Primarily, two US government agencies are involved in the international travel process. The Department of State issues visas, while Customs and Border Protection (CBP, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security) grants admission at US ports of entry. International travel is a dehumanizing process for everyone, but it can be even more frustrating and intimidating for international employees. Please be honest, patient, and courteous with all US government officials – even if they are not so with you.

You may experience some or all of the following during your international travel:
  • Delays in domestic and international flights due to heightened security measures.
  • Fingerprinting and/or digital photography taken upon entering the US.
  • Inquiries and increased review of documents.
  • Multiple inspections by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and/or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.
  • Photocopying of documents by immigration officials and possible videotaping of interviews with CBP and/or ICE officers.
  • Inspection of personal belongings, luggage, pockets, or other items. CBP issued a new directive on the Border Search of Electronic Devices in January 2018. Please be aware that your phone, laptop, tablet, etc. may be seized and examined upon re-entry to the US.

If you need to apply for a new visa while abroad, we STRONGLY advise that you travel to your country of citizenship. If you intend to apply for a visa in a country other than your country of citizenship (known as "third country processing"), please be aware that there is no guarantee that a visa will be issued, nor is there a guarantee of processing time. If your application is refused, your application fee will not be refunded. Some US embassies and consulates do not process third-country requests. Check before you go!

  • Students
  • Scholars
  • Employees

Bring your passport and your Form I-20 (for F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 exchange students and student interns) to ISSS at least two weeks before the date you plan to leave the US. We will review your documents, provide you with up-to-date travel advice, and sign your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 for travel. Travel signatures are valid for one year from the date signed. We strongly recommend that you bring the following documents when you travel outside the US:
  • Form I-20/DS-2019 endorsed by ISSS for international travel within the last year
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date on which you intend to return to the US (some airlines will not let you board a plane without a passport valid for at least this long)
  • A printout of your current transcript from BlazerNET proving that you have been maintaining valid F-1 or J-1 student status by being full-time enrolled
  • Letter of good standing from ISSS
  • If a PhD student, a letter from your department describing your research area and stating that it is unclassified research.

If you are an F-1 student on OPT or STEM OPT, in addition to the above items, please also bring:
  • Your EAD card
  • A letter from your current employer verifying that you are working pursuant to OPT

Visa Appointments


Your visa is not your immigration status. A visa is simply a “ticket” to apply for admission to the US. It is OK if your initial visa expires while you are in the US, but if you travel internationally (with some narrow exceptions for trips to Canada, Mexico, or “adjacent islands”) you must apply for a new visa before you will be allowed to re-enter the US.
  • Consult the DOS website for appointment scheduling and visa processing information for the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. Most embassies and consulates require in-person interviews before issuing visas, especially for your first renewal.
  • Some US embassies and consulates offer mail-in or “drop box” service for second or subsequent visa applications.
  • Visit the Department of State’s website to learn about visa fees. You will be required to pay this fee along with the reciprocity fee for your country.
  • You must complete and submit Form DS-160, and all applicants for student and exchange visitor visas (F, J) must also submit Form DS-158. An additional security clearance may be conducted following review of the forms that may take from one to several months.
  • All male non-immigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must also submit Form DS-157.

Administrative Processing and Security Advisory Opinions

All individuals who apply for a visa at a US consulate or embassy are screened before the visa is issued, regardless of nationality. A consular officer will conduct an initial review of the application and interview the applicant about the planned activity in the US. Clear and concise information about the student or scholar’s teaching, research, or other activity should be provided. In most cases, the visa is issued within a matter of days or weeks. However, in some cases, further checks are needed.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process:
  • Your name is not consistently spelled on all documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation). The name given on the visa application and supporting documentation should be exactly the same as the name listed in the passport.
  • You did not read and follow the tips and guidance on the consulate’s website.
  • The consular officer cannot understand the kind of work you do and therefore cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the visa. A security clearance will likely be requested if the field is unclear.
  • You are from a country considered to pose a risk, or are working in a research field listed on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”) (see below).
  • Other individuals have the same or similar names. The consulate must rule out any incidents and resolve any “hits” the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system reveals on the name(s) in question.
The consular officer may tell you that a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) or Administrative Review is needed and that you will be notified when it has been completed. In most cases, security clearances are completed within 30 days; however, there is no set time frame. The Department of State will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for requesting an SAO on a particular case, and there are no provisions for expediting review.

We have noticed a significant uptick in individuals being subject to additional review or screening prior to receiving their visa. This is known as “administrative processing,” and if you are selected for it, the consular officer should provide you with an explanation known as a “221(g) letter.” Please notify ISSS immediately if you are selected for administrative processing and receive a 221(g) letter. We will work with your department to provide an additional support letter for you. We have noticed that most 221(g) letters ask for the same documents, therefore we strongly suggest bringing the following with you whenever you apply for a new visa:
  • Your current CV, with updated UAB title/role, lab, projects, publications, etc.
  • A letter or chart of your current and past research projects at UAB

Information for Departments Whose Student Is Selected for Administrative Processing


Notify ISSS immediately so that we can advise and provide additional guidance or a support letter as necessary. We track these cases for trends, etc. The Department of State strongly discourages inquiries until at least 30 days have passed, and bugging them will likely result in additional delays. Please do not use outside channels to request political assistance. Unfortunately, congressional offices are unable to help expedite visa issuance. The Department of State considers this to be a matter of national security and will not circumvent the security advisory opinion/ administrative review process under any circumstances. Regardless, UAB (and the University of Alabama System) has a protocol for obtaining congressional assistance, and we must operate within that protocol.

If the student selected for administrative processing is being paid by UAB (e.g., has a Student Assistantship, Graduate Research Assistantship, on-campus job, etc.), departments must decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle HR issues about continuing pay and benefits until the individual returns to the US. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, charge vacation days, or terminate employment should be made at the departmental level. Once a decision is reached, please notify ISSS.

Please understand that there can be many reasons for a delay in visa issuance in addition to administrative processing. All applicants must fulfill multiple criteria to the satisfaction of the consular officer. The burden of proof lies on the applicant to demonstrate that the documents presented are genuine, the stated objectives are accurate, he/she has adequate financial resources, and he/she intends to return to the home country upon completion of their F-1 or J-1 student program.


Please email ISSS at isss@uab.edu at least two weeks before the date you plan to leave the US and let us know a) what country you are visiting and b) whether you will need to apply for a new visa to re-enter the US. We will review your documents, provide you with up-to-date travel advice, and sign your Form DS-2019 for travel (if you are a J-1 scholar). Travel signatures are valid for one year from the date signed. We strongly recommend that you bring the following documents with you when you travel outside the US:
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date on which you intend to return to the US (some airlines will not let you board a plane without a passport valid for at least this long)
  • Copy of your current CV
  • DS-2019 endorsed by ISSS for international travel within the last year (J-1 scholars only) - Book an Appointment
  • A letter from your department with the dates of your current appointment, plus:
    • A brief 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 UAB to resume your research
    Please instruct your department administrator to use our Employment Letter for US Consulate as a sample and draft one for your supervisor’s signature.
  • Your three most recent UAB pay statements printed from your Oracle Self-Service page (if employed by UAB)
  • Financial documents showing support for the remaining time on your DS-2019 (if you are a self-funded J-1 scholar)

Visa Appointments


Your visa is not your immigration status. A visa is simply a “ticket” to apply for admission to the US. It is OK if your initial visa expires while you are in the US, but if you travel internationally (with some narrow exceptions for trips to Canada, Mexico, or “adjacent islands”) you must apply for a new visa before you will be allowed to re-enter the US.
  • Consult the DOS website for appointment scheduling and visa processing information for the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. Most embassies and consulates require in-person interviews before issuing visas, especially for your first renewal.
  • Some US embassies and consulates offer mail-in or “drop box” service for second or subsequent visa applications.
  • Visit the Department of State’s website to learn about visa fees. You will be required to pay this fee along with the reciprocity fee for your country.
  • You must complete and submit Form DS-160, and all applicants for student and exchange visitor visas (F, J) must also submit Form DS-158. An additional security clearance may be conducted following review of the forms that may take from one to several months.
  • All male non-immigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must also submit Form DS-157.

Administrative Processing and Security Advisory Opinions

All individuals who apply for a visa at a US consulate or embassy are screened before the visa is issued, regardless of nationality. A consular officer will conduct an initial review of the application and interview the applicant about the planned activity in the US. Clear and concise information about the student or scholar’s teaching, research, or other activity should be provided. In most cases, the visa is issued within a matter of days or weeks. However, in some cases, further checks are needed.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process:
  • Your name is not consistently spelled on all documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation). The name given on the visa application and supporting documentation should be exactly the same as the name listed in the passport.
  • You did not read and follow the tips and guidance on the consulate’s website.
  • The consular officer cannot understand the kind of work you do and therefore cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the visa. A security clearance will likely be requested if the field is unclear.
  • You are from a country considered to pose a risk, or are working in a research field listed on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”) (see below).
  • Other individuals have the same or similar names. The consulate must rule out any incidents and resolve any “hits” the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system reveals on the name(s) in question.
The consular officer may tell you that a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) or Administrative Review is needed and that you will be notified when it has been completed. In most cases, security clearances are completed within 30 days; however, there is no set time frame. The Department of State will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for requesting an SAO on a particular case, and there are no provisions for expeditious handling of reviews.

We have noticed a significant uptick in individuals being subject to additional review or screening prior to receiving their visa. This is known as “administrative processing,” and if you are selected for it, the consular officer should provide you with an explanation known as a “221(g) letter.” Please notify ISSS immediately if you are selected for administrative processing and receive a 221(g) letter. We will work with your department to provide an additional support letter for you. We have noticed that most 221(g) letters ask for the same documents, therefore we strongly suggest bringing the following with you whenever you apply for a new visa:
  • Your current CV, with updated UAB title/role, lab, projects, publications, etc.
  • A letter or chart of your current and past research projects at UAB

If you are employed or conduct research in a technologically or biologically “sensitive” field, consult your supervisor or faculty advisor to discuss contingency plans in the event you are placed under administrative processing or face security clearance issues. Administrative processing can take at least one month (and often up to 60 days).

  • Some individuals may be subject to a Security Advisory Opinion because of their country of origin, citizenship, field of study/research, or at the discretion of the Consular Officer. Security Advisory Opinions commonly take 6 to 8 weeks, but may take longer in some cases. As a reminder, citizens of Iran, Sudan, and Syria cannot apply for a visa in Canada or Mexico.
  • If an SAO is requested, the consular post will ask the Department of State to initiate the process of requesting clearances from various government agencies and databases including the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Interpol, the national criminal and law enforcement databases, the DOS Bureau of Non-proliferation, and others. The Bureau of Non-proliferation is concerned with technology transfer and other issues. It considers lasers and many other technologies studied and researched at UAB to be “sensitive” technologies with possibly risky applications or risk of being exported.
  • For scholars conducting research in certain technologically sensitive fields appearing on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”), the Department of State must conduct a security clearance prior to issuing an initial US entry visa or extension of visa through a US embassy or consulate abroad. Clearance may take one to several months. The TAL includes: conventional munitions; nuclear technology; rocket systems; unmanned air vehicle subsystems; navigation, avionics, and flight control usable in rocket systems; chemical, biotechnological, and biomedical engineering; remote sensing, imaging, and reconnaissance; advanced computer/microelectronic technology; materials technology; information security; laser and directed energy systems technology; sensors and sensor technology; marine technology; robotics; and urban planning.

Information for Departments Whose Scholar Is Selected for Administrative Processing


Notify ISSS immediately so that we can advise and provide additional guidance or a support letter as necessary. We track these cases for trends, etc. The Department of State strongly discourages inquiries until at least 30 days have passed, and bugging them will likely result in additional delays. Please do not use outside channels to request political assistance. Unfortunately, congressional offices are unable to help expedite visa issuance. The Department of State considers this to be a matter of national security and will not circumvent the security advisory opinion/ administrative review process under any circumstances. Regardless, UAB (and the University of Alabama System) has a protocol for obtaining congressional assistance, and we must operate within that protocol.

If the scholar selected for administration processing is being paid and/or benefitted by UAB, departments and centers must decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle HR issues about continuing pay and benefits until the individual returns to the US. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, charge vacation days, or terminate employment should be made at the departmental level. Once a decision is reached, please notify ISSS. We may need to amend, refile, or withdraw immigration documentation that UAB filed with the Department of Labor and/or Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of the individual.

Please understand that there can be many reasons for a delay in visa issuance in addition to administrative processing. All applicants must fulfill multiple criteria to the satisfaction of the consular officer. The burden of proof lies on the applicant to demonstrate that the documents presented are genuine, the stated objectives are accurate, the scholar has adequate financial resources, and the scholar intends to return to the home country upon completion of the J-1 program.


Please email ISSS at isss@uab.edu at least two weeks before the date you plan to leave the US and let us know a) what country you are visiting and b) whether you will need to apply for a new visa to re-enter the US. We will review your documents and provide you with up-to-date travel advice. We strongly recommend that you bring the following documents when you travel outside the US:
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date on which you intend to return to the US (some airlines will not let you board a plane without a passport valid for at least this long)
  • Copy of your LCA (which you should have received and signed for when we filed your H-1B)
  • Your original H-1B approval notice
  • Your three most recent UAB pay statements printed from your Oracle Self-Service page (if concurrently employed with HSF, please also bring your three most recent HSF pay statements)
  • A letter from your department with the dates of your current appointment, plus:
    • A brief 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 UAB to resume your research and/or to continue contributing to patient care
    Please point your department administrator to our Employment Letter for US Consulate to use as a sample when drafting one for your supervisor’s signature.

Visa Appointments


Your visa is not your immigration status. A visa is simply a “ticket” to apply for admission to the US. It is OK if your initial visa expires while you are in the US, but if you travel internationally (with some narrow exceptions for trips to Canada, Mexico, or “adjacent islands”) you must apply for a new visa before you will be allowed to re-enter the US.

  • Consult the DOS website for appointment scheduling and visa processing information for the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. Most embassies and consulates require in-person interviews before issuing visas, especially for your first renewal.
  • Some US embassies and consulates offer mail-in or “drop box” service for second or subsequent visa applications.
  • Visit the Department of State’s website to learn about visa fees. You will be required to pay this fee along with the reciprocity fee for your country.
  • You must complete and submit Form DS-160.
  • All male non-immigrant visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, must also submit Form DS-157. An additional security clearance may be conducted following review of the forms that may take from one to several months.

Administrative Processing and Security Advisory Opinions

All individuals who apply for a visa at a US consulate or embassy are screened before the visa is issued, regardless of nationality. A consular officer will conduct an initial review of the application and interview the applicant about the planned activity in the US. Clear and concise information about your teaching, research, or other activity should be provided. In most cases, the visa is issued within a matter of days or weeks. However, in some cases, further checks are needed.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process:
  • Your name is not consistently spelled on all documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation). The name given on the visa application and supporting documentation should be exactly the same as the name listed in the passport.
  • You did not read and follow the tips and guidance on the consulate’s website.
  • The consular officer cannot understand the kind of work you do and therefore cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the visa. A security clearance will likely be requested if the field is unclear.
  • You are from a country considered to pose a risk, or are working in a research field listed on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”) (see below).
  • Other individuals have the same or similar names. The consulate must rule out any incidents and resolve any “hits” the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system reveals on the name(s) in question.

The consular officer may tell you that a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) or Administrative Review is needed and that you will be notified when it has been completed. In most cases, security clearances are completed within 30 days; however, there is no set time frame. The Department of State will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for requesting an SAO on a particular case, and there are no provisions for expediting review.

We have noticed a significant uptick in individuals being subject to additional review or screening prior to receiving their visa. This is known as “administrative processing,” and if you are selected for it, the consular officer should provide you with an explanation known as a “221(g) letter.” Please notify ISSS immediately if you are selected for administrative processing and receive a 221(g) letter. We will work with your department to provide an additional support letter for you. We have noticed that most 221(g) letters ask for the same documents, therefore we strongly suggest bringing the following with you whenever you apply for a new visa:
  • Your current CV, with updated UAB title/role, lab, projects, publications, etc.
  • A letter or chart of your current and past research projects at UAB

If you are employed or conduct research in a technologically or biologically “sensitive” field, consult your supervisor or faculty advisor to discuss contingency plans in the event you are placed under administrative processing or face security clearance issues. Administrative processing can take at least one month (and often up to 60 days).

  • Some individuals may be subject to a Security Advisory Opinion because of their country of origin, citizenship, field of study/research, or at the discretion of the Consular Officer. Security Advisory Opinions commonly take 6 to 8 weeks, but may take longer in some cases. As a reminder, citizens of Iran, Sudan, and Syria cannot apply for a visa in Canada or Mexico.
  • If an SAO is requested, the consular post will ask the Department of State to initiate the process of requesting clearances from various government agencies and databases including the FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Asset Control, Interpol, the national criminal and law enforcement databases, the DOS Bureau of Non-proliferation, and others. The Bureau of Non-proliferation is concerned with technology transfer and other issues. It considers lasers and many other technologies studied and researched at UAB to be “sensitive” technologies with possibly risky applications or risk of being exported.
  • For scholars conducting research in certain technologically sensitive fields appearing on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”), the Department of State must conduct a security clearance prior to issuing an initial US entry visa or extension of visa through a US embassy or consulate abroad. Clearance may take one to several months. The TAL includes: conventional munitions; nuclear technology; rocket systems; unmanned air vehicle subsystems; navigation, avionics, and flight control usable in rocket systems; chemical, biotechnological, and biomedical engineering; remote sensing, imaging, and reconnaissance; advanced computer/microelectronic technology; materials technology; information security; laser and directed energy systems technology; sensors and sensor technology; marine technology; robotics; and urban planning.

Information for Departments Whose Employee Is Selected for Administrative Processing


Notify ISSS immediately so that we can advise and provide additional guidance or a support letter as necessary. We track these cases for trends, etc. The Department of State strongly discourages inquiries until at least 30 days have passed, and bugging them will likely result in additional delays. Please do not use outside channels to request political assistance. Unfortunately, congressional offices are unable to help expedite visa issuance. The Department of State considers this to be a matter of national security and will not circumvent the security advisory opinion/ administrative review process under any circumstances. Regardless, UAB (and the University of Alabama System) has a protocol for obtaining congressional assistance, and we must operate within that protocol.

If an employee is selected for administrative processing, departments and centers must decide on a case-by-case basis how to handle HR issues about continuing pay and benefits until the individual returns to the US. Decisions about whether to place someone on unpaid leave, charge vacation days, or terminate employment should be made at the departmental level. Once a decision is reached, please notify ISSS. We may need to amend, refile, or withdraw immigration documentation that UAB filed with the Department of Labor and/or Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of the affected employee.

Please understand that there can be many reasons for a delay in visa issuance in addition to administrative processing. All applicants must fulfill multiple criteria to the satisfaction of the consular officer. The burden of proof lies on the applicant to demonstrate that the documents presented are genuine.