To enter the United States on student status, there are a number of forms you must prepare ahead of time and present to U.S. officials either before your arrival into the country or at the time of arrival. The list below is a useful reference, but please pay attention to the information your school provides and work with its international student office to confirm that you have everything in order before your arrival.
SEVIS VISA FEE (SEVIS I-901 FEE)
The Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a government-shared database used by U.S. schools and various government agencies to maintain information about international students and exchange visitors. All international students and exchange visitors must pay a student visa fee before their visa interview with a U.S. consulate or embassy. This fee is required for:
- F-1 and J-1 status students applying for an initial visa
- Change of status applications
- Reinstatement applications for students whose visa has been out of status more than five months
- Students who have been out of the U.S. more than five months
Students must pay the SEVIS Visa Fee at least three business days prior to their visa interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate and must bring a receipt showing payment to the visa interview. There are two ways to pay:
- Online at www.fmjfee.com (recommended)
- By regular mail. Download form I-901 and find all payment requirements at www.ice.gov/sevis/i901. Send the form with a check or international money order in U.S. dollars.
SEVIS FORM I-20
The school or university you will attend will send you the SEVIS Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility so that you can obtain an F-1 student visa. The I-20 is specific to the school you will attend and the degree program in which you are enrolled. If you change schools or enter a new degree program, you must obtain a new I-20.
SEVIS FORM DS-2019
The school or university you will attend will send you the SEVIS Form DS-2019 so that you can obtain a J-1 student visa. The DS-2019 is also specific to the school you will attend and the degree program in which you are enrolled. You must enter the U.S. using the DS-2019 issued by the school you’ll be attending. If you change schools or enter a new degree program, you must obtain a new DS-2019.
Once you have received the applicable form from the U.S. school you will attend, you will likely need to interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. Refer to the website of the embassy or consulate you will visit for specific instructions. Bring the following documents to the interview:
- Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160, confirmation page (You can fill out the application at this website: ceac.state.gov/genniv)
- SEVIS I-901 Visa application fee payment receipt (For more information, visit www. ice.gov/sevis/i901)
- Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
- Photo (You will upload your photo when you complete the application, but bring a photo, too.)
- Additional documentation may be required.
AS A STUDENT
Student visas may be issued up to 120 days before arrival; however, the student may arrive in the U.S. only 30 days before the period of study begins. In the U.S., you must:
- Maintain a valid passport
- Attend the school indicated on Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and remain enrolled as a full-time student
- Keep your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 current at all times.
TIP: KEEP A COPY OF YOUR PASSPORT, VISA, FORM I-20 OR FORM DS-2019, AND I-94 IN A SAFE PLACE. IF YOU LOSE ONE OF THESE DOCUMENTS, HAVING A COPY MAKES IT EASIER TO REPLACE.
Types of Student Visas
Students coming to the U.S. to study at an academic institution, like a college or university, high school, private elementary school or language school, will need an F-1 visa. Once you are accepted to a school, the school will send you Form I-20, which you will need to present when applying for a visa. The I-20 is specific to the school you will attend. If you change schools while in the U.S., you must receive a new I-20 from your new school.
Students who will study at a vocational school or in another non-academic program will need an M-1 visa. Once you are accepted, the school will send you Form I-20, which you will need to present when applying for the visa. The I-20 is specific to the school you will attend. If you change schools while in the U.S., you must apply for a new visa with a new I-20.
Individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs will need a J-1 visa. Once you are accepted into an exchange program, your program sponsor will send you Form DS-2019, which you will need to present when applying for your visa. The DS-2019 is specific to the school you will attend. If you change schools or programs, you will need to apply for a new visa.
Students visiting the U.S. may study parttime (less than 18 hours per week) on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. Students may apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Medical examinations may be required in some countries to obtain a B-1/B-2 visitor visa.
Students from certain countries may study part-time (less than 18 hours per week) on the visa waiver program. Students are required to obtain an electronic travel authorization through ESTA prior to traveling to the U.S. Students should apply through ESTA at least 72 hours prior to travel. Students receive a visa waiver stamp from the U.S. Immigration Service at the U.S. Port of Entry for a length of stay not to exceed 90 days. Visa waivers cannot be extended. Part-time students on a visa waiver must end their study and leave the U.S. when the visa waiver period finishes.
PLEASE REFER TO THE U.S. IMMIGRATION & CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT (ICE) WEBSITE FOR THE MOST UP-TO-DATE AND SPECIFIC INFORMATION: WWW.ICE.GOV/SEVIS/STUDENTS