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Applying for a Visa

Note: The information obtained from the Cal Poly International Center Office should not be used as the sole source of information for making decisions that may affect one's legal status in the U.S. or one's right to study, teach, conduct research, or work. Each student and exchange visitor is individually responsible for maintaining his or her visa status.

Overview of Visa Issuance Process

  1. Obtain a passport from your home country. The passport must be valid at least six (6) months into the future of your arrival date.
  2. Inform your school of your name exactly as it is written in your passport, and give the address to where you wish the visa issuance form to be sent.
  3. Receive a visa issuance form DS-2019 (for J-1 visa exchange visitors) or I-20 (for F-1 visa students) from your school. These are issued by the International Center.
  4. Review the DS-2019 or I-20 form for accuracy. If there are any errors in any of the fields, notify Cal Poly International Center immediately. Do not pay the SEVIS fee if there is an error on your form. Wait until the form is corrected.
  5. Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee (if you have not already done so) for this SEVIS ID number. See instructions below. If you are transferring schools, extending your program, applying for a dependent visa, or have paid this fee and been denied a visa within the last twelve months, you do not need to pay the SEVIS fee again. Beware of third parties that offer to pay your SEVIS fee for you. Some companies requested I-901 fee refunds from students' credit cards after the students received their visas. This terminated the students' visa statuses and made them subject to deportation.
  6. Apply for a visa at a United States Embassy or Consulate in your country of citizenship. Wait for it to be sent to you or you are notified it is ready to pick up. See your local U.S. embassy page for processing times. If you are a Canadian citizen, then you do NOT need to apply for an F-1 visa at the consulate. Pay the SEVIS Fee, then bring your I-20 or DS-2019, I-901 receipt, and proof of funds with you to the port of entry. See instructions for Entering the USA.

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Pay the SEVIS (I-901) Fee

To Pay SEVIS Fee Online

Go to the I-901 website. Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard, or American Express information. Write your name exactly how it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019 form. Print a copy of the online receipt. A Form I-797 receipt confirmation letter should be mailed within 3 days of processing the fee. Be sure to make copies of this receipt letter, and keep it with your other important immigration documents. Be sure to make copies of your receipt, and keep it with your other important immigration documents. You must bring the receipt of fee payment with you to the interview. If you have lost the receipt, the Visa Officer should be able to view your payment history in his or her database.

To Pay SEVIS Fee By Mail

Get a Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants.” Download the form from the I-901 website, ask for the form by phone at 1-800-870-3676 (inside the US), or call the Cal Poly International Center office.

Complete the Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20 form. Prepare a check, international money order, or foreign draft (drawn on US banks only*) made payable to “The Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Mail the completed I-901 and payment to the address listed on Form I-901.A Form I-797 receipt confirmation letter should be mailed within 3 days of processing the fee. Be sure to make copies of this receipt letter, and keep it with your other important immigration documents.

*Many foreign banks are able to issue checks or money orders drawn on a U.S. bank.

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Apply for the Visa

Contact a U.S. Embassy or Consular Office

Each U.S. embassy and consular office sets its own application procedures. Contact your local U.S. Consulate or Embassy for instructions on applying for a U.S. visa.

After you receive a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from the school that you want to attend, follow the U.S. Embassy/Consulate’s instructions to schedule an interview for your visa. It is important to apply for your visa as far in advance as possible. Many consulates recommend that appointments be made no more than 90 days from the intended date of travel, but some can make earlier arrangements for interviews.

Complete the visa application forms and pay the fees

Go to the Department of State Visa Forms website and complete the following forms:

  1. DS-160 Electronic visa application form
  2. DS-158 Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant
  3. If a male between the ages of 16 and 45, DS-157 Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application.

Pay the visa application fee by following instructions on your local U.S. embassy or consulate’s web site.

Your visa interview

Prepare and bring to your visa interview the following original documents:

  • A passport valid for at least six months and with at least 3 blank pages
  • Form I-20 or DS-2019 signed by you
  • I-797 Approval notice (if applying for a change of status)
  • School admission letter, transcripts, letter of good academic standing
  • Completed visa applications (DS-156, DS-158, and DS-157 for males 16-45) DS-160 required at some posts
  • Two 2”x 2” photographs in the prescribed format
  • A receipt for the visa application fee
  • A receipt for the SEVIS fee (downloaded from I-901 page). If you have not received an official receipt in the mail showing payment and you paid the fee electronically, the consulate will accept the temporary receipt you printed from your computer. If you do not have a receipt, the consulate may be able to see your payment electronically if your fee payment was processed at least 3 business days before your interview.
  • Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study
  • Any information that proves that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies in the U.S. This may include proof of property, family, or other ties to your community. Have an outlined plan for what you intend to do upon your return home.

Remain calm and answer all the Visa Officer’s questions openly and honestly. You may have to wait several days to receive your visa after your interview.

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When You Travel

Keep your passport and DS-2019 or I-20 with you when you travel. Do NOT put it in your checked luggage.

J-1 visa students and scholars and F-1 visa students entering the United States for the first time, may enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the start date on the DS-2019 or I-20. F-1 visa students re-entering the U.S. after transferring their SEVIS Record to Cal Poly may enter at any time with the new Cal Poly I-20 and valid F-1 visa stamp.

When you arrive at the airport in the U.S., an officer will review your travel documents including your I-20 or DS-2019, your passport, visa, and I-901 (SEVIS) payment receipt. The officer may ask you questions about your stay in the U.S. Digital fingerprints and a photo will be taken.

If you have any questions, please contact Judy Mitchell (805-756-5837).

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