Do I Have to Attend F1 Interview of being out of Country for more than 5 Months?

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If you are out of country for 5 months and New I-20 is issued, do you have had to attend F1 Visa interview again?

Here’s the discussion between the student who was out the US for 5+ months and DSO.


Student:

I’d come to USA in Fall 2016. I’m going to apply for my initial OPT in a few days. As of now, I do not have a job in hand. I had taken a leave of absence from the college back in Fall 2017 and went back to India. My DSO told me that I will need a new SEVIS record. I went through the visa and SEVIS process once again. Paid for visa and SEVIS. Came back in Spring 2018. Now, I am graduating this semester (Fall 2018)

According to OPT rules, I am eligible for OPT since I am in my second semester. I confirmed this at least 5 times with my DSO before coming back. Even check official rules on USCIS website.

  1. Will this situation be a problem when I file for my OPT?
  2. Has anyone here faced such an issue? Like having two semesters worth study time and then applying for OPT.

My advisor told me that I won’t require a new visa. But when I spoke to the embassy, they told me that since I’ve been outta the country for more than 5 months and have been issued a new I-20, a new visa will be required.

Luckily it turns out that you can skip the interview process and most of the steps. I think it’s called “visa dropbox” or something not exactly sure. But it depends from country to country so call the embassy/consulate and ask them if you’re eligible.

DSO:

There are several factors that influence whether or not a new visa would be required. A lot of it has to do with how your previous SEVIS record was handled, and if it was terminated for authorized early withdrawal, and then re-activated.

There are several government websites from both DHS (ICE, CBP, study in the states, etc) and DOS that specifically say that a valid visa is a valid visa. CBP has routinely expressed this at conferences- they will allow entry for a returning student regardless of whether the SEVIS ID is different or the school is different.

That being said, you should still follow the guidance you receive directly from the embassy/consulate- but keep in mind that the visa renewal policy varies depending on the consulate, and sometimes it even varies depending on who you speak to in the consulate.

From DHS Studyinthestates:

“Students returning to the United States to resume their studies after an authorized temporary absence will not need to renew their visa, if the visa is still valid. The U.S. Department of State’s policy is that a student does not need to apply for a new F-1 visa if the student’s current visa is still valid, regardless of length of time outside the United States.”

and

“If a student has been out of the United States for more than five consecutive months (and not on study abroad), they will need to obtain a new Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status,” and pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee again. Again, the student would only need to apply for a new visa if their original visa was no longer valid.”

Student:

This may not be an issue either way if you have a lot of time before your next semester. But this can be a huge deal-breaker for a student who may have just gotten their new I-20 and wants to return for a semester in like 1 or 2 days. If they believe they need to get a new visa (even if their old one has not yet expired), they may end up deferring their enrollment because they believe that they will not get a new visa in 1 or 2 days. But if they were aware of the stated guidance, they could just hop on a plane and present the previous visa at CBP upon arrival.

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