the U.S. port of entry ultimately make the decision to admit people into the country, not the Department of State. For more information about this process, please visit our Getting to the United States resource page.

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