Below, we offer you some information about the visa application process. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) also maintains an excellent website on the U.S. Visa application process, including visa wait times. Review it thoroughly, in addition to the information below.
Pay SEVIS Fee
Make an Appointment for a Visa Interview
As soon as possible after you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, schedule your visa interview appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate (locate here) to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. If you’re applying for an F-1 visa, you may be issued the visa up to 120 days before the program start date as noted in item 5 on the I-20. If you’re applying for a J-1 visa, you may be issued the visa at any time before the beginning of your program.
You may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start date noted in item 5 on the I-20 form or item 3 on the DS-2019. You should make your travel arrangements with this date in mind, giving yourself adequate time to arrive in order to attend the mandatory orientation program.
Canadian citizens do not need a visa. Simply present the I-20 or DS-2019, SEVIS fee receipt, financial documentation, and proof of admission to SSU to the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry. A passport may be required depending on your method of travel. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of State’s travel pages.
Refer to the Visa Appointment & Processing Wait Times to see how long you will wait for an F-1/J-1 visa interview in your area.
You should prepare and bring the following documents to your visa interview:
- Visa application – complete the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application form which can be obtained online, or in-person at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate
- I-901 receipt – confirming payment of SEVIS fee
- Valid passport – your passport must be valid for at least six months when seeking entry or re-entry to the U.S., unless your country is listed here on the Immigration Customs Enforcement website
- Passport-size photos
- I-20 or DS-2019 form – if you are applying to renew your visa, be sure that your I-20/DS-2019 has a valid travel signature; newly admitted students do not need a travel signature for initial entry to the U.S.
- Newly admitted applicants should bring their SSU admission letter; visa renewal applicants should bring their academic transcript and confirmation of enrollment, which can be obtained from the Registrar's Office
- Financial evidence – immigration officers must determine whether your financial support is sufficient to cover your stay in the U.S.
- Proof of English language proficiency may also be requested
- Evidence of continuing ties to your home country (e.g. family, career, property)
For additional country-specific instructions, visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate office’s website where you will be applying for your visa.
Tips for Your Visa Interview
Visa applicants are presumed to be “intending immigrants.” The #1 reason that visas are denied is because students are unable to convince the U.S. official that they plan to return to their home country after completion of their studies. Federal regulations clearly state that nonimmigrant visas may be given only to persons who intend to remain in the U.S. temporarily. Unfortunately, there is no single explanation, document, or letter than can guarantee visa issuance.
Here are some more tips to prepare you for your visa interview:
- Immigration officers conduct quick interviews lasting 2-3 minutes if you’re lucky. Their initial impression of you is critical to your success.
- Have a definite academic objective. Know what you are going to study and what it will lead to in your home country. Be qualified for that program of study. Be prepared to explain why it is better for you to study in the U.S. than at home.
- Be absolutely sure about your choice of school. If you do not seem certain that you want to attend SSU, you will not get a visa.
- Use documentation (as opposed to spoken statements) whenever possible, especially when showing financial resources and ties to your home country.
- Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. Practice English conversation.
- Be able to explain the reasons you want to study in the U.S. and remember that your main reason for coming to the U.S. is to study, not to work!
- Speak for yourself. Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview.
- Don’t emphasize any ties you may have to the United States or to family members in the U.S. But if you are asked about relatives in the U.S., be honest about who in your family is in the U.S. and what your relationship to that person is.
- Be honest in everything you write on your visa application and say during the interview.
- Keep your answers concise.
- Maintain a positive attitude! Do not engage the officer in an argument.
- If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.
If your spouse and/or children are also applying for an accompanying F-2/J-2 dependent visa, be aware that dependents cannot be employed in the U.S. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse and/or children intend to do with their time while in the U.S. Volunteering and attending vocational school part-time are permitted activities.
If your spouse and/or children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the immigration officer gains the impression that you will need to remit money from the U.S. in order to support your family, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same office where you applied for your visa.
If you are changing schools within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record to SSU, there are specific visa and travel policies unique to your situation.
F-1 Students: Once your SEVIS record is transferred to SSU, you will be issued a new I-20. Before your program starts at SSU, you may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. with your current F-1 visa and SSU I-20, as long as the visa is not expired, your SSU I-20 has been signed for travel, and you are not outside the U.S. more than five months between academic programs. If your F-1 visa is expired and you wish to travel internationally before your program starts at SSU, you must renew your F-1 visa in your home country before you may re-enter the U.S.
More information on visa regulations and how to maintain your F-1/J-1 status can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page.