Obtaining a Visa
A Message for Students Planning to Study in the United States This Year, Learn More. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, David Donahue
Visas and Passports
Your passport should be valid at least six months beyond the date of entering the U.S. as a student. Be sure to check your passport expiration date. If it will expire close to when you will begin classes, obtain a new passport before applying for your visa.
The two types of visas most commonly used by individuals pursuing international education are the F-1 and J-1. The F-1 is the student visa, while the J-1 is an “exchange visitor” visa managed by the U.S. Department of State. Both visas have conditions, such as maintaining a full course of study and strict limitations on employment. Working on campus is usually the only employment option available to international students. Since jobs are limited on campus, do not plan on employment as a source of income during your stay in the United States, especially during first year.
How to Obtain a Visa
Although U.S. embassies will not issue a student visa prior to 120 days before the start date on the I-20 (or DS-2019 for J's), you can schedule an appointment prior to the 120-day period. Since processing times have become longer due to increased security clearances, students should check with their local U.S. embassy or consulate to learn the estimated waiting time and allow plenty of time to obtain the visa. A list of consulates and embassies can be found at http://usembassy.state.gov/.
You will need to pay the SEVIS fee at least three business days before your visa interview. The fee can be paid online or by mail. For complete directions, see http://www.FMJfee.com. Be sure to print a receipt before exiting the Web site and take it with you when you go to the embassy for your interview.
Unless you are sponsored J-1 student or already in another visa category, the University's Office of Admissions will send you a Form I-20 when you are admitted and have submitted proof of your ability to finance your education. Take the I-20 form, your acceptance letter, passport, copies of sponsorship letters and bank statements to prove financial support, and the receipt for your SEVIS fee payment to the United States embassy or consulate nearest your home. Once you have acquired the visa stamp in your passport, you are ready to enter the U.S.
Note: First-time students with an initial entry I-20 may not enter the U.S. more than 30 days prior to the start date on their I-20.
When arriving in the U.S., your documents will be examined and processed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the port of entry. Your passport will be returned to you along with an I-94 card (Arrival/Departure Record) designated “D/S” which means “duration of status” and refers to the time you are engaged in a full-time course of study as indicated on your visa document. The DHS official will stamp and return your I-20 to you. Check your documents before you leave the port of entry inspection site to make sure they are properly stamped and show the correct visa type on both the I-94 and I-20.
Note: Your documents are extremely important. They legitimize your presence in the United States. Keep them in a safe and secure place.
Canadian and some British Commonwealth citizens do not need visas to enter the U.S., but they must present their I-20 forms for processing at the point of entry even if the official does not ask for it. They are also required to pay the SEVIS fee and should follow the instructions above before traveling in order to present the receipt at the Port of Entry. They should also be prepared to show evidence of financial support and proof of citizenship. Without a stamped I-20 and an I-94 card with the F-1 or J-1 designation on it, you are considered a tourist in the United States and will not be legally able to study.
Note: If you will not be entering the U.S. on an F-1 visa, do not use an I-20 form to obtain a visa. If you receive an I-20, please return it to the Office of Admissions with an explanation of the type of visa you hold.
If your visa document (I-20 or IAP-66) does not arrive in time for you to secure the proper visa, do not enter the United States on a B1/B2 Visitor Visa. You may not begin your studies on a tourist visa and trying to change to student status in the U.S. is a risky and very lengthy process which could delay your studies ;for several terms.
Note: Students must attend the school named on the I-20 or DS-2019 presented at the port of entry in order to be in status. Also, do not enter the U.S. on a “W-T” (waiver) as this classification cannot be extended or changed and you will lose your legal immigration status as a student.
Students Transferring From Another University in the United States
If you are an F-1 student transferring from a U.S. institution and will not be leaving the country prior to enrollment at UT, follow the procedures required by DHS. Bring your complete UT I-20 to the Office of International Programs as soon as possible after your arrival on campus. Sign the document and leave it to be processed by a Designated School Official (DSO) who will notify you when you may pick it up.
If you leave the U.S. before beginning your studies at UT, use the new I-20 issued by The University of Tampa when you arrive at the port of entry. It is important to keep the I-20 from your old school with your immigration records, but do not use it to enter the U.S. It is not necessary for transfer students with an unexpired student visa and who have maintained their status to obtain a new visa, even though the former school's name is listed on the visa.
Changing Your Academic Level
If you are currently a student at The University of Tampa and will be continuing your studies in an additional program of study (such as a master's degree), you should follow the transfer procedure. A new I-20 will be issued for the new program, and you will use the new I-20 to enter the country. If you do not leave, bring it to the Office of International Programs as described in the transfer process in the preceding paragraph. Failure to complete this “internal transfer” will cause you to be out of status with DHS, which can adversely affect work authorizations or other student privileges.