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Legal and Visa Information

Summary of Your Legal Rights & Responsibilities

Enforcing U.S. immigration laws and regulations is the responsibility of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The USCIS is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The address of the local USCIS district office is:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

John F. Kennedy Building
Government Center
Boston, MA 02203

For a listing of foreign consulate offices within the Massachusetts area refer to the U.S. Department of State

Maintaining Legal Status While in the United States

The following is a list of essential things that you, as a foreign student or scholar, are responsible for to maintain legal status in the United States:

  • Maintain required documentation. Ensure that enabling documents (Form DS-2019, I-20, I-797, etc.) and I-94 are always accurate and unexpired.
  • Engage only in activities permitted under your program and category.
  • Apply for extensions of stay prior to the expiration date on your visa documents.
  • Do not engage in unauthorized employment.
  • Do not travel outside of the U.S. without the proper re-entry documents.
  • Exchange visitors (J-1 and J-2 visa holders) are required to obtain sickness and accident insurance and maintain this insurance throughout the entire period of program participation.

As a foreign national, you have the responsibility to maintain lawful status while in the United States. Become knowledgeable and stay informed about information that impacts your status. Refer to the Immigration website and WHOI Headlines for up-to-date information and consult with the Foreign National Office should you have questions.

Important information for J-1 visa holders

Under Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), we are required to report that an exchange visitor (J-1 visa holder) has begun his or her program participation as scheduled within 30 days of the program start date on the Form DS-2019. If you are not able to arrive in the United States within 30 days from the start date on your Form DS-2019, or if your plans change and you do not use the Form DS-2019, please contact the Foreign National Advisor immediately.

The Foreign National Advisor must be notified if an exchange visitor’s program participation will end prior to the program end date on the Form DS-2019. Department of State regulations mandate notification, through SEVIS, when an exchange visitor has withdrawn from or completed a program thirty or more days prior to the ending date on his/her Form DS-2019.

Changes in Personal Information:

  • Foreign nationals other than J-1 or J-2 visa holder are required to notify the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form AR-11 within 10 days of changing their address. These foreign nationals must also notify the Foreign National Advisor within 10 days of the change. Form AR-11 is available at:
  • A Special registrant, who is monitored through SEVIS, is no longer required to separately notify the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of their change in address or institutional sponsorship. Notification to DHS through SEVIS serves as notification for the purposes of NSEERS registration. Special registrants not monitored in SEVIS, are required to file Form AR-11SR which is available at
Steamship Authority, Woods Hole
Eel Pond from Smith Cupola, woods Hole

Related Links

» US Citizenship & Immigration Services

» US Department of State
Foreign Consular Offices in the United States

» SEVIS at WHOI National Foreign Office

» Massachusetts Department of Revenue
Information regarding filing State taxes

» Internal Revenue Service
Information regarding filing federal taxes

Basic Travel Documents

Passports: Your passport is your own country's permit for you to leave or re-enter your own country. Your passport must be valid at all times. Consult your own consulate or embassy in the U.S. to renew your passport.

U.S. Visa: The consular visa stamp solely represents permission to travel to the U.S. It indicates the date until which you may enter or re-enter the U.S. It does not indicate how long you may remain the in U.S. Visas can be obtained only outside the U.S. at an American Consulate.

Form I-94, Departure Record: The I-94 shows that you have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. The I-94 is usually stapled onto the U.S. visa page of your passport. It contains an eleven digit number (called your admission number) that USCIS uses to keep track of your arrival and departure from the U.S. There may be a date written in the upper right-hand corner; you must leave the U.S. by that date, or you must apply to extend your stay. D/S (duration of status) written on the I-94 for J status means that you are allowed to stay in this country for the period indicated in item 3 of Form DS-2019, plus a 30 day grace period in which to depart the United States. Duration of status for an F-1 student is defined as the time during which the student is pursuing a full course of studies at an educational school, or engaging in authorized practical training following completion of studies.

Visa Categories: B-1, F-1, J-1, H-1B, O-1, TN

B-1/B-2 Visa Status: The B classification may be used for either business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). The B-1 category is appropriate for aliens who wish to engage in commercial, business or professional activities related to their employment or business abroad. Some typical uses of the B-1 classification are to consult with business associates, participate in scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, conferences, seminars or undertake independent research.

Aliens coming to the U.S. exclusively to observe the conduct of a business or other professional or vocational activity may be classified B-1 provided that they pay for their own expenses. Students who seek to gain practical experience must qualify under H, L, or J visa classification, when an appropriate exchange visitor program exists.

F-1 Visa Status: When students present an I-20 Form issued by an American institution to the American Consular Officer, they receive an F-1 (student) Visa. On the I-20 Form the International Student Advisor certifies to the consul and immigration officials that the student has adequate English language proficiency, adequate financial resources, and is academically qualified.

J-1 Visa Status: A J-1 Visa is issued to a participant in an Exchange Visitor Program approved by the U.S. Department of State. Participants can be in one of a variety of categories, including student, research scholar, and professor. Acceptance to a program is indicated by receipt of a Form DS-2019 which is then presented to an American consul abroad when applying for a J-1 Visa.

F-2 and J-2 Visa Status: Spouses and children of students on F-1 Visas receive an F-2 visa. F-2 Visa holders are not allowed to work in the U.S. under any circumstances. Spouses and children of J-1Visa holders receive J-2 Visas. J-2 Visa holders may apply for permission to work if they can prove that the income from work will not be used to support the J-1 Visa holder.

H-1B Visa Status: An H-1B Visa is issued for a professional to engage in temporary work in a speciality field for a maximum of 6 years.

O-1 Visa Status: Available to applicants who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics which has been demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and coming temporarily to the US to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability.

TN Visa Status: TN status is for professionals from Canada and Mexico. The visa is obtained at the border and is issued for one year at a time.

Visa Waiver Program: The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States for business (WB) or pleasure (WT) for 90 days or less without obtaining a U.S. visa

For more information visit or contact the Foreign National Office at WHOI.

Travel Outside the United States

Foreign nationals in the U.S. need to be certain that they have the documents and visas needed to enter the country they propose to visit. Current valid documents are also needed to re-enter the U.S.; for example, a J-1 visa holder must have a valid form DS-2019 endorsed for entry by the Exchange Program Responsible/Alternate Responsible Officer, and the U.S. visa must show valid dates. Documents and procedures vary, depending on the foreign national's citizenship and the country they intend to visit.

Documentation Required for Travel and Re-entry

If you plan to travel outside the U.S., you will need the following documents to re-enter:

J-1 Exchange Visitors

  • A valid passport (unless exempt from passport and visa requirements)
  • A valid visa
  • A valid Form DS-2019 endorsed for re-entry by the Exchange Program Responsible/Alternate Responsible Officer.

H-1B and O-1 Visa Holders

  • The original I-797 Approval Notice from the USCIS which is valid beyond the travel period.
  • A valid H-1B or O-1 visa stamp in the passport
  • A current letter from the employer verifying employment. (Not necessary, but may help to facilitate re-entry).
  • A valid passport (unless exempt from passport and visa requirements)

TN Visa Holders

  • Canadian. The original I-94 card valid beyond the travel period and proof of citizenship
  • Mexican. Valid TN visa, original I-94 card valid beyond the travel period

It is advisable that all important documents are photocopied before your trip and kept in a safe place in case the originals are lost.


Most aliens seeking admission to the U.S. in nonimmigrant status must have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of your anticipated stay in the U.S. Certain countries have agreements extending the passport for six months beyond the expiration date. A list of countries with passport agreements can be found at:

Effective January 23, 2007, all persons including citizens of the United States, are required to present a passport, or other accepted secure document that establishes the bearer's identity and nationality, to enter the United States when arriving by air from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It is anticipated that this requirement will extend to all land and sea border crossings effective January 1, 2008.

If you need a new visa to return, consider:

  • In the past, a nonimmigrant (F, M, J and Q-2 status only), could travel to Canada or Mexico on an expired visa, and could re-enter and be considered extended, or in the case of a nonimmigrant who had a change of status, be considered converted to the proper visa category as long as the stay was for less than 30 days. This was referred to as “Automatic Revalidation”.Effective April 2002, automatic revalidations are no longer available for citizens of “state sponsors of terrorism”, currently designated by the State Department as: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba. In addition, any nonimmigrant that chooses to apply for a new visa stamp while in contiguous territory will no longer be eligible for the “automatic revalidation”, but would rather have to wait until the new visa stamp is granted in order to re-enter the U.S. If for any reason, they are denied a new visa stamp, the foreign national will have to return to their home country to obtain a visa stamp to re-enter the U.S.
  • Individuals who are not residents in the consular district are known as third-country nationals and must have an appointment for an interview. It is recommended that you consult the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply for appointment scheduling and visa processing information. Be aware that individuals may be more likely to encounter difficulties at the time of the interview when applying for a visa outside of their home country.Individuals who have ever been out of status because they have overstayed their visa or the period authorized on the I-94 are not eligible to apply at a border post and must apply in the country of home nationality.

You should consult the Foreign National Advisor prior to travel if you have a file pending with USCIS and are unsure of travel regulations.

Since September 11, 2001, the Department of State has implemented a number of new security measures that have resulted in increased scrutiny and review of visa applications resulting in delays in processing times.

  • The Department of State is subjecting foreign nationals from certain countries to additional security clearances. Special registrants are required to be processed under a special registration program known as National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
    Special Registrants must depart the U.S. using specific ports. More information can be found at:
  • The Department of State requires all nonimmigrant males between the ages of 16 and 45, regardless of nationality and regardless of where they apply, to complete Form DS-157 (Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application). This form is in addition to the usual and customary documentation needed to apply for a visa. Further, U.S. embassies and consulates may subject any nonimmigrant visa applicant to this requirement at their discretion.
  • Individuals involved in research in fields on the Technology Alert List (TAL), the Department of State is required to conduct a security clearance prior to issuing a visa. Clearance may take one to several months.

When you travel you may encounter:

  • Delays in flights due to heightened security measures at airports and along the Canadian border.
  • Inquiries and increased review of documents at all ports-of-entry
  • Multiple inspections by several immigration or customs officials
  • Possible photocopying of documents by USCIS officials and possible videotaping of USCIS, customs or FBI interviews
  • Inspection of personal belongings, luggage, pockets or other searches

Social Security & Tax Information

Social Security Number: If you are employed in the U.S., you will need a Social Security number even if your pay is exempt from Social Security withholding (F-1 or J-1 status). To get a number, take your passport, DS-2019 or I-20 and I-94 card to the regional office of Social Security Administration located at 48 Research Road, Falmouth Technology Park (off Thomas Landers Road). Tel: 508-548-8150.

Tax Responsibility: Your tax status is determined by your visa status and the amount of time you are physically in the U.S. There are two types of tax status: nonresident and resident; determination of which category you are will determine the amount of money withheld from your paycheck. Resident aliens are taxed on world-wide income while non-resident aliens are only taxed on income "effectively connected" with their stay in the U.S. Your tax status also determines whether you will pay all three income taxes: federal, state, and social security.

The U.S. has signed tax treaties with some countries which may exempt certain individuals from taxes. For details you should obtain IRS publication #901; since every treaty is different, it is important that you find out the specifics of your treaty. Although a tax treaty may exempt you from paying income tax, you are still required to file an income tax return on the appropriate forms.

It is also mandatory to file a state tax return for Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Forms can be obtained from the IRS website, at the local library, and post office

Tax Publications

Useful publications by the IRS you may want to consult are the following:

  • Publication 901 "U.S. Tax Treaties"
  • Publication 519 "U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens"
  • Publication 520 "Scholarships and Fellowships"
  • Publication 515 "Withholding of Tax Non-resident Aliens and Foreign Corporations"

You can call the following numbers to receive free copies of the forms, instructions, and publications: Federal forms, call 800-829-3676, State 1NR forms, call 617-727-4392.

Leaving the United States

The U.S. government requires assurance that foreign nationals leaving the U.S. do not owe any taxes. Before departing the U.S., aliens must get a "Certificate of Compliance" (also called a "sailing permit" or "exit permit") issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as evidence that they have paid all taxes. Information on tax requirements for internationals can be found at:

Departure Information

  • The Foreign National Advisor must be notified if an exchange visitor’s program participation will end prior to the program end date on the Form DS-2019. Department of State regulations mandate notification, through SEVIS, when an exchange visitor has withdrawn from or completed a program thirty or more days prior to the ending date on his/her Form DS-2019.
  • Check-Out Sheet must be completed prior to leaving the Institution. Employees and Guests must sign out with Human Resources. Students, Scholars and Fellows must sign out with the Academic Programs Office.
  • The Check-Out Sheet is used to document the return to the Institution of books, keys, credit cards, I.D. cards, etc., and provides evidence of satisfactory settlement of any outstanding indebtedness, e.g., travel advance, education loans, personal purchases, etc.
  • Continuation and/or conversion privileges of health and life insurance plans are available to Regular employees who leave the Institution.
  • Coverage under the group health plans will normally stop at the end of the month in which the termination is effective. However, under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA), insured employees and their eligible dependents that have coverage in the group medical insurance plans may continue their coverage by paying the COBRA premium cost. Specific questions on eligibility can be addressed with the Benefits Specialist at the time of check-out.