Immigration

How to secure your Visa to the US as a Student

Nonimmigrant students who come to the United States to study must follow specific rules. However, different rules apply depending on your student type and education level. Learn what student type and education level apply to you.
8 min to read

Congratulations on your decision to study in the United States. Nonimmigrant students who come to the United States to study must follow specific rules. However, different rules apply depending on your student type and education level. Learn what student type and education level apply to you below:

Student Type:

  • F-1: Nonimmigrant students enrolling in academic programs at a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or another educational institution, including an English language program.
  • M-1: Non-immigrant students enrolling in a technical program at vocational or other recognized non-academic institution, other than a language training program.

Your first step is to apply to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the United States. Use the School Search tool to find SEVP-certified schools and eligible programs to enroll F-1 and M-1 students. For more information about the types of programs available to you, please visit EducationUSA.

The Form I-20

Once you are accepted into a SEVP-certified school, your school’s designated school official will send you a document called the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” The Form I-20 is a paper record of your information in our Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. Each school that accepts you will mail you a Form I-20.

For more information, visit the Students and the Form I-20 page.

After receiving your Form I-20, you must pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee.

Federal regulations require all F, M, and J students to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee before applying for their U.S. student visa. You can pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee online at FMJfee.com or Western Union Quick Pay. You must present the receipt as proof of payment when you apply for the visa. It’s essential that the SEVIS ID number on your I-901 SEVIS Fee receipt matches your SEVIS ID number on your Form I-20. If it does not, or you encounter other issues paying your fee, don't hesitate to contact SEVP.

After paying the I-901 SEVIS Fee and getting a receipt, you must apply for a visa at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate before coming to the United States.

To receive a visa, you will have to participate in an in-person interview. During your visa interview, you will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the visa category for which you are applying. The consular officer will determine if you qualify to receive a visa and which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel.

A visa does not guarantee entrance to the United States; it only permits you to arrive and seek permission to enter the country. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the U.S. port of entry has the final authority to admit entry.

The following pages will assist with this process:

Before you leave for the United States, familiarize yourself with the different documents you will need or could need when you arrive. It is also good to make at least two sets of copies of these documents: one copy to leave with your family before you depart and one copy to give to your school officials. Required documents include your:

It is also wise to have your acceptance letter, proof of financial ability, and any other supporting documentation with you if the Customs and Border Protection officer asks for them. You should carry your original travel documents on you while traveling. Please do not put them in your checked baggage. For more information on traveling to the United States, visit the Getting to the United States page.

When you arrive at the United States, you will meet a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry to verify your information and determine if you may enter the country.

If the officer cannot initially verify your information, or if you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

The inspector will first attempt to verify your status by using SEVIS. If the CBP officer needs to verify information with your school or program, we strongly recommend that you have the name and telephone number of the designated school official (DSO) at your school on hand. If you arrive during non-business hours (evening, weekends, holidays), you should also have an emergency or non-business hour phone number available for this official.

Failure to comply with U.S. government entry-exit procedures may result in your being denied entry to the United States. Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may issue a Form I-515A, “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor,” which authorizes temporary admission into the United States. Work with your school without delay to submit the proper documentation required by the Form I-515A. Failing to comply with a Form I-515A will result in the termination of your status. Read SEVP’s Form I-515A Noncompliance Termination procedure to ensure you understand how to appropriately respond and maintain your status.

If the CBP officer admits you into the country, you will be given a Form I-94, “Arrival/Departure Record.” This form shows that you have been legally admitted into the United States, the class of admission, and your authorized period of stay. The information on the record must be correct. Inconsistencies between the information on the Form I-94 and SEVIS records can reduce the chances of a successful systems interface and result in denial of benefits or difficulty re-entering the country.

You have 30 days to enter the country before your official program start date, as listed on your Form I-20. If you do not report to your school by your program start date, your DSO may terminate your SEVIS record. We suggest that you contact your school immediately once you enter the country so that there is no question of your arrival.

If you cannot enter the United States for the term listed on your Form I-20, contact your school officials as soon as possible so that they can update your record, so your plans are accurately reflected in SEVIS.

While studying in the United States, you may be eligible to apply for certain benefits. These student benefits are not granted by SEVP and require students to apply to other government agencies to receive them. The benefits you are eligible for will depend on your student status. Visit the following pages to learn more about potential student benefits:

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Source of some content: US Immigration and customs enforcement

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