Applying for an Entry Visa
Entry visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State and are obtained at US Embassies or Consulates abroad. The visa applicant should present the visa application materials during the scheduled interview at the US Embassy or Consular post in his or her home country. All students and scholars applying for visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying. A complete list can be found at http://www.usembassy.gov/.
Per I.N.A. Sect 101 (a)(15)(F)(i), Students and Exchange Visitors must establish non-immigrant intent, i.e. prove that they have ties to their home countries such as family, property, or employment, and plan to return after their programs end. F-1 and J-1 students must also pay the SEVIS fee and bring their fee receipts (Form 1-901 payment receipt) to the interview and be ready to show that they are bonafide students with adequate funding. J-1 scholars must pay the SEVIS fee and show that they have adequate funding. F-2 and J-2 dependents are not required to pay the SEVIS fee. Please see our dependent visa page for further information on F-2 and J-2 visas.
- An F-1 student visa may be issued no earlier than 120 days before the program start date indicated on the Form I-20. However, F-1 students can apply for the F-1 visa stamp earlier than 120 days before the program start date to allow for visa processing and security clearance delays. New F-1 students and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date indicated on the Form 1-20.
- J-1 Exchange Visitors are not subject to the 120-day limit on how long before their program start dates they may apply for a J visa. However, like F and M students, new Exchange Visitors and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date indicated on the Form DS-2019.
Visa Delays and Security Checks
Certain non-immigrant visa applicants will be subject to additional security checks and visa application processing delay before the visa is issued. Depending on the individual's country of origin, or whether the field of study, research or employment is in a sensitive area as referenced in the Technology Alert List (TAL), the consular officer might request a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. An SAO involves multiple database checks and may be extremely lengthy. Although the Department of State has made it clear that requests to expedite processing will not be considered, students or scholars experiencing security clearance delays of more than 30 days should report these delays to ISO. In case of visa issuance that is delayed by more than 30 days, ISO will contact the US consular post to inquire about the case and to offer any possible assistance.
By tracking visa delays and reporting to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) and University government relations representatives, ISO continues to be involved in advocating for smoother visa processing for international students and scholars. However, individual case resolution is not possible at this point. While it is at the discretion of consular officer whether to request an SAO, individuals can hopefully avoid delays by making sure the documentation they present to the consular officer is complete and transparent. It is recommended that graduate students and scholars in the sciences bring a letter from a Southeastern Faculty or department member containing a brief description of their research in lay terms. Returning students should also bring transcripts and proof of funding. For more information, please see the following NAFSA Practice Resource on Visas Mantis Security Advisory Opinions.
The Visa Stamp
Once the visa application is approved, the consular officer will issue a visa stamp in the individual's passport. The visa stamp expiration date may or may not correspond to the program end date noted on the I-20 or DS-2019. The purpose of the visa stamp is to gain entry to the United States and its expiration date has no bearing on the individual's immigration status and permission to remain in the United States. Therefore, an individual who is maintaining status may remain in the United States, pursue his or her program objectives, and travel domestically with an expired visa stamp. However, the individual must obtain a new visa stamp in order to return to the United States after traveling abroad. Students and scholars applying for new visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying. An F-1 student or J-1 student or scholar with the same SEVIS ID is not required to pay the SEVIS fee again.
Citizens of Canada are exempt from the visa stamp requirement. However, Canadian F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must present the SEVIS fee payment receipt for their initial entries to the United States.