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.
If you need an earlier visa appointment to facilitate your arrival at the beginning of the semester, you can try to submit a request for an expedited visa appointment. You usually need to schedule a regular visa appointment before you can request an expedited date. Please note that expedited appointments will only be granted at the Consular/Embassy Section’s discretion.
How to get an I-20 to begin study at W&M
- Once you have been admitted to W&M and paid your deposit, you will receive an email from our online system iStart.
- Through iStart, you will complete an online form and upload copies of your passport identity page (if you have one) and financial documentation (i.e., proof of funding).
- The request will be electronically endorsed by the admissions office and then routed to the Office of International Students, Scholars & Programs (ISSP).
- ISSP will notify you when the I-20 is issued.
Once you have your I-20, follow the steps below:
Step 1: Pay the SEVIS Fee
Before applying for your F-1 visa, you must pay a SEVIS Fee of $350. You can pay this electronically or by mail, but payment must be 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, read ICE I-901 FAQ.
If you previously paid the SEVIS fee, and your F-1 record has stayed active, you do not need to pay it again.
If you are transferring your immigration record from another school, you do not need to pay the SEVIS fee. For more information about this, contact [[globe, ISSP]].
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 and 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.
Step 2: Schedule your visa interview appointment
Instructions will be on the website of the embassy or consulate at which you apply. This is typically handled by a call center or service that contracts with the embassy. 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.
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 ISSP's physical address (200 S. Boundary St, Williamsburg, VA 23185).
- refer to the list below for additional items you will need.
If you do not receive your I-20 back after your appointment, contact ISSP for a replacement, as you will need this when traveling to the U.S.
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).
Applying as a "Third Country" National
Most students will apply for their F-1 visas in their country of citizenship but an applicant may apply for their F-1 visa at any U.S. embassy or consulate around the word. This is called a "third country" national application. However, please consider the following before deciding to pursue such an application:
- Some U.S. embassies or consulates might not accept “third country” national applications or it might be difficult to schedule an appointment for such an application.
- You might need to obtain a visa to enter the third country.
- You will need to stay in the third country until you receive your F-1 visa and thus will need to factor in the cost and time needed to receive your visa.
- If your F-1 visa application is denied, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student and might need to return to your country of citizenship to apply for your F-1 visa.
Authorization of your F-1 Visa
If the consular officer grants you the visa, the officer 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. You may stay in the U.S. on an expired F-1 as long as you maintain your immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20 and follow all immigration rules. If you have left the U.S. and your F-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one to re-enter the U.S.
Bermudan and Canadian citizens do not need a F-1 visa to enter the U.S.
You may stay in the U.S. until the completion of your program (see program end date on I-20) plus 60 days (e.g., grace period). During the 60 days grace period, you may travel in the U.S., prepare for your return home, etc; however, you cannot work during that period - even on-campus.
Entry to the US
On you first entry to the US with your I-20, you cannot enter earlier than 30 days before the start date on your I-20. For travel after that, (e.g., summer break), there is no restriction.