Obtaining a Non-immigrant Student Visa

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Choosing Between F-1 and J-1 Status

All students are eligible for  F-1 status, and it is the more common type.  However, if you are an exchange student or if you have a scholarship, grant or other award that pays for at least half of your tuition cost, you can also qualify for J-1 status sponsored by the Fredonia.

Both of these statuses will allow you to study here, and both allow for on-campus and some off-campus work authorization.  There are a few important differences between the two statuses, however, so please read the following information carefully and contact our office if you have any further questions about how to choose a status.

Eligibility

All students are eligible for an F-1 visa, as long as they have been admitted to a program of study, meet the English language requirement, and can show proof of funding for at least the first year of study.

If you meet the criteria for an F-1 visa but also have a scholarship, grant or other award for your first year of study from an outside source (this does not include family, friends or personal funds) that is equal to at least half of your tuition charge for the first year of study, you can also qualify for a J-1 student visa. Exchange students, regardless of funding, also qualify for J-1 student visas.

Comparing F-1 and J-1 Student Visas

F-1 Visa

J-1 Visa

Enter 30 days before program start date

Enter 30 days before program start date

60 day grace period to depart U.S. or change status at end of program

30 day grace period to depart U.S. or change status at end of program

Immediately eligible for up to 20 hours/week of on-campus work authorization; unlimited on-campus work authorization on breaks while remaining in F-1 status

Immediately eligible for up to 20 hours/week of on-campus work authorization; unlimited on-campus work authorization on breaks while remaining in J-1 status

Spouses in F-2 status cannot study or work

Spouses in J-2 status can study, and are also eligible for work authorization with application to immigration service

No home residency requirement, which may be an issue for J-1

May be subject to 2 year home residency requirement if receiving government funding or if you are from a country on the skills list

Main types of off-campus work authorization:  1) Optional Practical Training (OPT). Eligible after completion of one year of study for up to 12 months per educational level of full-time off-campus work authorization related to program of study. Can be used either during or after program of study. Requires application to immigration service; processing takes 3-4 months and requires a fee. Exchange students not eligible. Does not require a job offer, so you can use it after graduation to look for a job.

2) Curricular Practical Training: Used in the summer or part time during the school year after completion of one year of study and while you remain a student.

Main type of off-campus work authorization: Academic Training (AT). Eligible for off-campus work authorization related to program of study up to 18 months for bachelors and masters students or length of academic program whichever is shorter, up to 3 years for doctoral students. Exchange students can be eligible for AT corresponding to the amount of time in program (i.e. 90 days study = 90 days AT eligibility). Authorized through OIA without application to immigration service or fee. Requires a job offer, so you must have a job lined up before graduation.

 

What do I need to do to apply for an F-1/J-1 student visa? 

 

Step 1 - Obtain I-20 or DS 2019 from Fredonia

To apply for a student visa you must first obtain a “Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant F-1 Status” also known as the I-20/DS-2019. An International Education Center advisor will prepare the I-20/DS-2019 once your supporting documentation and admissions paperwork is received. The I-20/DS-2019 will be sent out via Federal Express.  Delay or failure to provide the required documentation will result in a delay of the issuance of your I-20/DS-2019 document.  As soon as you receive your I-20/DS-2019,  verify the information on it and contact the International Education Center immediately if there is an error. 

 

 Step 2 - Pay SEVIS Fee

All students seeking F-1 or J-1 status must pay the SEVIS fee. The SEVIS fee is not the visa fee; it is a separate fee paid to the Department of Homeland Security Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to support the automated electronic system that advisors use to monitors non-immigrant students and exchange visitor activity and record maintainance of status student information. Each student or exchange visitor issued an initial Form I-20 or DS-2019 on or after September 1, 2004 is required to pay the SEVIS fee to SEVP.   DHS currently offers three methods of payment: via mail, online with a credit card or through Western Union.

(Helpful Hint: Paying the SEVIS fee online with a credit card or through Western Union is faster than paying by mail.)

Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S., but do need an I-20 or DS-2019 and must follow all of the other steps. Canadians must present the I-20 or DS-2019 and SEVIS fee payment receipt at Canadian/US airport or border to gain admission to the US in F-1 or J-1 status.

 

Step 3 - Visa Application and Interview Process

You may apply for your visa up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 or DS-2019. You will be able to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before that start date. Attempting to enter the U.S. earlier than that could result in you not being admitted to the U.S. and having to return to your home country at your own expense.

Inform yourself of the business processes in place at the U.S. consulate or embassy where you plan to apply for your visa. Every visa post sets its own hours, has its own way to schedule visa application appointments, and has its own lead time for visa applications (typically weeks rather than days).

Read the information the U.S. Department of State provides to visa applicants. This will help you be better prepared for the visa interview.  In addition the Department of Homeland Security provides visa application information and pre-departure information, preparing you for entry into the US.  

Practice your visa interview. You will only have 2 or 3 minutes to make your case for the visa, and you should have thought about certain issues in depth. For example, you should be prepared to explain what you will study, what you plan to do after your studies are completed, why you want to study in the U.S. rather than your home country, why you will return to your home country after completion of your studies, and more. The links above will help you in this preparation.

It is important to note that F-1 and J-1 statuses are strictly non-immigrant statuses; if you show immigrant intent, the visa will be denied. At your visa interview, you should truthfully answer all questions, but you should only answer the questions asked and not offer any additional information.

Once you have scheduled your visa interview, make sure that you have all appropriate documents with you at the time of your appointment;

  • Your passport (valid for at least 6 months after your entry into the U.S.)
  • Your Form I-20 or DS-2019
  • Financial documents
  • Copies of your academic credentials
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Form DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158 (or DS-160) - found on the consulate's web site

Once you are at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, several things will happen:

An official will perform a "name check" to compare your name to the names of others in several large databases. Sometimes this clearance process causes delays. If you are from one of the following countries, your documents will be sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Washington, D.C., for clearance. (This usually affects male applicants only, but a visa officer has the discretionary authority to submit a female applicant's documents for a background check as well.) The countries are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  

While name and background checks are never pleasant and tend to make the visa applicant nervous, please be aware that you are not being singled out. Rather, you belong to a category of applicants for whom particular rules are in place at visa posts around the world and the official is completing this task based on his/her instructions.  You should approach the situation calmly and be polite, truthful and direct in your interaction with the consular official.

Once you receive your visa, the consular officer will usually seal your documents in a brown envelope and attach it to your passport. Do not open the envelope! It will be opened by the inspector at the port of entry.

  Step 4 - Making your flight reservations and arriving at a U.S. port of entry

Do not arrive more than 30 days before your program begins or you may be refused entry into the United States. Do not put your immigration documents in your suitcase and then check it with the airline.  If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will be unable to present the documents at your port of entry, and you will not be able to enter the United States. Before your plane lands in the U.S., a flight attendant will distribute the I-94 Arrival card.  Fill it out on the plane using your passport information.   After you land, go to the Arrivals Terminal and get in line at the immigration inspection booths.  Make sure you have your passport, I-20/DS-2019, and I-94  card ready for inspection. You are likely to be asked why you are entering the United States and the name of the school where you are studying. Unpon successful inspection, the officer will date stamp your I-20/DS-2019  and I-94 card for duration of status ("D/S") and staple the I-94 card in your passport.  If the inspecting officer does not staple the I-94 card in your passport, you should do this as soon as you get to campus so you don't lose it.

Step 6 - Mandatory Check-In at the International Education Center

All international students, including students transferring from another U.S. institution, must check-in with the International Education Center within the first three days after arriving on campus have the I-20/DS-2019 signed for travel. Travel outside of the U.S. without a travel signature may delay or prevent re-entry to the U.S.

Pre-Departure Resources:

Consular Resources:


 

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Page modified 7/23/14