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Follow the steps below if you are applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa outside of the United States. Additional information can be found at www.travel.state.gov. If you are currently inside the U.S., contact International Student & Scholar Services for a different set of instructions.
1. Check your passport and I-20 (or DS-2019).
All of the biographical information in your documents must match, and your passport must be up-to-date. If there is a mistake on your I-20 or DS-2019, please contact ISS immediately. Generally speaking, your passport should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in the U.S.
2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
This one-time fee is non-refundable and costs $200 (for F visas) or $180 (for J visas). See the attached section titled “SEVIS Fee Payment” for instructions. After paying the fee, keep your receipt in a safe place. You will need to present an I-901 receipt if you renew your visa in the future.
3. Make an appointment for your visa interview.
Contact a U.S. embassy or consulate to schedule your appointment: http://usembassy.gov. Note that it can take up to several weeks to obtain visa interviews in some countries.
4. Complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160).
The DS-160 can be accessed at https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/. Pay special attention to the photo requirements listed on the website. Print the confirmation page once you have finished the application.
5. Pay the nonimmigrant visa application processing fee.
This fee is in addition to the SEVIS I-901 fee mentioned above. The application processing fee is $160 and is usually payable at a bank near the U.S. consulate. Contact the location of your visa interview for information about this fee. Note that additional fees may apply in certain countries.
6. Go to your visa interview.
Bring your passport, I-20 or DS-2019, the confirmation page from the DS-160, and all of your fee receipts. You should also take proof of the financial support for your program (copies of bank statements, financial guarantees, etc.). Read the tips on the next page to prepare for the interview.
7. Receive your visa.
Your visa will take a few days to process. When it is ready, your passport and I-20 (or DS-2019) will be returned to you. Keep these items together and present them when you enter the United States.
SEVIS Fee Payment
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a federally mandated database used to track nonimmigrant visitors to the U.S. In addition to the visa application fee, all international students and scholars must pay an I-901 (SEVIS) fee when applying for a visa.
Payment Options: You can pay the I-901 fee in one of three ways. Most students choose the online option as it provides an instant receipt.
- Pay online at https://www.fmjfee.com. Once complete, a receipt can be printed and used for immediate verification of payment.
- Pay via Western Union. Visit http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/wu_instr.htm for more information.
- Pay by check. Checks or money orders must be in U.S. dollars, drawn on a U.S. bank, and made payable to “I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee.” Send documents to the appropriate address below:
I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee
P.O. Box 970020
St. Louis, MO 63197-0020
Address for courier delivery:
I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee
1005 Convention Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63101
Preparing for the Visa Interview
When applying for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you will attend a brief interview with a consular official. This meeting usually lasts three or four minutes and is a conversation—not merely a review of documents—between you and the officer. Applicants must demonstrate that they (1) can understand and respond appropriately to the officer’s questions; (2) have knowledge of the university and program in which they plan to enroll; (3) can explain how they will use their degrees after graduation; (4) have ties to their home countries and plan to return; and (5) are able to fund their studies. Remember that the consular official must be convinced that you intend to depart the U.S. upon the completion of your program.
Use the tips and suggestions below to prepare for the interview:
- Think about what you will do after leaving the United States. Do you plan to work or complete another degree?
- Know the job situation in your home country. How will your UMSL degree help you when you return home? What kind of job would you like to have?
- Be prepared to explain anything unusual (for example, if you are older than a traditional first-time freshman, be able to explain why you are beginning your academic career at this time.)
- Learn basic information about UMSL and your degree program: http://www.umsl.edu/.
- Write down a short "statement of purpose" explaining why you want to attend the University.
- Bring proof of financial support to the interview. These documents should be the same as what you submitted to UMSL.
- Practice for the interview with friends or family. Be ready to answer questions like: “Where did you hear about the University of Missouri – St. Louis? Why do you want to study in the U.S.? Why St. Louis in particular?”
- Be honest with the consular official at all times. For example, applicants in some countries may try to provide false financial information because they attempt to avoid local income taxes. U.S. consular officials, however, will appreciate honesty and be more likely to grant a visa if they know your actual circumstances.
Due to changes in U.S. regulations, biometrics are a mandated part of the visa process. Embassies and consulates are required to collect an electronic fingerprint scan, as well as the digital photo you provide with your application. Each applicant will have all ten fingers scanned during the interview. This information is then stored in a protected database that immigration inspectors can access at U.S. ports of entry.
Visa Processing Times
Applicants for F-1 visas cannot apply more than 120 days before the start of their programs. Exchange visitors can apply for the J-1 at any time, but the visa cannot be issued more than 90 days before the program begins.
F-1 and J-1 visas are processed quickly in most cases; however, you should plan to apply 45-60 days prior to your departure for the U.S. Depending on your program of study, your application may require security checks that take longer to complete.
If your application for a visa is denied, the consulate is required to give you written information about the basis for the decision. This will likely be a pre-formulated response that does not include the specifics of your case. Know, however, that most denials occur when consular officials suspect that applicants intend to violate the conditions of a student visa or remain inside the United States indefinitely.
As most denials are not permanent, it may be possible to re-apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. You must, however, present new evidence with your second application, especially information that demonstrates strong ties to your home country.
If you are denied under INA Section 214(b), you may reapply by completing a new application form, paying the application fee, and scheduling an appointment for a new interview (you would not need to pay the SEVIS fee again). If, however, your denial was based on a different section of the INA, other restrictions may exist. Refer to your denial letter for accurate information.