Arriving to the U.S.
Immigration checks, customs, and border inspection – these things can be intimidating, for sure. This page provides information on what to expect when entering the U.S. as an international student, scholar, or employee and how to prepare so that you can experience as smooth and stress-free of an arrival process as possible.
The port of entry Heading link
You officially enter the U.S. when you pass through a port of entry at an airport, seaport, or land border. The port of entry, sometimes called a POE, is staffed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who verify your immigration documents, inspect your luggage, and determine whether to admit you to the U.S. Ports of entry are typically located on U.S. soil but depending on your route to the U.S., you may pass through CBP inspection at one of the CBP Preclearance locations in Canada, the Caribbean, Ireland, or the United Arab Emirates.
Preparing for CBP inspection Heading link
The CBP officer will review your documents and may ask you a few questions to confirm that the intent of your visit to the U.S. matches your paperwork. To prepare for this conversation, you can practice answering the following:
What is the purpose of your visit to the U.S.? How long do you plan to be in the U.S.? Where will you stay? How will you support yourself financially?
Carry your original immigration documents in your hand luggage. Do not place these documents in your checked luggage. It is a good idea to make two copies of each document as back-up; leave one set of copies at home and pack another set in your checked luggage in case of emergency.
Secondary Inspection Heading link
If the CBP officer cannot verify your information or you do not have all the required documents, the officer may direct you to an interview area known as secondary inspection. Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers. Additional research may include viewing your SEVIS record and contacting the Office of International Services. It is important to know that CBP officers also have the authority to search your phone and all applications contained on it.
Secondary inspection can take a while so it is best to relax as much as possible, and if needed, reach out to OIS via our emergency contact information.
Form I-515 for students and exchange visitors Heading link
Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may decide to temporarily admit you to the U.S. even though you lack proper documentation. In this case, the officer may issue you a Form I-515A “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor” which gives you admission for only 30 days. If you receive an I-515A, contact OIS immediately so that we may assist you in submitting the proper documentation to extend your admission beyond 30 days.
Form I-94 Heading link
The Form I-94 is a critical record that documents that you have legally been admitted to the U.S., the class of your admission and your authorized period of stay. If you arrive to the U.S. by land, you will receive a paper I-94 card, typically stapled into your passport. If you arrive by air or sea, you will receive a digital I-94 which you can view and print here.
CPB officers will also provide you with an admission stamp on your passport that is annotated with date of admission, class of admission and admitted-until date. F-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors should see their visa type and “D/S” for duration of status written here. Inspect your admission stamp for accuracy before you depart the customs area. If there are any errors, request a correction right away from CBP officer.
Reporting to OIS Heading link
After you have arrived in the U.S. and passed through CBP inspection, complete your Immigration Check-In with OIS as soon as possible. OIS will review your documents to verify that you have been admitted in the correct status to begin your studies or other activities at UIC. If there are any errors, we will notify you and guide you through the process of correcting them.