The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is the branch of the government that regulates the status of all those people visiting or living in the United States who are not citizens. That includes immigrants ("green card" holders) and non-immigrants (everyone else). You will be a non-immigrant. That means that you are subject to a number of regulations, sometimes irritating and difficult to understand. It can be annoying, but it is very important that you take the time to understand your situation and to make sure that you fulfill your legal obligations. We are here to help you do that.
Getting a Visa
To obtain a visa, you must submit an application and supporting documents with your passport to the U.S. Consul or Embassy that has jurisdiction over the place where you live. Once you receive your I-20 (F-1 Student) or DS-2019 (J-1 student or exchange visitor) you will then need to pay the SEVIS fee before you schedule your interview. Currently the fee is $200 USD for F1 students and $180 for J1 students and the SEVIS fee can be paid online, via western union or by mail.
Your visa alone does not guarantee entry into the U.S. You must also carry your other documents – including a valid passport and valid I-20 or DS-2019.
To apply for a visa you must make an appointment at a US Embassy or Consulate outside the U.S. Please check the website of the embassy or consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence for specific instructions on the application procedures.
You should apply for your student visa well in advance of the date you would like to depart – your actual visa appointment can be made 120 days prior to your planned arrival date in the US. Following are the documents you will need to apply for your F1/J1 student visa:
- Form I-20/DS-2019 – (Certificate of Eligibility)
- Form DS-156 – (Nonimmigrant Visa Application)
- A valid passport for travel with validity at least six months into the future
- One (1) 2x2 photograph (see photo format explained at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html#need)
- Visa application fee
- Visa issuance fee (if applicable)
- SEVIS fee receipt (only principle applicants pay the SEVIS fee)
You should also be prepared to provide:
- Transcripts/diplomas from previous institutions attended
- Test scores required at admission to Clarkson University
- Financial documentation indicating sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses
- Documents showing your “non-immigrant intent” or ties to your home country
Special Note for Canadian Citizens: You will not need to apply for a visa – instead - you will apply for entrance to the US as a student at the border. A US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officer will inspect you documents – therefore – please be sure to carry the following:
- Your I-20 or DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility)
- Your Passport
- Your letter of admission to Clarkson University
- Proof of SEVIS fee payment (payment details shown on back)
- Proof of financial support that corresponds to the information on your I-20 or DS-2019
While most students will acquire their visa successfully – there are times when a visa may be denied or delayed. The most common reasons for a visa denial are; failure to prove ties to your home country or failure to provide sufficient financial documentation.
Recently visa delays have become much more common. The Department of State must ensure that citizens of some countries will not pose a threat to the United States – therefore – delays resulting from security clearances are the most common. However, delays can also be caused by the need for a security advisory opinion if it is determined that you will be pursuing a degree or performing research in a “sensitive area of study” as indicated on the State Department’s Technology Alert List.
In either case of a visa denial or delay you should notify the International Students & Scholars Office as soon as possible. A consular official must verbally inform you of the reason for the denial or delay – please be sure to provide this information when you notify the ISSO.
Once you have obtained to your visa you are now ready to prepare for your departure to Clarkson University. Please review the following important notes and procedures:
- Documents necessary to enter the United States
- An endorsed I-20/DS-2019 from Clarkson University
- A valid visa
- A valid passport
- Proof of SEVIS fee payment
- You cannot enter more than 30 days from the start date noted on your I-20/DS-2019 and you are required to arrive no later than the start date indicated on your I-20/DS-2019.
- If you cannot arrived by this date – you must contact the International Students & Scholars Office to obtain an exception. Late arrivals must be approved by Clarkson University.
- Please note – if you intend on living off-campus – you should plan to arrive a couple of weeks prior to this date to allow sufficient time to make these arrangements.
- Do not enter the United States as a tourist or under the visa waiver program. Persons entering under either of these categories are not allowed to study at a college or university. These categories are used solely for the purpose of tourism.
- Do not enter on another school’s I-20/DS-2019 – this is considered to be a fraudulent entry by US immigration officials.
Special Note to those already in the United States as an F-1/J-1 student – your transfer to Clarkson University is pending until you arrive and enroll in classes. Once this is confirmed by the ISSO – your transfer process can be completed. Therefore – it is important to report to the International Students & Scholars Office as soon as possible after your arrival.
Strategies for the Visa Appointment
You are well advised to consider the following matters prior to your visa appointment, as you may be asked about each item.
1. Academics: Be definite and clear about your educational plans. You should be able to explain precisely what you wish to study and why you chose Clarkson University for your education. Be especially prepared to explain reasons for studying in the United States rather than your country.
2. English: Anticipate that the visa interview will be conducted in English. Do not bring parents or family members with you to the visa interview. The consular official will want to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.
3. Ties to Your Home Country: Demonstrate convincing reasons for consular officials to believe that you intend to return home after studies in the United States. Emphasize ties to your home country such as employment, family obligations, property or investments that you own or will inherit, and clear explanations of how you plan to use your education to help your country or pursue a career when you return home.
4. Financial Documentation: Be prepared to prove financial ability to pay for your education and living expenses. While some students will be able to work part time during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing their education. You must show the consular officer that you have the annual amount in United States dollars listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 form. Your financial evidence should be in the form of bank statements, affidavits of support, scholarship award letters, etc.
5. Be concise: Because of the volume of visa applications, all consular officials are under considerable pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impression 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 short and to the point.
6. Not all countries are the same: 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 these countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities in the United States.
7. Dependents remaining at Home: If you have a spouse and/or children remaining behind in your home country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular official gains the impression that you family members will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support them, your student visa will almost surely be denied.