Form I-20 Travel Signature Explained (F1/J1 Visa International Students Travel Tips)

In this article, you will learn about the travel signature on the form I-20 and DS-2019 given to F1 visa and J1 visa international students, respectively and what you can do if you travel outside the US with an expired travel signature.

It’s very important to pay attention to your travel signature when making plans to depart the United States. Make sure you read this article to the end as you are going to learn what you can do if you realize too late that your travel signature has expired.

Form I-20 Travel Signature

The travel signature is an endorsement provided by your Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Officer (RO) or your school’s International Student office to international students and given to continuing international students on an F1 or J-1 visa status respectively.

This endorsement can be found on page two or three on the Form I-20 for F1 Visa student and on page one of the DS-2019 for J-1 Visa students.

New international students on an F1 or J1 visa entering the US for the first time do not get a travel signature on their initial Form I-20 or from DS-2019.

But after entering the US and enrolling in a program of study as an active F1 or J1 student, a new I-20 or DS-2019 for continued attendance will be given. This new I-20 would contain a travel signature.

The purpose of this travel signature is to serve as a permission to seek entry back into the US when an international student travels outside the United States.

Nonetheless, the travel signature is not a required documents to depart the United States as an international student.

How Long is Travel Signature Valid?

Depending on your academic status, the validity of your travel signature could be for either 6 months or 12 months.

For example, F1 and J-1 students completing their program receive a travel signature that is valid for about 12 months or until the end of their program completion date whichever is sooner, while F1 and J1 students who have completed their programs and are engaged in F1 OPT, F1 STEM OPT, and J1 Academic Training receive travel signatures valid for 6 months or until the end of the respective training period whichever is sooner.

So making travel plans outside of the US, you should ALWAYS ensure that the travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 will be valid on the day you plan to return to the United States.

Otherwise, you should obtain a new travel signature from your Designated school official (F1 students) or your representative official (for J1 students) prior to your departure from the US.

What to do if you forgot to get I-20 travel signature and traveled outside the US?

A quite common scenario F1 and J-1 international students find themselves in is forgetting to obtain a travel signature before traveling outside of the US. So what can you do if you realize that you departed the US with an expired travel signature?

If you find yourself in this predicament, you’ve two options to consider:

Your first option will be to contact your school’s International Student office and request that a new I-20 or DS-2019 with an updated travel signature be mailed to your international address.

Now this would only make sense if you have enough time to receive your updated travel signature before embarking on your return trip to the US. If this is not the case, then you might want to consider delaying your return trip to the US until you’ve received your updated travel signature.

As at the time of posting this article, due to the ongoing pandemic F1 International students do not need to have an originally signed from I-20 in order to enter the US as they can do so with an electronically signed from I-20, but this is subject to change at any time now.

Option number two is quite risky, as you may be denied entry into the US, but you could proceed to travel to the US and seek entry with this expired travel signature.

In some instances, this may be your only option, as is the case with some international students who find out at the Port of entry that their travel signature was expired before their departure from the US.

Now with this option, if a US Customs officer admits you into the US, you’ll be given a form called the I515A. This form is a notice that requires you to correct the entry deficiencies determined upon your arrival to the US within 30 days of your entry.

For F1 and J1 international students entering the US with an expired travel signature, you will be required to obtain a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 respectively and send that to the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) as well as all other documents listed on your Form I515A.

If you have been given an I515A, it’s best to contact your international office as soon as possible to receive proper guidance.

Now, as you can see to avoid all these unnecessary headaches, it’s best to make it a habit to check your travel signature in advance of your travel outside of the US.

Some Questions and Answers

Question: I got visa interview before two years, but it got rejected. So now I am planning to reapply, this time I need the new signature on my F2 I-20?

Answer: No you don’t need travel signature to apply for your initial F1 or F2 visa. Travel signature is given by the DSO after you enroll in your academic program in the US.

Question: What if you’re still studying with a valid student visa, and u need to travel to Canada for 2 weeks and come back. What are the procedures?

Answer: The same as traveling to any other country. You will have to meet the travel requirements to enter Canada. Now, for a special case where your US student visa is expired, you can use what is called Automatic Visa Revalidation to reenter the US after visiting Canada for 2 weeks.

Question: If my English 6 month program finish and I want to go to another school, I have to go back in my country or with the same visa F1 I can enroll to any school program?

Answer: You can transfer to the new program without leaving the USA, as long as you get an I20 from the new school program. Your US visa is only important when you try to enter the US. After you enter the US, the conditions of your US status will determine how long you are allowed to remain in the US.

I hope you found this article as a helpful resource.

DISCLAIMER: This article/post and content is designed for general information only and is NOT legal advice. I am not a licensed attorney and so the information presented in this post should not be construed to be formal legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may contact a licensed attorney.