Visa Application Process
The I-20 form is created by USF for a student to apply for an F1 visa. The I-20 will come from the Admission Office or academic department. The DS-2019 form is issued by the ISSS office or your “sponsoring agency” for a student to apply for a J1 visa. Please check the information on your I-20 or DS-2019 to ensure that it is accurate. If there is an error on your I-20 or DS-2010 form (e.g., name misspelled, wrong date of birth, etc.) please contact the office that sent you your form as soon as possible.
If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university, your I-20 should be marked as “transfer pending from: (the name of your previous school).” The SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20. If you previously graduated from USF and have started a new degree program, your I-20 will be marked “initial” and the SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20.
If you have been accepted to more than one U.S. college or university and have received more than one I-20 or DS-2019, do not apply for the student visa until you have decided which school you will attend. If you decide to attend USF, use the USF I-20/DS-2019 to apply for your student visa and enter the United States using the same I-20/DS-2019!
The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires F-1 and J-1 visa applicants to pay a one-time fee to supplement the administration and maintenance costs of the Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS). The SEVIS fee should be processed by DHS at least three (3) business days prior to the consular interview. The SEVIS fee is not payable at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You or another person (e.g., friend or family) may pay the SEVIS fee either by mail or online.
To Pay Online:
- Access Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from the SEVIS I-901 website.
- Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
- Print a copy of the online receipt.
To Pay By Mail:
- Download Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from the SEVIS I-901 website.
- Complete Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
- Prepare a check, international money order or foreign draft (drawn on U.S. banks only) made payable to “I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee”.
- Mail the completed I-901 and payment to the address listed on Form I-901.
Anyone who submits an individual fee electronically will be able to print out an electronic receipt immediately at the time of payment for use in advance of the mail delivery of the official paper receipt. If you pay by mail the receipt will be sent back to you by mail. If you have lost your SEVIS fee receipt you can retrieve it at the SEVIS fee payment site. Although SEVIS fee payments will be recorded by DHS in the SEVIS system it is recommended that the official paper receipt be used to apply for the visa. Please note, DHS will not refund the SEVIS fee if F-1 students are not granted a visa or choose not to come to the United States after their visas are granted. However, if your visa application is denied and you reapply for a new F-1 visa within 12 months of the denial, you will not have to pay the fee again.
What is a Visa and do I need one? A visa is a physical stamp in your passport that is used at a port of entry (typically an airport) to enter the United States. It is issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The type of visa you use to enter the United States determines the type of status you will have during your stay. You will need a student (F-1 or J-1) visa to study in the United States, unless you are entering the United States with a Canadian passport.
If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university or pursuing another degree at USF, you do not need to apply for a new student visa unless your visa has expired and you are leaving the United States before starting your program at USF. Please note that it is impossible to obtain a visa from within the United States.
How do I apply for a visa or renew my expired visa? The process to apply for a first time student visa or to renew a student visa is very similar. You will first need to schedule an appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Visa processing times, application procedures, and requested supporting documents vary from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so please check with the Embassy or Consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. For a complete list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, please visit their U.S. Embassies website. Several standard items are required for the student visa application:
- A Non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160) and other supplementary forms (if applicable)
- A current passport, valid for at least six months
- I-20 form (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 form (for J-1 students) - Printed and signed by the student with ink
- Evidence of financial support for the period of time and amount indicated on the I-20 or DS-2019, such as bank statements or scholarship/grant/sponsorship letters
- Proof that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies (for example, proof of permanent residence outside the United States, preferably in your home country, proof of property, presence of immediate family, future employment offers, etc.)
- Visa application fee (preferably in cash in the currency accepted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate)
- One or more passport-style photographs
- Proof of payment of the SEVIS (I-901) fee
- Proof of enrollment and transcripts- continuing students and those who have studied in the US before, should have transcripts from all previous institutions to show they have been maintaining status. USF continuing students can request transcripts on the USF Registrar’s website.
The consular officer may request additional documents, such as evidence of English language proficiency, school records to verify academic preparation, additional evidence of strong ties to your home country and/or your ability to support yourself while in the United States. Read all visa application documents carefully so that you know exactly what you are agreeing to when you enter the United States on a student visa.
If approved, the consular officer will stamp a student visa in your passport. Please read it carefully and confirm it is a student visa (F-1 or J-1) and the information printed on the visa is accurate. If you receive a multiple entry visa, you may use it to enter the United States as many times as you wish up to the date of its expiration as long as you have a valid I-20 or DS-2019 form. If you receive a numbered-entry visa, you will be allowed to enter the United States only for the number of times specified on the visa stamp up to the date of its expiration.
If denied, the consular will provide a written reason for the denial. The most common reason that is given is 214(b) – failure to prove non-immigrant intent. The usually means that a student did not show sufficient finances, has familial ties to the US or lack of ties to home country, or the overall story presented was not convincing. USF students have a low rate of denials but sometimes a student will be denied a visa. If you are denied, please email ISSS at firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of the written notice and a complete description of the application and interview.
A brief interview with a consular officer will likely be required as part of the visa application process. In this interview, you will have to convey the reason you plan to study in the US in a very short time. Preparation is extremely important so that you can demonstrate why you have decided to attend USF, your ties to your home county, and your future plans after completing your academic program.
In general, in the visa application and in the interview, the consular officers want to confirm that:
- Your primary reason for coming to the U.S. is to study in the degree program you have chosen and at USF. You will need to be able to explain the reason that you want to attend this specific degree program at USF.
- You have sufficient funds from a reliable source. Personal funds or funds from a parent are the most common sources. Sometimes funds from a relative who is not an immediate parent of guardian can be deemed insufficient or unreliable. If presenting a loan as part of the funding you will want to make sure the company providing the loan is in good standing, some loan companies can also be deemed unreliable.
- Your intent is to return to your home country. Financial and family ties to your home country is the best way to show this, but also showing that your future career goals are back in your country of nationality.
- Your plan “makes sense”. The consulates are also looking at the whole picture that includes your background, your study plans, and your future career goals. They are looking to see that all of these fit together.
NAFSA: The Association of International Educators has some additional information on the visa process here. Visa applications and interviews are reviewed on an individual basis. Please be aware of gathering information from social media, family and friends. Although they can share information about their experiences, it also may not apply to your situation. Advice on the visa interview should only come from ISSS or an immigration attorney.
During peak visa seasons, and in countries where the US Consulate receives a high volume of applications, it can be difficult for a student to obtain a visa interview appointment that is before their I-20 start date. If this is the case, you can:
- Keep trying to make an appointment as recommended by the US Consulate. US Consulates release appointments on an ongoing basis and usually prioritize student visas, so keep checking for updates.
- Book an appointment for the earliest date possible and, when you are within 60 days of your I-20 start date, you can request for an expedited visa appointment. You must already have a confirmed interview appointment date in order to request an expedited appointment. ISSS provides an expedited visa appointment letter to assist you in the process. Note that not all requests for an expedited appointment can be accommodated.
- If you are still having trouble finding a visa appointment before the start of your program, you can look at US consulates in nearby countries too. (See the section about applying for a visa in a third country).
Who should I list as my US contact? You can use the USF staff member listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 as your University contact for the visa process.
What US address should I list if I do not have a personal address in the US yet? It is common for students to not have secured housing at the time of their initial visa application. You can list the USF main address: 2130 Fulton St., San Francisco, CA, 94117.
Other Questions about completing the DS-160: ISSS can answer questions that pertain to the University but we cannot assist you in answering personal and biographical questions. You can use the Department of State FAQ for the DS-160 for more assistance.
When can I schedule a visa interview? You can complete the visa application and schedule your appointment online and pay the I-901 fee (see I-901 Fee payment instructions) as long as you have your SEVIS number. Note that we are currently only sending digital I-20s, which can be used for the visa interview. You can schedule your visa appointment date for as early as 365 days before the program start date on your I-20.
Where is my nearest consulate and how long will it take to get an appointment? You should schedule an appointment for your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You can find a consulate on the US State Department's website and check estimated wait times for appointments.
Can I apply for a visa in the third country that is not my country of nationality? It is best to apply for a visa in your home country to show ties to this country, especially if it is the first time you are applying for a student visa. If you need to apply for a visa in a third country you will want to verify that the consulate accepts third country national applications and what documents you need. Everything needs to be translated in English and clear. Keep in mind that it is challenging for consulate officers to verify third country applications because they may not be familiar with the specifics of your home country.
My visa is still valid do I need a new one? In most cases you do not need a new visa if your visa expiration date is beyond the date you will be entering the US. The US government office that oversees our port of entry, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), routinely accepts valid visas even if the individual has not been a student in the US for more than 5 months. However, there is some conflicting information from the government on this and if you have any reason to think your visa has become invalidated, you should check with the consulate who issued the visa.
I am a SEVIS transfer student, do I need a new visa? Students who complete a SEVIS transfer from another institution to USF will not need a new visa if the visa is otherwise valid (not expired). Keep in mind that students only need a new visa if they are going to need to enter or reenter the US. If you are staying in the US between programs and not traveling internationally, you will not need a new visa, even if it has expired. In this case, the next time you depart the US you will need to apply for a new visa before returning.