Disclaimer: this document is not intended to provide legal advice. It is a list of guidelines compiled from various online resources, adapted in part from the HGSU ISWG travel advice page.
American Civil Liberties Union - Massachusetts: 1-617-903-8943
Greater Boston Legal Services Immigration Unit: 1-617-371-1234
Preparing for Your Trip
Documents to Bring:
If you are traveling outside of the U.S., be sure to visit BU’s International Students and Scholars Office at least one month before your trip and again immediately before you leave as last minute changes are not uncommon. Ask ISSO to review your I-20 and all your documents to be sure you are good to go.
- Whether you are flying domestically or internationally, non-citizens must carry a valid passport, their Green card if any, a valid visa for re-entry unless the student plans to apply for a new visa abroad, any documents to support a visa application, as well as any other relevant documents, such as their current I-94, I-20, and/or DS2019. As a general rule, you cannot be too prepared. Sufficient documentation to prove your eligibility to live and work in the U.S. is essential.
- It’s a good idea to have a printout of your flight itinerary and your emergency contact information, including phone numbers for legal resources. (See wallet card)
- Supporting documentation showing your Boston University connection:
- Curriculum Vitae or resumé
- Letter from your department chair or school dean attesting to your status (this could be your acceptance letter or the letter some departments issue each semester/year with your status and pay amount)
- Letter from your adviser in case your international travel includes countries affected by the ban (see Word Document)
- Phone number of someone at BU (ideally an administrator) who can further attest to your student status. Evidence of registration/payment of fees for future classes if you are between semesters.
- Read the TSA’s list of baggage restrictions.
- Check your airlines’ websites for information on their carry-on and check-in bag restrictions.
- Bring what you need, but be aware that airport officials may ask you questions if they believe you are carrying excessive or very little baggage.
- If you are carrying $10,000 or more in cash, you must always declare it to a customs officer. It is better and easier to travel with less cash.
- Document or photograph what is in your luggage, carry-on, and wallet before you arrive at the airport, so that if something goes missing, you will know and be able to file a claim with your airline and/or the TSA.
- You may wish to ship your electronic devices to yourself at your American address before you get on the plane but be certain your information is backed up elsewhere.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a series of in-depth tutorials if you’d like more information and/or are conducting sensitive research, traveling to a country affected by the Travel Ban, or are concerned about your privacy.
- You may wish to wipe your phone and computer and restore them to factory settings before you travel.
- You may wish to encrypt your computer and your smartphone and use strong passwords, but this does not guarantee you will not be asked by TSA for the passwords.
- If you don’t want to risk your primary devices, consider buying cheaper devices to use when you travel internationally.
- Change all your social media passwords to randomly generated strings and write them down on a piece of paper. If you decide you need to, turn over the paper when asked for your passwords. As soon as you’ve crossed the border, change all the passwords again.
At the Airport
How to respond to:
Airport officials may ask you questions about your identity, immigration status, about the reasons for your travel. They may also ask questions about your ties to your home country, your past immigration history, any arrests including arrests or detentions for political activity and memberships or associations with any organizations. You should answer these questions truthfully, but you do not need to volunteer any additional information.
If for any reason you are uncomfortable answering questions or you need to collect additional documentation to support your eligibility for entry, be aware that you have a right to withdraw your application for entry should you choose to do so. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer has discretion as to whether to grant your request but should do so as long as they believe you have not made a material misrepresentation. The CBP officer ALSO has the power to deny you entry if they believe you have not answered a question truthfully and have made a “material misrepresentation”.
Airport officials are permitted to search your belongings and your person. You can take steps to make the search less intrusive. When officials are searching your belongings or your person, do not volunteer any information. Take careful note of the official conducting the search, and if any items are taken out of your field of vision. Ask for an agent’s full name, agency, badge number, and identification and write down that information.
Searches of your belongings
Ask that airport officials search your bags in front of you. If an agent confiscates any property, ask for a receipt and note the agent’s name. If an agent copies or scans your electronic items, ask for a receipt and note the agent’s name as well as the date, place and time.
Searches of your person
All passengers are required to undergo a routine search during security. If the airport has full body scanners, you can choose between the scan or a pat-down by an agent of the same gender. You have the right to ask for that pat-down to be conducted in a private area. If you consent to the scan, you have a right to ask for an officer of the same gender to view your scan image. If you wish to be searched in a private area, you can ask that you be allowed to bring a family member or friend. If asked to remove religious clothing, such as a hijab, you can ask the agent to use a wand over that area. If they insist that you remove your hijab, you have the right to remove it only in a private area and in front of an agent of the same gender. You may be selected for an additional search. Agents may not conduct a strip search as a routine part of airport security.
Searches of your tech devices and social media
If a border agent asks you to provide an account password or encryption passphrase or to decrypt data stored on your device, you don’t have to comply. However, if you refuse to provide information or assistance upon request, the border agent may seize your device for further inspection or consider you uncooperative, which the agent may take into consideration when deciding whether to allow you to enter the United States.
If your electronic devices have been searched by U.S. airport officials, consider sharing your experience with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
If the customs officer asks you to step aside and wait, do not panic and do not raise your voice. You do not have the right to an attorney, but you may request permission to make a phone call to an attorney.. Customs and Border Protection may or may not grant that phone call. You do, however, have the right to an interpreter if you feel you need one, and you have the right to wait for that interpreter before answering questions or signing anything. Although you do not need to volunteer information you are not asked about, be careful and truthful in answering questions.
If you are selected to be sent to a secondary inspection in another area, do not panic. The officer will take your documents; typically another officer will come to collect you and your documents and take you to an area for additional questioning. It is likely other people will be waiting as well. You may wait for a few minutes or several hours. Eventually an officer will call your name, and may ask you more questions that will determine whether you will be permitted to enter. You may have to wait additional time. Do ask for an interpreter if you feel it would be helpful; and contact the legal helplines if you are able to do so.
- Ajam Media Collective’s guides to travelling under the Muslim Ban (Persian, Arabic, Somali, Urdu, Eastern Armenian, and Western Armenian)
- The American Civil Liberties Union’s Know Your Rights guides (Arabic, Chinese, French, Korean, Somali, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese)
- Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) has guides on Know Your Rights, the Travel Ban, Legal Services, Health and Social Services, English Classes & Adult Education, Refugee Services, DACA, Citizenship Services, and more.
The following organizations maintain lists of immigration lawyers and legal help:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Greater Boston Legal Services
- American Immigration Lawyers Association
- American Immigration Council
- National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
- Chinese Progressive Organization Drop-In Hours
- The Immigration Portal
- National Consortium of Immigration Attorneys
- MIT’s International Scholars Office
- Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)
- Pro Bono (free) legal aid
Immigration Impact Unit of the Boston Committee for Public Counsel Services (Public Defenders of MA)