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Obtaining a Student Visa

Obtaining an F-1 or J-1 Student Visa

  • After receiving admission to SUNY-ESF, you will receive an I-20 (for F-1 student status) or a DS-2019 (for J-1 student status). Review the information on the document to ensure its accuracy. If any of the information is incorrect, contact the Office of International Education immediately so that an updated document can be issued and mailed to you.
  • Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee.
  • Review visa information on the Department of State’s website and complete the visa application.

You should also consult your U.S. embassy or consulate to see if there are any additional country-specific visa application requirements.

It is important to apply for your student visa as far in advance as possible. The earliest you can apply for an F-1 visa is 120 days prior to the start of your program; there is no limit on how early a J-1 student can apply for a visa.

General Documentation Required For A Student Visa Application

  • I-20 /DS-2019 issued by school you attend/will attend
  • Proof of having paid the SEVIS I-901 fee (I-797 receipt notice)
  • Evidence of financial ability to meet expenses related to your academic program as indicated on your I-20 or DS-2019 (e.g., tuition scholarship letter, assistantship letter, personal bank statements)
  • Evidence of English ability sufficient for course of study (e.g., TOEFL report)
  • Evidence of intent to depart the U.S. after completion of studies
  • Passport valid for at least six months (preferably through the duration of your academic program)
  • Form DS-156, "Nonimmigrant Visa Application"
  • Form DS-158
  • Form DS-157, if applicable
  • Photograph(s) that meet passport specifications
  • Proof of payment of Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee
  • Visa reciprocity fee (if applicable)
  • Applicants applying for new student visa: Be prepared to also provide the following if asked: Transcripts from previous institutions attended; scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • Applicants renewing a student visa: Be prepared to also provide the following if asked: official transcript from ESF, Certification of Enrollment (showing full-time enrollment for every semester at ESF), letter of support from your academic department, resume/curriculum vitae
    • Due to heightened concern for national security, international faculty, scholars, and students seeking U.S. visas:

      • from countries designated as “state sponsors of terrorism” (Cuba, Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria);
      • from countries considered to possess nuclear capability (China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia); or
      • engaged in activities designated on or related to the Critical Fields List

      often encounter lengthy delays due to the imposition of additional security clearances (Visa Mantis Check) related to the Technology Alert List (TAL). If you feel that you fit into any of the above-noted categories, please also bring the documentation noted online.

  • You should also review visa requirement information for F-1 Students, J-1 Students and the consult your U.S. Embassy/Consulate’s to see if there are any additional country-specific requirements.

Visa Interview

At the visa interview, the consular officer will determine whether or not a potential student meets the eligibility requirements for the visa. The F-1 and J-1 visas are non-immigrant visas. Thus, one is assumed to have non-immigrant intent. Accordingly, F-1 and J-1 visa applicants must establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they will depart the United States when they have completed their studies.

Binding times may include: a job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.

Visa applicants must also provide evidence of funds to cover expenses related to the program of study in the U.S. as indicated on the I-20 or DS-2019.

Please review the helpful nonimmigrant visa interview tips provided by NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

For certain countries, the U.S. Consulate will take from 20-30 days before issuing a visa. You should account for this this delay in your travel plans.

Visa Approval

When you receive your U.S. nonimmigrant visa at the Embassy or Consulate in your country, the consular officer will seal your immigration documents in an envelope and attach it to your passport.  You should not open this envelope!  The Customs and Border Protection Officer at the U.S. Port of Entry will open the envelope.

Overcoming a Visa Denial

While a visa denial is discouraging, it is possible to overcome it if you understand why the visa was denied. Access additional visa denial information online.=

Additional Information:


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