Travel Problems? DHS Can Help!

Do you experience problems when traveling through a U.S. Port of Entry? Have you been informed by a U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Officer that your record is not properly reflected in the CBP database? Are you frequently required to go through secondary screening at the airport or border?

If so, I am eager to tell you about the following resource offered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS offers a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program called DHS Trip, which according to their website, is designed for travelers who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties experienced during travel screening at transportation hubs—like airports and train stations—or crossing U.S. borders.

Per DHS, you can use DHS Trip to report your travel issues, such as:

• watch list issues
• screening problems at ports of entry
• situations where travelers believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly delayed, denied boarding or identified for additional screening at our nation’s transportation hubs

Once your inquiry is submitted, you will receive case number and be able to track the status of your inquiry online.

Here’s hoping that all of your future travels to the United States are without difficulties – or, if not, that your problems are resolved promptly through use of this resource!

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Posted in General, Immigration Updates

An American Thanksgiving

Remember that Thanksgiving episode of Friends where Joey gets a turkey stuck on his head? Or the one where Chandler’s toe gets sliced off? Or, possibly the best, the one where Monica and Chandler finally get to adopt a child? In my personal opinion, the Thanksgiving episodes of any show are always the best episodes, and last year I finally got to experience a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Reminiscing on Thanksgiving in January is strange, but it was such a monumental occasion for me:  experiencing everything from watching American football (which I still don’t completely understand) to seeing a turkey bigger than my head placed on the dinner table.

Shruti Kota

Shruti Kota

From my many years of watching countless American TV shows, I had some idea of what to expect on Thanksgiving. It was interesting comparing the different ways in which people celebrate and cook Thanksgiving dinner. Some people actually put the stuffing in the turkey as opposed to others who serve the stuffing as a side. My Indian friend celebrated her own version of Thanksgiving where she ate turkey biryani. However, regardless of who eats what during the actual meal, I think there is a general consensus that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most filling dinners you will ever eat…especially after waiting the entire day to eat it. I couldn’t move for three hours after I had finished the meal! And of course you have to make room for dessert because, no matter how full you are, there is always a little more space for pumpkin pie with whipped cream. As a vegetarian, I was expecting to fill up on the side dishes and try and avoid eye contact with the glistening turkey placed right in front of me on the dinner table, but my friend’s mother prepared delicious pumpkin lasagna which was very Thanksgiving appropriate!

Our Thanksgiving was fairly tame compared to the ones I had seen on TV shows; nobody got a turkey stuck on their head and no dramatic family secrets were revealed causing people to stomp off in the middle of dinner, but it was definitely a memorable experience. As an international student, living away from home is especially difficult during holidays such as Thanksgiving when all your American friends are with their families. Being able to partake in the holiday with lovely people was a very memorable experience for me and made it easier to go back to school for the home stretch before winter break.

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Posted in General, International Voices

Spring 2015 Graduates, It’s Time to Apply for Post-Completion OPT!

Are you an F-1 student graduating in May 2015? If you are interested in gaining work experience after completing your degree, now is the ideal time to start the application process for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is a type of work authorization allowing eligible F-1 students to work in their field of study for 12 months after completing their program at UT.

To find out more about OPT and the application process, please sign up for an OPT Workshop. OPT Workshop attendance is required in order to apply for OPT. We recommend that interested students get started soon – processing time for OPT is 2-3 months on average. If you would like to start work immediately after graduating in May, the ideal time to apply is late January or February.

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Posted in Immigration Updates

Apply to the Friendship Program for Spring 2015!

What is the Friendship Program?  The Friendship Program is an opportunity for UT international students and scholars to interact with the Austin community and share experiences, traditions, and customs.

As an international student or scholar, the Friendship Program will provide you with the chance to meet members of the Austin community. Your Austin host will help you become acquainted with the city and the American lifestyle.

Who can apply? Any international student or scholar who is currently enrolled or affiliated with the University can apply.

General Requirements:

  • Must have the intention to remain in the program for one semester once matched.
  • Be willing to engage in a monthly activity with your host.
  • Be open and willing to engage in new experiences, and the sharing of your culture and values.

How do I apply?  You can apply by submitting the online application.  Once you submit your application online, we will work on matching you with a host.   We will notify you via email, so keep an eye out for an email from Intercultural Programs!

Mark your calendars and attend our Kick-Off event for the semester:

Friendship Program Winter Dessert Social
Sunday, January 25th, 2-4pm
Texas Union Santa Rita Suite

Email us at if you have any questions.

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Posted in Programs & Events

ITIN Application Filing Help is Available through ISSS

If you are receiving a US-sourced scholarship or fellowship and are not eligible for a social security number (SSN), you should make an appointment with the tax advisor to apply for an individual tax identification number (ITIN). If you qualify for a tax treaty through your ITIN, we will more easily be able to give you your scholarships or fellowships and UT will stop  deducting taxes from them. An ITIN is also necessary to file taxes in the spring if you are not eligible for a SSN and claim qualified dependents on your tax return. If you receive a US-sourced scholarship or fellowship, you are required to file taxes and should apply for an ITIN by April at the latest.

Information about how to apply for an ITIN can be found on our SSN & ITIN section of the ISSS website. Please bring all of the documents listed on the website to your ITIN appointment and be sure to have the forms filled out to the best of your ability. The tax advisor will review all of your application materials, provide you with a letter from the International Office and tell you where to go to have your passport verified in-person to submit with your ITIN application.

Posted in Financial Aid, Taxes

SABIC Foundation Year Welcomes Its 7th Cohort to UT

Psycho-ed Group photo

This month, ISSS’s Sponsored Student Services team will welcome 14 new students from Saudi Arabia to participate in one of our Foundation Year Programs. These bright young men will spend a year at UT preparing for admission to a major U.S. university engineering program. They are recipients of the SABIC Scholarship, a five-year award for accomplished Saudi Arabian students.

SABIC students at UT dive into a rich and challenging range of experiences as they prepare for college success. This new cohort will spend their first ten days in Austin learning about American student culture, touring the city and campus, and preparing for their 12-month academic journey. Throughout the year, they will study math, science, English, and standardized test preparation, in addition to developing a variety of life, leadership, and academic skills.

Through ISSS partnerships across the UT campus and the Austin community, Foundation Year students receive world-class instruction, admissions support, and supplemental curricular programming that fosters their development in a multi-cultural and holistic way. ISSS is proud to partner with SABIC; our 7th cohort will join the distinguished ranks of UT sponsored students who learn that What Starts Here Changes the World.

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Posted in General

New Year, New J-1 Regulations

The U.S. Department of State recently released new federal regulations for the J-1 Exchange Visitor program.  If you are currently in the United States in J-1 visa status or will be soon, it is important that you are aware of your responsibilities under these new regulations.  You must fully abide by regulations governing the J-1 program during your stay in the United States.

For J-1 students and scholars with a program start date of January 5, 2015, or later, The University of Texas at Austin is required to verify that you have the necessary English proficiency to successfully participate in your program and in life in the United States.  Your Department sponsor here at UT Austin is in charge of documenting your English proficiency; they will contact you if they need you to provide any information regarding this requirement.

For all J-1 students and scholars in the United States on or after January 5, 2015, you will be required to report information regarding your J-2 dependents to the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS).  All J-1 scholars must report the following information:

  • Dates your J-2 dependents will be in the United States;
  • Your J-2 dependents’ email address; and
  • The permanent departure of your J-2  dependents from the United States so that they can be removed from your record.

Additionally, there are new insurance requirements going into effect on May 15, 2015.  If you are in the United States on or after May 15, 2015, you will be required to demonstrate that your insurance plan meets the following new requirements:

Coverage Current Requirement New Requirement
Medical Benefits $50,000 $100,000
Medical Evacuation $10,000 $50,000
Repatriation of Remains $7,500 $25,000
Deductible per accident or illness $500 $500

If you have questions or need more information:

International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) has created a J Status Requirements web page to highlight these changes.  We encourage you to review this page now and in the coming weeks so that you are aware of your responsibilities.

If you have any questions about the new J-1 requirements, you may contact our office by email:

If you wish to speak to a student or scholar advisor, or our insurance advisor, please schedule an individual advising appointment.

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Posted in General, Immigration Updates, Insurance

Enter Your Photos For a Chance to Win a Prize! #UTWintergram


Are you traveling over the Winter Break? Are you staying in Austin? Either way, we want to see your photos! Enter the ISSS Wintergram contest from December 19 to January 19 for a chance to win prizes from the International Office. Simply post winter break photos to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and tag #UTWintergram to be entered into the drawing to win. We can’t wait to see snap shots from your time off!

Posted in General

Are you Traveling Internationally for Winter Break?

Review Your I-20 or DS-2019

Don’t forget to check your I-20/DS-2019 for a valid travel signature:

Look at page 3 of the I-20 (F-1 students) or page 1 of the DS-2019 (J-1 students/scholars) and check the date that the document was last signed for travel by an immigration advisor. If the signature will be more than 12 months old by the date that you plan to re-enter the U.S., please stop by ISSS to have your I-20/DS-2019 signed before you leave. If you are on OPT, please note that your travel signature is only valid for 6 months, and you will need to renew it accordingly.

F-1 or J-1 students should visit our office during the posted advising hours for a travel signature (no appointment required). Scholars and sponsored students should make an appointment with their advisor for a travel signature.

We recommend that you get a new travel signature and carry your immigration documents with you even if you travel within the U.S., especially anywhere near the border, such as South Padre, Big Bend, South Texas, or Galveston. You could be stopped at an immigration checkpoint within the US!

Need to Renew Your Visa?

If the visa stamp in your passport has expired you may need to renew your visa if you travel abroad. Please see an advisor if you have any questions about renewing your visa. You can also review our visa handout online.

Traveling to Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean with an Expired Visa? Use Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR)

If you plan to travel to any of the countries listed below and have an expired U.S. visa, you might consider automatic visa revalidation (AVR). Please see our travel advisory for further details.



Saint Pierre


Dominican Republic



The Bahamas



The Windward and Leeward Islands



Other British, French or Netherlands territories or possessions in, or bordering the Caribbean Sea.

Traveling abroad while on OPT or Academic Training?

The following are the documents you will need to take with you:

Passport valid for at least 6 months from the date of entry

Valid U.S. visa (except for Canadians)

I-20/DS-2019 signed by an Immigration Advisor within the past 6 months

Valid EAD (Employment Authorization Document, also known as ‘work card’ or ‘OPT card’) or Academic Training authorization letter

Verification of employment or offer letter to start employment shortly after re-entry to the U.S.

Additional Travel Considerations

As you prepare for your travel, read our Using Health Insurance During Winter Break.


Posted in Immigration Updates

Reminder: Upcoming Insurance Deadlines 2/3/15

Purchase or Renew Dependent Insurance for Spring

International students are automatically billed for health insurance coverage.  But don’t forget to add your dependents to your student health insurance plan!  Spouses and children must be re-enrolled in coverage each semester (Fall, Spring, and Summer).  For Spring coverage, the deadline to add dependents is February 3rd.  Dependents can be enrolled by scheduling an appointment with the ISSS Insurance Advisor.

Spring and Summer Insurance Waivers

February 3rd is the deadline to apply for spring insurance waivers, including GRAs and TAs with  UT Select staff insurance.  Review eligibility categories, waiver periods, required documentation, and submission deadlines on the ISSS Insurance Webpage.

Purchase Continuation Coverage

Students/scholars graduating or leaving UT can purchase an extension of their student health insurance plan for up to 6 months.   Note that you must have been covered by the student health insurance plan for at least 6 months to be eligible for this extension.  Purchase this coverage by scheduling an appointment with the ISSS Insurance Advisor by the deadline of February 3rd.


Posted in General

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