(A) Documents

First, you will need to obtain (1) a passport from your country of citizenship. Next, you’ll use (2) the SEVIS I-20 that has been mailed to you by Allegheny College to obtain (3) an F-1 visa at the appropriate U.S. Consulate in your home country. 1 Please make sure you have the latest information on visa applications (see section B(4) below).
(1) Passport
Passports provide proof of citizenship and are issued by the appropriate government ministry in a person’s home country; passports enable people to travel internationally and tore-enter their home country. In place of passports, some people hold a certificate of identity. For students, it is best that passports have an expiration date at least six months after the amount of time required to complete the course of study in the United States (this time period is also known as the “duration of status” in the United States). However, students whose passports will expire before their course of study is complete in the U.S. will have to renew their passport either in their home country or at the embassy of their home country (typically) in Washington, D.C. This should be done several months before the passport expires.
 (2)SEVIS Form I-20 (for F1 visas) The I-20 is the form that certifies your eligibility
to apply for an F-1 visa and to obtain F-1 student status. You will be issued an I-20 by Allegheny College’s International Office. As soon as you receive your I-20, verify that the following information on your I-20 is valid and correct:
           a. the spelling of your name: make sure that it is in the same form and spelling as on your passport;
           2b. the date and country of birth, degree program, reporting date, completion date,
(1 Note: Canadian students do not need to apply for or receive
an F-1 visa. Instead, F-1 status is granted at the entry point when the student presents an I-20 and other required documents, provided the SEVIS I-901 fee has been paid.
2 However, any special characters or diacritic marks will be changed to their nearest equivalent in the English alphabet.)
28 and financial information. If the reporting date is passed, the I-20 has expired and cannot be used; c. the college “PDSO” or “DSO”, i.e., “Principal Designated School Official
“or “Designated School Official,”has signed the I-20 (at Allegheny, it is Jenny Kawata or Josh Whitson). The I-20 is one of documents necessary to obtain the F-1 visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate, and to enter the U.S. You will also need it to leave and re-enter the U.S., as well as to prove your legal status in the country. When your application to obtain an F-1 visa has been approved by the U.S. Consulate, the I-20 will be placed in a sealed envelope by the consular officials and returned to you. When you arrive at the U.S. port-of-entry, the envelope will be opened and the I-20 will be processed (see below). Item #5 of the I-20 indicates the date by which F-1students are required to enter the U.S.; make sure you enter the U.S. by that date!
 (3) U.S. Visa Stamp
In order to enter the United States, self-sponsored international students who have been accepted for full-time study in academic or language programs are required to apply for and obtain an F-1 non-immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate/embassy in their home country. The F-1 visa is stamped or otherwise affixed in your passport (see more information on obtaining the visa below). The visa DOES NOT determine how long you are allowed to stay in the U.S.; the F-1 visa indicates only the time period during
which you are allowed to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student. It is the I-20 that provides the basis for your length of stay, and the I-94 that confirms your status once you enter the U.S. (for more information about the I-94, see section “C. Arriving in the U.S” below).


(1) Contact the U.S. Consulate under whose jurisdiction you fall to make sure you have the appropriate documents for your visa application, and that you are clear on application procedures.
(2) Below is the URL for the general listing of U.S. embassies and consulates on-line: www.usembassy.state.gov/
(3) The U.S. Department of State is now charging $200 SEVIS fee for persons applying for F,and M visas with I-20 or $180 SEVIS fee for persons applying for with DS-2019 forms. Applicants whose I-20 or DS-2019 was issued before September 1, 2004 to begin a new program or issued for a continuation of an on-going program are not subject to the fee regardless of when they apply for their visa. Persons sponsored by the U.S. Federal Government are also exempt from payment of the fee.

Under the Instructions on how to pay the SEVIS Fee section it should read as follows:

You will need to fill in a Form I-901 with information from your Form I-20 and pay the required fee. This form can be found at www.fmjfee.com

For most people, the SEVIS I-901 fee is $200. You have the option of paying an additional $35 to have your receipt sent by expedited delivery (courier service) rather than by mail.

Completing the form online will help ensure that you provide all the information in the correct format. This helps speed processing.

There are a few payment options:

1. You can pay your fee by credit or debit card when you submit your form online. Always print a receipt. You will also receive a receipt by mail.
2. You can pay by international money order or check drawn on a financial institution in the United States and payable in United States currency.

If you fill in the Form I-901 online and choose the option to pay by check or money order, you will be able to print a payment coupon. There is a control number on the top of the coupon. Write the control number, your name and your SEVIS ID number on your check or money order and attach the coupon.

(4) This is a list of documents that you MAY need for your visa application (check the US Consulate website for current instructions relevant to your country):

  • current, valid passport
  • I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt
  • a completed and correct form DS-2019
  • evidence of financial support for the amount indicated on the DS-2019
  • proof that you have a permanent residence outside the U.S.
  • one or more passport-type photographs
  • nonimmigrant visa application forms DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158; these forms are available on-line (www.state.gov/m/a/dir/c4456.htm) and should also be available at the U.S. Consulate where you are applying for a visa; make sure you know which of these forms are required for your application.
  • evidence of English proficiency, if appropriate
  • school records to verify academic preparation, if appropriate
  • additional evidence of strong ties to your home country

(5) In order to issue your visa, the Consular Officer must be satisfied on three counts (please note the section below is written for exchange STUDENTS; however, it might provide useful information to any exchange visitor):

First, are you a bona fide student? The Officer will ask about your educational background and plans in order to assess how likely it is that you go the particular college you have been accepted to, and how likely it is that you will remain in school until graduation. Be prepared to discuss your reasons for studying at Allegheny, your anticipated major, and your career plans. Bring school transcripts, national examination results, and SAT or TOEFL scores (if these tests were required by your college), and anything else that demonstrates your academic commitment.

Second, is your sponsor financially capable? The U.S. government needs assurances
that you won’t drop out of school or take a job illegally.

Your chances are improved if your parents are sponsoring any finances that are not covered by the exchange program provisions (e.g., meals, room, travel). If anyone other than your parents is sponsoring you, you should explain your special relationship with this person, justifying a commitment of thousands of dollars to your education. Having family that lives in the U.S. sponsor you might be detrimental to obtaining a visa.

Provide solid evidence of your sponsor’s finances, especially sources and amounts of income. This assures the Consular Officer that adequate funds will be available throughout your exchange program. If your sponsor’s income is from several different sources (such as salary, contracts, consulting fees, a farm, rental property, and investments), have the sponsor write a letter that lists and documents each source of income.

Third, are your ties to home so strong that you will not want to remain permanently in the United States? Under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must be able to show that your reasons for returning home are stronger than those for remaining in the United States.
The law states that you must demonstrate sufficient economic, family, and social ties to your place of residence to ensure that your stay in the United States will be temporary.

Economic ties include your family’s economic position, property you may own or stand to inherit and your own economic potential when you come home with a U.S. education. The Consular Officer will be impressed to see evidence of your career planning and your knowledge of the local employment scene.

For family and social ties, the Consular Officer may ask how many close family members live in your home country, compared to those living in the States? What community or school activities have you participated in that demonstrate a sincere connection to your town or country? What leadership, sports, and other roles have distinguished you as a person who wants to come home and contribute your part?

Other Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

i. ENGLISH. Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. If you are coming to the United States solely to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.

ii. SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Do not bring parents or family members with you to the
interview. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.


iv. BE CONCISE. Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute or two of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer’s questions short and to the point.

v. SUPPLEMENTAL DOCUMENTATION. It should be clear at a glance to the consular
officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you are lucky.

vi. NOT ALL COUNTRIES ARE EQUAL. Applicants from countries suffering economic
problems or from countries where many students have remained in the United States
as immigrants will have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.

vii. EMPLOYMENT. Your main purpose of coming to the United States should be to study, not for the chance to work before or after your exchange program. You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program.

viii. MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Do not engage the consular officer in an argument.
If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal. If your application is refused, the Consular Officer is required to give you an explanation in writing. You do have the right to apply a second time, but if you reapply, make sure to prepare much more carefully. The Consular Officer will want to see fresh evidence sufficient to overcome the reasons for the first denial.

If you have given careful thought to your educational goals and if you have reasonable career plans, you will find the visa interview an opportunity to prove you are ready to take the next big step in your education and your life: university in the United States.