Visa versus Status

As an international student in the US you may be asked from time to time about your “visa” or your “status”. While in most situations in the US the two are interchangeable, it is a good idea for you to know the difference.

A visa is a stamp in your passport issued by a US Embassy or Consulate overseas (they cannot be obtained in the US).  The purpose of the visa is to allow you to be taken to a US port of entry to determine whether you are eligible for admission to the United States.  After you have been admitted to the US, the visa in your passport does not need to remain valid for you to be in the country legally.  However, if you travel outside of the U.S., a valid F-1/J-1 student visa may be required for your re-entry. We strongly encourage to visit OISSS prior to your leaving.  In addition, a valid travel signature on form I-20 or DS-2019 is required for F-1/J-1 students.

Status:As an international student, you are granted status upon clearing inspection at a US Port of Entry (airport). Your status can be found on your I-94 card, the small white card given to you at the airport or the one you printed out the form I-94 at the Department of Homeland Security website.  This card grants you permission to remain in the US while pursuing your degree as long as you maintain your nonimmigrant status. Your I-94 card will show the date of entry into the US and your status, i.e. F-1 or J-1. You will also notice the abbreviation “D/S” written on your I-94 card. "D/S” stands for “Duration of Status.” This means that your nonimmigrant status will remain valid while you pursue your degree as long as you maintain your status.

Please make photocopies of your visa, I-94 card, I-20, and passport and keep them in a safe place. Should your original documents be lost or stolen, they are easier to replace if you can provide copies.

Travel within the US

OISSS encourages all international students who plan to travel to carry their original passport, I-94 card and I-20 or DS-2019 with them. The documents will clearly identify you as a student and provide immediate identification of your nationality. It is recommended that you obtain a notarized copy of an original passport and keep the copy in a safe location in case of loss of the original document.

While in the United States, students are encouraged to travel within Texas and other states during university break periods

  • By Air:  Air travel can be arranged by contacting a travel agent (listed in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book) that will make your flight arrangements free of charge to you.
  • By Bus: By bus, you can travel long and short distances relatively inexpensively. Check the Yellow Pages under "Bus Lines" for information. Inquire if they offer student discounts.
  • By rental car: If you wish to rent a car, you must have a U.S. driver's license and usually once credit card. Note that most rental agencies require the person renting the car to be at least 25 years of age. Rates can vary between rental companies-call and compare. You can find "Automobile Renting and Leasing" in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book.

Travel Abroad

Travel advisories

If you are planning to travel during the summer months, holiday season, or breaks, International Student Services recommends the following:

Any international student, faculty or staff member traveling abroad should bring their travel documents to OISSS for review before leaving the U.S. This includes the passport, U.S. immigration forms (I-20, DS-2019, I-797, etc) and I-94 white card. Those who non-immigrant visa stamp has expired will have to apply for a new visa to re-enter the U.S.

Information that may affect the travel plans of many international students, faculty and staff.

Contact your own Consulate to determine what travel precautions they suggest.

  • Contact the U.S. State Department website to view travel advisories.
  • If you had approval to take a reduced course load, document should be carried with you
  • If you know that you will need a visa when you travel outside the U.S., come to OISSS and speak to a Designated School Official (DSO). Also check the U.S. Consulate website where you will be renewing your visa for updated advisories.
  • If you need a visa on a short trip, remember that due to many changes in obtaining visas, visa issuance may not be as immediate as previously experienced.
  • If you are not maintaining your F-1 or J-1 status, and you need to travel, speak with the DSO before you travel outside the U.S.
  • If you are planning a trip to Mexico, there have been significant changes in applying for a Mexican entry visa. You can expect delays up to 30 days when applying for a visa to enter Mexico. Please call the Mexican Consulate or visiting their website.
  • Passport, Visa, I-94 Card
  • I-20 or DS-2019
  • Official Transcripts (obtained at the Registrar's Office)
  • Financial Support Letters
  • Letter of Good Standing (obtained at International Student Services)

There have been several updates concerning visa issuance for international students, scholars and visitors traveling abroad.

The State Department announced that all men between ages 16 and 45 from certain Arab and Muslim countries will be subject to a waiting period for non-immigrant visa applications that will add an additional time period of up to 20 working days to the application process.

It is important to realize that new regulations make it mandatory for all visa applicants to interview with a consular officer in person, even in your home country. The could create serious delays in visa issuance, especially in countries where interviews were not previously required. Consulates and embassies are more frequently conducting background checks on individuals, resulting in significant delays in visa processing times. Background checks can be triggered by arrests in the United States, your major, certain courses that you may have taken that appear on your transcript, or by being from a country that requires a background check before the issuance of a visa.

If you need to apply for a visa outside the U.S.

It is imperative for anyone traveling out of the U.S. who will need a visa to check the web site of the U.S. consulate or embassy concerning processing times and procedures at

If you are planning to have your visa renewed at any border post

Non-Mexican F-1 continuing students in full-time degree programs who can demonstrate that their initial F-1 visa was issued in their home country can apply for an F-1 visa renewal at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez or Matamoros, Mexico. Students who do apply for an F-1 visa in Mexico or Canada must remember the risks that involved in applying for a visa in either of these countries.

Re-entry into the U.S. will be based on the successful approval of a visa. If a visa application is denied, you will no longer be able to enter the U.S. on an expired visa and I-94 card. Students that are subject to a background/security check will not be able to re-enter the U.S. until the background/security check is complete and the visa is approved. Non-Mexican J-1 student visa holders are not eligible to apply for a visa renewal at Ciudad.

If you have had difficulties at a border post

TRIP: The Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs—like airports and train stations—or crossing U.S. borders

This page was last updated on: June 20, 2018