International Travel

The Department of State only authorize “short” break in a J-1 program. Therefore, travel outside the US is only authorize for 30 days maximum.

You can leave and re-enter the US until the current J-1 visa in your passport expires. Please make sure your Form DS-2019 has been signed in blue ink by an ISSS J-1 scholar advisor within the last 12 months before you leave the US.

Applying for a New/Renewed Visa

It is fine if your visa expires while you are in the US. Your visa does not control your immigration status, and a visa does not allow you to work in the US. A visa is simply a “ticket” to apply for admission to the US.

However, if you need to travel internationally and the visa in your current passport has expired, or if you have changed immigration status within the US since obtaining your last visa (e.g., J-1 to H-1B, J-1 to O-1), you must apply for a new visa at a US consulate abroad if you travel outside the US and plan to re-enter the US.

Before Leaving the US

  • Notify your department administrator and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at least two weeks before you leave the US.
  • Review the visa appointment wait times at various consulates.
  • Make a visa appointment. Use the DOS website for appointment scheduling and visa processing information for the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for your visa.
  • 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.
  • Complete and submit Form DS-160.
  • Make sure to review the consulate’s website thoroughly and bring any necessary original documents, photographs, and/or money orders for visa fees.

We STRONGLY advise that you apply for the visa in your country of citizenship. If you intend to apply for the 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!

Document Checklist

  • Original, blue-ink-signed Form DS-2019 endorsed for travel within the last 12 months
  • Valid passport
  • Your most recent offer or extension letter signed by your supervisor and yourself (please have your current supervisor or department chair sign)
  • Your three most recent UAB pay statements printed from your Oracle Self-Service page (if employed by UAB)
  • Chart of past and current research projects at UAB
  • Current CV

Administrative Processing

Everyone who applies for a visa undergoes screening before the visa is issued. A consular officer will conduct an initial review of the application and interview you about your planned activity in the US. Please provide clear and concise information about your field of teaching, research, and/or employment. In most cases, US embassies and consulates issue the visa and return your passport within a few days or a couple of weeks. However, we have noticed a significant uptick in individuals being subject to additional review or screening via a deeper background check 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 and scan a copy of it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and your department administrator. The consulate will email you when administrative processing is completed, usually within 30 days. However, there is no set timeframe, and it can take up to 60 days. The Department of State will neither discuss nor reveal the reason for requesting administrative processing on a particular applicant, and there are no provisions for expediting review. If you have not received your passport and visa within 60 days, we will work with your department to follow the instructions provided in the 221(g) letter and provide an additional support letter for you. 

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.

Some individuals may be subject to a Security Advisory Opinion because of their country of origin, citizenship, the 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.
  • If you conduct research in certain technologically sensitive fields appearing on the TAL, the Department of State must conduct a security clearance prior to issuing a visa. Clearance may take one to several months. The TAL includes: 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. Please understand that there can be many reasons for a delay in visa issuance other than administrative processing. All applicants must fulfill multiple criteria to the satisfaction of the consular officer. The burden of proof lies with applicants to demonstrate that the documents presented are genuine and that they are eligible for the visa.

Issues that may cause problems or delays in the visa application process:

  • Inconsistent spelling of a name on documents (passport, visa application, supporting documentation).
  • Failure to read and follow the tips and guidance on the consulate’s website.
  • The consular officer cannot understand your purpose for being at UAB and therefore cannot assess the risk/benefit of granting the visa.
  • You are a citizen of a country considered to pose a risk, or your work will involve a sensitive research field listed on the Technology Alert List (“TAL”).
  • Someone else has the same or similar names as you. The consulate must rule out any incidents and resolve any “hits” the Consular Lookout (CLASS) system reveals on the name(s).

You can check the status of your visa application online via the Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center.

Out of Country Requests

The Department of State expects exchange visitors (J-1 visa holders) to participate in a continuous, uninterrupted program or research or teaching and does not allow extended absences from the US during a J-1 research program. Extended undocumented absences constitute a “break” in the exchange visitor’s research program during which program sponsors are expected to terminate the visitor’s record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

If the J-1 exchange visitor will spend more than 30 days outside the US during the research program, our office CAN use a “out-of-country” functionality IF he/she will continue his/her collaboration with UAB (i.e., conduting activities related to his/her program with UAB).

While outside the US, in order for ISSS to keep the SEVIS record active, the J-1 scholar MUST:

  • Provide ISSS with the physical address where he/she will continue to conduct research while abroad.
  • Maintain continuous insurance coverage throughout the period of program participation indicated on Form DS-2019.
  • Update ISSS with his/her contact information while abroad and keep a valid mailing address in the US.
  • Update ISSS and the UAB supervisor with his/her progress toward the end of his/her program. If UAB loses touch with the J-1 scholar, federal regulations require us to terminate the J-1 scholar’s SEVIS record, which may subject them to 12- or 24-month bars on repeat participation in the J-1 Research Scholar and/or Professor categories

If the Out-of-Country function is used for a J-1 scholar, any dependents currently in the US in J-2 status must also leave the US with the exchange visitor.

Download the Out Of Country request form (pdf)

Exceptions to Needing a Visa

Canadian Citizens

Canadian citizens applying for J-1 or J-2 visa status are not required to obtain a visa stamp at a US Embassy or Consulate to enter the US. Canadian citizens will simply need to present the following documents to the Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the port of entry:

  • Valid passport – valid at least 6 months past the end date on the form DS-2019
  • Valid DS-2019
  • Proof of required SEVIS fee payment

Be sure to that the officer stamps your passport and indicates on the stamp “J-1” and “D/S” for Duration of status under “admit until date”.

After your entry, you will be able to retrieve your electronic arrival record I-94 (I-94 website). Be sure that the I-94 list your entry as “J-1” with “D/S” as the “admit until date”. If it is not the case, please contact ISSS at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and send us copies of your passport, entry stamp and I-94.

Trips to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands

If you plan to travel to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands (i.e. Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, other British, French and Netherlands territory or possession in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea) and your visa is expired, you may be able to re-enter the US anyway.

This is known as the Automatic Travel Validation rule. More information is available on the Department of State website.

In general, the visa revalidation can be used for contiguous travel for 29 days or less so long as:

  1. the person has a multiple-entry visa (even though expired),
  2. has a valid Form I-94 and valid DS-2019 for J-1,
  3. is applying for readmission within 30 days of travel to Canada/Mexico;
  4. has an unexpired passport; and
  5. did not travel to Canada/Mexico for purpose of getting a new visa.

The automatic visa revalidation provision is possible to use for readmission so long as the above items are satisfied. Despite this provision, however, please recognize that there is never a guarantee of readmission since the person must always go through inspection. The officer at the border may also not have sufficient familiarity with the visa revalidation provision. For this reason, it is always best to have an unexpired visa.