Steps to Apply for U.S. Visa Abroad

The events of September 11, 2001 have resulted in many additional security measures to protect travelers and others from terrorist attacks. Procedures and requirements for visa application or renewal vary from consulate to consulate, and from country to country. It is your responsibility to obtain information regarding travel and visa application requirements before leaving the United States (U.S.) Remember that the visa stamp in your passport does not need to remain valid while you are in the U.S. Visa stamp renewal is only required if you have left the U.S. and wish to return to continue your studies, teaching/research activities, or temporary employment. Remember that once you enter the U.S., your visa stamp does not need to remain valid. If you plan to travel abroad and your visa stamp has expired, you must apply for a visa stamp at a U.S. consular post abroad.

The following resources will assist you in gathering information about these requirements and taking the necessary steps to ensure as smooth a visa renewal process as possible.

  1. Consult the Office of International Affairs: If you plan to travel and your visa stamp is no longer valid, contact your International Affairs Advisor well in advance to determine what documents or signatures you will need from this office to renew your visa stamp while you are overseas
  2. Review State Department general information about applying for a U.S. visa at http://travel.state.gov/visa/
  3. Visit the web page of the United States consular post in the city and country where you plan to apply for your visa at http://usembassy.state.gov/. Look under “nonimmigrant visas” or the specific visa type for which you will apply. Be sure to verify the procedure to apply for the visa, and how long it may take for the visa to be issued. Remember that this may vary from consulate to consulate and may change without notice, so monitor the web site frequently prior to your visa appointment.
  4. Read about general security measures relating to visa issuance and renewal :http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/info/info_1336.html
  5. Consider the possibility that a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) may be required: Certain individuals applying for U.S. visa stamps at consular posts abroad may be subject to a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) before the visa can be issued. If this happens it will cause a delay of 20 days or longer before the visa is issued.
  6. Some factors that might result in an SAO include:

    • National of a country suspected to support terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria are considered “state sponsors of terrorism”, but nationals of other countries might also be required to undergo an SAO
    • Field of Specialization is on the Technology Alert List (TAL): The fields listed are very broad, e.g. “Biological Science”, so it is difficult to predict whether an SAO will be required. These are referred to as “Visas Mantis” clearances.
    • Name Check “Hit”: Many people’s names are similar or even identical. If a person with the same name is listed in any of a number of government database lists as a criminal suspect, you may be required to undergo an SAO to determine that you are not that person.

    Other information provided to consular staff and/or consular staff intuition: A consular officer who finds a visa applicant unusual or suspicious could require an SAO The State Department has revised it’s regulations regarding the validity period of an SAO. Provided there is no change in the “approved program” the following guidelines apply:

    • F-1 student--duration of approved academic program up to four years
    • J-1 exchange visitor--duration of approved program up to two years
    • H-1B specialty occupation workers--duration of approved program up to two year

  7. Notify immediate supervisor of plans to travel: If possible, make a plan with your supervisor to cover your duties in the event that your return to UTMB is unexpectedly delayed.
  8. Schedule time in your trip to apply for the visa: Be sure to allow sufficient time to obtain a visa renewal when making airline and other travel plans. Without an appropriate valid visa stamp you will not be permitted to board your flight and/or be readmitted to the United States.
  9. Visa approval cannot be guaranteed: Remember that the outcome of a visa appointment cannot be guaranteed. Whether to approve or deny the visa is the decision of the consular officer. If the visa application is denied, you should be given the reason(s) for denial in writing. This may help you prepare for future visa applications.
  10. Provide copies of your new visa stamp and Form I-94 to the Office of International Affairs: Once you return, please visit the Office of Diversity and International Affairs so that we can make copies of your new documents. Also, please share information regarding your experiences in applying for visas overseas or in Mexico or Canada. Your feedback is helpful to us in advising other international students and staff.

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