Obtaining an Initial or "Renewal" Visa

Keep in mind that visa stamps are available only outside the U.S., and that their sole purpose is entry; once you are in the US, you only need to obtain a new visa if you leave the U.S. and want to return in the same status. There is no abbreviated visa application process for individuals who apply for a “renewal” visa. If you are only traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean islands, you may be eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation. For an overview of the difference between your immigration status and your visa, please see this document.

To obtain a new visa, you need the following documents:

J-1 Scholars and their dependents

H-1B Employees and their dependents

NOTE: If you are planning to renew in a third country (i.e. not in your home country), be sure to check ahead of time to make sure the consulate will accept third country applicants.


Security Checks

In response to applications for visas, consulates frequently initiate security checks, based either on the applicant's field of study or research, or on ties that may be actual (by citizenship or birth) or assumed, such as with a country having a predominantly Arab or Muslim population. Individuals from China often receive background checks as well. These checks usually take six to eight weeks, although occasionally they take longer. Once the Visa Officer initiates a security check, the consulate must wait for an answer from Washington, D.C. to issue an entry visa. No matter how long the delay lasts, neither the consulates nor the Department of State in Washington can influence the length of the background check.  Pleas by universities or applicants that the delays are causing inconvenience or hardship do not have an effect on the process.  Security checks may be repeated! Even after you have undergone one security check, another may be made each subsequent time that you apply for a visa, even after a short visit abroad, and even if you will be returning to continue your study or employment at the same institution in the U.S. Please notify your adviser if you are subjected to a background check. It is also wise to discuss the possibility with your PI or academic adviser before you travel, notifying them that you may be delayed in your return to research, classes, etc. Please remain patient with the system.

If you might be subject to a background check based on your research in a field of science or technology that is tagged for closer scrutiny based on the so-called Technology Alert List, you may be able to forestall or at least shorten the check if you bring a letter from your department or PI with you detailing your research. Please visit the section on background check letters for more information.