International Students

Visa Application and Information

About the U.S. Visa

The information presented is a brief introduction and cannot replace the advice and assistance of the staff at the Global Education Center.

In order to enter the U.S., most foreign nationals will need a visa.  The term “visa” refers to the visa stamp in your passport that reflects the permission of the U.S. government to proceed to the U.S. border.  U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has the final admission authority.  The primary visas granted to international students are 'F' visas for degree-seeking students and 'J' visas for exchange students.  All foreign nationals except Canadians entering the US in F or J status are required to obtain the appropriate entry visa from the consulate or embassy nearest their homes.

The term "visa" does not refer to your I-20 or DS-2019 form, which reflects you are conducting the activities for which your visa was granted, or your I-94 card, which is an entry card you will receive when you arrive in the U.S. and which you must keep until you depart the U.S.  To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of State's Student and Exchange Visitors page.


  • Degree-seeking students and dual-degree exchange students will usually hold F-1 visas.
  • Exchange students will usually hold J-1 visas.

Back to top

Applying for Your Visa

All international students, with the exception of Canadian students, are required to get a visa in order to study in the United States. Upon acceptance to Elon, you will receive either a form I-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1 visa holders).  You may not apply for a visa until you have received the appropriate form. 

All foreign nationals coming to study in the U.S. on student visas will pay a visa fee.  To see current visa fees, please see the U.S. Department of State's fees for nonimmigrant visa services.

In addition to the visa fee, students will be required to pay the SEVIS fee and may be required to pay a visa reciprocity fee depending on their country of citizenship.  For more information on these fees, please see those sections on this page.

Detailed information on the visa application process can be found at the U.S. Department of State's student visa information page.

While you are waiting for your DS-2019 or I-20, you can be preparing for the visa application process.  The checklists below are helpful tools to make sure you have all of your documents in order.

Many of the items on the checklist are explained in more detail below.


If the U.S. embassy or consulate returned your I-20 or DS-2019 in a sealed envelope with instruction DO NOT OPEN, leave it in the envelope and the immigration officer will open it after you land in the U.S.

Back to top

Changing to a Student Visa from Another Status

It is possible for non-resident aliens to change to F-1 status from another nonimmigrant visa status in many cases.  Students should consult the GEC for more information on their specific case.  

Students petitioning for a change of status to F-1 should submit to the GEC the following:

For more information on the SEVIS fee, please see the next section on this page.

The GEC will:

  • Issue any new forms necessary to support your eligibility.
  • Review all documents to ensure accuracy and that the packet is complete.
  • Mail the packet to the USCIS office in Mesquite, Texas.
  • Contact the student as soon as GEC receives the USCIS decision.

USCIS will communicate its decision to the GEC on a Form I-797 approval or denial notice.

Back to top


The SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fee is paid by each foreign national who applies for a visa to study in the United States.  It must be paid in advance of the visa application.

To see the current SEVIS fee, please visit the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement SEVIS I-901 Fee Information Page.

To pay the SEVIS fee, please visit the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement fee processing website.

When you pay the SEVIS fee, be sure to save and print your receipt.  You must have it to apply for your visa.

Back to top

Visa Reciprocity Fees

Citizens of some countries will be required to pay additional fees beyond the SEVIS fee and visa fee in order for the visa to be issued.  To learn about fees for your country, please visit the U.S. Department of State's visa reciprocity table.

Back to top

Online Visa Application Form

Form DS-160, the online visa application form, must be completed by all applicants when applying for a nonimmigrant visa.  You can find information on DS-160 and the application on the U.S. Department of State's website.

Back to top

Maintaining Visa Status

Once you receive your visa and enter the U.S., it is your responsibility to maintain your legal status.  Both 'F' and 'J' visas come with certain privileges, such as the ability to work part-time on campus or to seek authorization for a summer internship.  However, both visa categories have restrictions on activities that students MAY NOT do, such as work off-campus or take fewer than 12 credit hours in a semester.  For more information on common topics affecting visa status, please contact us or visit the links below.

  • Maintaining Immigration Status
    • Permission to Stay in the U.S.
    • Certification of Eligibility
    • Maintaining Student Status
    • Transferring Schools
    • Dropping Below a Full Course Load
    • Extension of Program
    • Visa Renewal
    • Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR)
    • Reinstatement
  • Employment & Taxes
    • F-1 & J-1 On-campus Employment
    • F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
    • F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
    • J-1 Academic Training
    • Other Forms of Employment
    • Taxes
  • Study Abroad for International Students
    • Eligibility
    • Things to Consider
  • After Elon
    • Post-completion OPT
    • Going to Graduate School
    • Other Work Options

Back to top

Information on this page was adapted from the NAFSA Adviser's Manual, retrieved 8/8/2011.