Once you have received a Form I-20, you can travel outside of the United States (preferably to your home country), apply for an F-1 entry visa at a U.S. consulate overseas, and re-enter the U.S. using your new visa. To apply for a new visa, you will need to bring with you:
- an I-20 issued by the Reves Center
- an unexpired passport, valid for at least 6 months
- a copy of your admission letter from William & Mary or VIMS
- financial documentation demonstrating that you have sufficient financial resources to meet the tuition, living expenses, and fees for your program as listed on your I-20
- the receipt from your I-901 SEVIS fee payment
- evidence from your previous status, such as a copy of previous I-94 (recommended)
All of the above documents should be presented when applying for a visa, and again upon entering the United States. When you enter the U.S., you must present the documents listed above as well as your new F-1 visa to request for F-1 status from a U.S. immigration inspector. Upon clearing immigration inspection, you will be in F-1 status.
Advantages of this Method
It generally is quicker than the Form I-539 method, and you will have an F-1 visa in your passport which you can use for future re-entries to the U.S.
Disadvantages of this Method
There is a possibility that you could be denied a visa (and not permitted to reenter the U.S.) or you could encounter delays in getting your visa. This risk is generally greater for students who are in sensitive fields of study (certain science and technology fields). However, that being said, W&M students have an almost 100% success rate in obtaining student visas.
Additionally, travel costs can be high, especially if you have dependents. You will also be required to pay the visa application and reciprocity (if applicable) fees .