Understanding the U.S. Immigration System for Students
The U.S. immigration system allocates certain visa types for students that seek to study in the states. Wake Forest is authorized to sponsor students on the following two visa categories:
F-1 Student Visa: This is the most often used visa category for students. It enables students to pursue a full-time degree program and it provides unique provisions that allow students, on a limited basis, to pursue employment during the program of study and post-graduation.
J-1 Student Visa: The J-1 category is used for exchange students primarily, but can also be used for any full-time student whose financial sponsor requires the use of the J-1 instead of the F-1.
Please read below to understand the difference between visa status and visa stamp, and how to apply for an F or J visa stamp, or change your existing nonimmigrant status if you are already in the United States.
Visa status refers to the rules and regulations that surround a visa category. For example, students on the F or J visa are required to maintain their F or J status. Some of the things students must do include:
- Maintain full-time enrollment
- Refrain from engaging in unauthorized employment
- Maintain a valid unexpired Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and request extensions in an appropriate manner
- Make normal progress in their degree program
The visa stamp that is placed in a passport is used for entry purposes only to the United States. All students on the F or J visa, with the exception of Canadian citizens, are required to have an F or J stamp in their passport in order to enter the United States. Once here, the stamp can expire with no consequence due to the unique attributes of the F and J category, which allow students to remain in the United States as long as they have valid documentation (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019).
Obtain Form I-20 for F-1 students or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students. Once you have been accepted to the University and have proven that you have the available financial means necessary to fund your studies, you will need to request a Form I-20 or DS-2019 from ISS. This form will allow you to apply for an F-1 or J-1 student visa at the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
Pay SEVIS I-901 fee. After you receive Form I-20 or DS-2019, you will need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. This fee is used to pay U.S. administrative costs associated with the SEVIS computer system. This fee can be paid in a variety of ways, including online using a major credit card. F-1 or J-1 students will need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee prior to their visa interview at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
Detailed information on the fee and the various payment methods can be found at: SEVIS Fee Information Page
Schedule your visa interview. You cannot get a visa more than six months before your I-20/Ds-2019 start date. In some countries, an appointment can be scheduled online. Others will need to do so by telephone. Before going for your visa interview, you should be aware of all documentation that is required by the specific Embassy/Consulate you will be visiting. Procedures and practices vary from country to country, so make sure that you check the Embassy/Consulate’s Web site prior to your visit.
Please keep in mind that you can apply for the visa as soon as you receive your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. You are advised to apply as early as possible to avoid any delays caused by a large number of students applying at once, background checks, etc.
Make initial entry into the U.S. Once you have obtained your F or J visa, you may make an initial entry to the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the start date listed on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.
If you are denied a visa from a U.S. Embassy/Consulate, you should contact the Center for Immigration Services and Support (ISS). Please keep in mind that the office can only provide limited assistance on such matters, but we will attempt to do everything possible to assist you. It will be helpful if you email firstname.lastname@example.org your visa denial notification so that we can review it and determine the best way to assist you.
If you are currently residing in the U.S. in another nonimmigrant status (ex. H4, L2, E3, etc.) and you wish to enroll in a degree program you should schedule a meeting with ISS by emailing email@example.com.
ISS will provide you with the necessary visa document, I-20 or DS-2019, to file with your “Change of Nonimmigrant Status” petition to USCIS. ISS encourages students to seek legal counsel related to the “Change of Nonimmigrant Status” process. ISS can provide only general information about the steps you will take, but cannot provide specific advice pertaining to individual cases.
If you are currently present in the U.S. in B-1 or B-2 status, you are not allowed to attend classes as a regular, degree-seeking student until you are approved for a visa status that allows you to study in the U.S. Please note, not all nonimmigrant categories are eligible to pursue a change of status in the United States.
If you are studying at another U.S. institution in F or J status, you will arrange to have your SEVIS record transferred electronically by your current institution to Wake Forest University. After admission, you will receive specific instructions from ISS regarding the SEVIS Transfer process and what steps you must take.