To enter the U.S. as an F-1 student, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You may apply for a visa up to 120 days before the start date on your I-20.
Getting an I-20
I-20s are issued to students who have been admitted to W&M and have submitted all appropriate paperwork to the admissions office in their department. If you have been admitted and have questions about what you need to submit, contact your department's admissions office. Once you have your I-20, you will be able to apply for your F-1 visa.
Step 1: Pay the SEVIS Fee
Prior to applying for your F-1 visa, you must pay a SEVIS Fee of $200. This fee is in addition to the visa application fee and visa reciprocity fee (the reciprocity fee varies by country, and is rarely applicable). You can pay this electronically or by mail, but make sure that the payment is received at least 3 days before the visa interview, or for Bermudan or Canadian citizens, 3 days before you enter the U.S. For more information on the SEVIS fee please refer to ICE I-901 FAQ.
Continuing F-1 students who have already begun a program in the U.S. in F-1 status are not required to pay this fee, unless they're returning from a leave of absence and travelling on a new I-20. For more information about this, contact the [[globe, Reves Center]].
Step 2: Schedule your visa interview appointment
This is typically handled by a call center or service that contracts with the embassy. Instructions will be on the website of the embassy or consulate at which you apply. U.S. State Department policy requires that embassies and consulates give students priority in visa appointments.
Step 3: Apply for the Visa
At the visa application appointment, the officer will conduct a brief interview of you and review your documents. Sometimes they will thoroughly examine your documents. Other times they will not look at everything. It's still best to bring all documents to be prepared!
To obtain the F-1 visa, you will need the following documents:
- an I-20
- a valid passport
- evidence of financial support (Certification of Financial Support, bank statement, assistantship or scholarship letter)
- evidence of ties to your home country (employment offer, concrete plans on how your education in the U.S. will help your career in your home country, family and property ties, etc.)
- visa application form DS-160. If you need to list a U.S. address in your application, you can list the address of your department, or the Reves Center's physical address (200 S. Boundary St, Williamsburg, VA 23185).
- refer to the list below for additional items you will need.
New Students will need:
- documents listed above
- receipt of the SEVIS fee payment
- admission letter from William & Mary or VIMS
Continuing Students will need:
- documents listed above
- valid travel signature on form I-20 (signatures valid for 1 year from date of signing)
- W&M transcript (official recommended)
- visa support letter (optional)
Students on OPT will need:
- documents listed above
- valid travel signature on form I-20 (while on OPT, signatures valid for 6 months from date of signing)
- EAD card (OPT card)
- letter from employer, verifying employment, recognizing travel (recommended)
Check with your U.S. Consulate to see if they require any additional documents.
Some of you may be subject to a security check as part of your visa application, which may delay getting your visa. This is often referred to as "administrative processing." While most security checks are completed within 2 weeks, (the U.S. State Department works with the other federal agencies involved to expedite them), in rare cases they can take several months. Various factors may make you more likely to have a security check, such as your country of citizenship, your gender, and the field you are studying.
Applying for a visa after Changing Status
If you are currently in the U.S. in another status and plan to change status to F-1, please see Changing Status to F-1 for more information.
If you have already changed status within the U.S. (e.g. H-4 to F-1) and this will be your first subsequent F-1 visa application, you should carry with you your I-797 Change of Status Approval Notice as well as documentation of your previous status with you (e.g. old H-4 Approval Notice).
Bermudan or Canadian citizens do not need to apply for a student (F-1 or J-1) or dependent (F-2 or J-2) visa; they may simply enter with the I-20, proof of citizenship (i.e. passport or driver's license + birth certificate), admission letter, SEVIS Fee payment receipt, and evidence of financial support. They will however, have to pay the SEVIS fee at least 3 days before entering the U.S. The SEVIS fee cannot be paid at the border.
Authorization of your F-1 Visa
If the consular officer grants you the visa, he or she will instruct you on when and where you can pick it up. The visa will have an expiration date; however, the expiration date on the visa is not the date by which you must leave the U.S. As long as you maintain F-1 status, you may stay in the U.S. until the completion of your program plus 60 days (After completing your program you have a 60 day grace period in which you may travel in the U.S., prepare for your return home, etc; however, you cannot work during that period - even on-campus).