Visa 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. If you have a visa or immigration question, please contact the Global Education Center (GEC).

In order to enter the U.S., most foreign nationals will need a passport from their home country and a U.S. visa in their passport.

  • Degree-seeking students and dual-degree exchange students will usually hold F-1 visas.
  • Exchange students will usually hold J-1 visas.
  • Some students are dependents of parents already in the USA on a visa (H-4, L-2, A-2…)

F-1 students will receive an I-20 and J-1 students receive a DS-2019. These forms must be carried with your passport each time you travel to the USA. Do not pack them in checked luggage. Keep them with your passport.

When you arrive in the USA you must go online to print off your I-94 card, which documents your entry into the country.

To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of State’s Study & Exchange page.

Canadian students need a Canadian passport and an I-20 or DS-2019 but are not required to get a visa in their passport. Like other international students, you will need to have your I-20 or DS-2019 signed each time you depart the USA.

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, a SEVIS fee and perhaps a visa reciprocity fee. For more information about those fees in your home country, please see the U.S. Department of State’s fees for visa services page. Detailed information on the visa application process can be found at the U.S. Department of State’s student visa page. For more information about the SEVIS fee, see the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s SEVIS fee page. To pay your SEVIS fee online, click hereWhen you pay your SEVIS fee, be sure to save and print your receipt. You must have it to apply for your visa.

While you are waiting for your DS-2019 or I-20, you can be preparing for the visa application process using the checklists below.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

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.

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.

 

Permission to Stay in the U.S.

Students on an F-1 or J-1 student visa may remain the U.S. as long as you are a full-time student with a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and are in compliance with the regulations summarized below.

There are several options for students who would like to stay in the U.S. upon completion of their program. All students are granted a 60-day grace period during which they may remain in the U.S. after completion of the program.

Certification of Eligibility

You should keep all I-20’s or DS-2019’s issued to you during your time in the U.S. as they will be necessary in applying for practical training, re-instatement or change of status. These documented will also be used to verify that you are eligible to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad.

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires students to have a recent signature of a Designated School Official on their most recent I-20 or DS-2019 in order to be re-admitted to the U.S. after travel. You must come to the GEC to have your I-20 or DS-2019 signed before travel outside of the USA to verify that you remain in status.

To maintain lawful status while in the USA, you must:

  • attend the school listed on your I-20 or DS-2019
  • register with the school at the beginning of each term
  • be enrolled during each regular term (i.e. students must be enrolled for fall and spring terms but are not required to be enrolled summer or winter terms)
  • attend school full-time during regular terms (12 semester hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester hours for graduate students) unless authorized to take fewer hours by a GEC staff member*
  • hold a valid, current I-20 form
  • maintain a passport that is valid for at least 6 months into the future
  • not work off-campus without authorization
  • not work more than 20 hours per week during a regular term
  • report change of your physical address within 10 days
  • follow proper procedures to transfer schools

*You must be approved by the GEC to drop below a full-time load or you will be considered out of status. You may take fewer than full-time load in your final semester before graduation.

Transferring Schools

Students considering transferring into or out of Elon University must contact the GEC before starting the transfer process. It is necessary to follow the established transfer procedures for the transfer to be allowed under immigration laws.

Extension of Program

If you are approaching the expiration date on your I-20 or DS-2019 and know you need more time to complete your program of studies, you must request a program extension IMMEDIATELY. You will need to submit to the GEC updated proof of funding and a letter from your academic advisor indicating you are making acceptable progress towards your degree. With this information the GEC will update your SEVIS record and issue you a new I-20 for continued attendance, indicating the program extension. If you apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), that will automatically extend your program for the duration of the OPT.

Renewing Your Visa

If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., you do not need to depart for the express purpose of renewing it as long as you are in valid immigration status. However, if your visa expires and you depart the U.S., you must renew your visa before you can return. The process for renewing a visa is identical to the process for applying for a visa except that you should not have to pay the SEVIS fee a second time.

It is not possible to apply for an F-1 visa while in the U.S. While it is possible to apply for a visa in a country other than your home country, you should be aware  that you will often face more stringent requirements than you would in your home country.

Petition to Change Your Status (for example, from H-4 visa to F-1 visa)

If you are in a given non-immigrant classification and would like to change to another classification, you can do so at any time by sending your petition to the USCIS with all appropriate supporting documentation and fees. Visit the GEC for assistance in making your application to change status. Please note that it is difficult to change from a B (“tourist”) visa to an F-1 visa.

 

Maintaining Status Information

Permission to Stay in the U.S.

Permission to stay in the U.S. is indicated on the I-94 Arrival/Departure card, the small white card usually stapled inside your passport upon arrival in the U.S. It indicates the date and port of entry to the U.S., your immigration classification, and the date until which you are allowed to remain in the United States of America. Most students on F-1 or J-1 status will have “D/S” (Duration of Status) instead of a specific date. This means you may remain in the U.S. as long as you are a full-time student with a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and are in compliance with all the regulations pertaining to your status.

There are several options for students who would like to stay in the U.S. upon completion of their program. All students are granted a 60-day grace period during which they may remain in the U.S. after completion of the program.

Certification of Eligibility

Upon your acceptance to Elon, you will be issued either an I-20 (F-1 students) or a DS-2019 (J-1). These documents certify your eligibility to apply for a visa and also certify you are maintaining status while in the U.S. You should keep all I-20’s or DS-2019’s issued to you during your time in the U.S. as they will be necessary in applying for practical training, re-instatement, or change of status. These documents will also be used to verify that you are eligible to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad.

Travel Signatures

The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires students to have a recent signature of a Designated School Official on their most recent I-20 or DS-2019 in order to be re-admitted to the U.S. after travel. You should come to the GEC to have your I-20 signed before travel if the previous signature is more than six months old, or will be more than six months old when the you return to the U.S.

Maintaining Your Student Status

Your eligibility for employment, school transfers, and program changes depends on maintaining lawful status. Your signature on the I-20 signifies your agreement to abide by the conditions of F-1 status while in the U.S.  It is important to carefully read page 2 of the I-20.

To maintain lawful status, you must:

  • Register with the school at the beginning of each term
  • Attend the school listed on the I-20
  • Be enrolled during each regular term (i.e. students must be enrolled for fall and spring terms but are not required to be enrolled summer or winter terms)
  • Attend school full-time during regular terms (12 semester hours for undergraduate students; 9 semester hours for graduate students) unless authorized to take fewer hours by an GEC staff member
  • Hold a valid, current I-20 form
  • Maintain a passport that is valid for at least 6 months into the future
  • Not work off-campus without authorization
  • Not work more than 20 hours per week during a regular term
  • Report change of your physical address within 10 days
  • Follow proper procedures to transfer schools

Transferring Schools

When should I request a transfer of schools?

You should initiate transfer procedures during the term prior to the semester you intend to enroll in the new school.  It is imperative to follow the established transfer procedures in order to maintain valid immigration status.

A student who transfers schools must enroll in the new school during the first available regular term after leaving the previous institution.

Transferring to Elon

To transfer to Elon, you must:

  • Apply to and be accepted by the university. Refer to the Office of Admissions website for more information.
  • Inform the school from which you are transferring and complete any applicable forms
  • Submit to the GEC a Foreign Student Advisor’s Report completed by the international student advisor at the school from you are transferring
  • Report to the GEC and enroll in classes within 15 days of the beginning of the next regular term
Transferring from Elon

To transfer from Elon, you must:

Apply to and be accepted by the new institution

Notify the appropriate offices on campus, including the GEC, of your intention to transfer

Submit a SEVIS Transfer Out form to the GEC

Report to the new institution’s international office and enroll in classes within 15 days of the beginning of the next regular term

What the international student advisor at the transfer-in school will do:
  • Verify your enrollment
  • Update your SEVIS record to show that you reported to the new school and completed the transfer within the 15-day deadline
  • Issue you a new I-20 reflecting these updates
IMPORTANT NOTE

A student who is out-of-status must apply to the USCIS for reinstatement to F-1 status. Please refer to the instructions on reinstatement on this page and contact the GEC.

Dropping Below Full-time Course Load

F-1 and J-1 students are REQUIRED to take a full-time course load in order to maintain status. At the undergraduate level a full-time course load consists of at least 12 hours while at the graduate level a full-time load typically consists of 9 hours. The only exception to this rule is students in the final term of their degree program who require less than a full load to complete the program. Students in this situation may carry less than a full load without approval.

There are certain circumstances where students not in their final semester may be approved to carry less than a full load. To learn more about requirements for taking a reduced course load, please contact the GEC.

IMPORTANT NOTE

You must be approved by the GEC to drop below a full-time load or you will be considered out of status.

Extension of Program

When is the best time to apply?

If you are approaching the expiration date on your I-20 and know you need more time to complete your program of studies, you must request a program extension IMMEDIATELY.

What you need to do:

Submit to the GEC updated proof of funding and a letter from your academic advisor indicating you are making acceptable progress towards your degree.

The GEC will:

Update your SEVIS record and issue you a new I-20 for continued attendance, indicating the program extension.

IMPORTANT NOTES
  • Any failure to obtain program extension in a timely fashion will result in you falling out of status.
  • If you have applied for practical training, you do not have to apply for an extension of program.
  • If you do not qualify for program extension, please see the GEC to discuss your options.

Renewing Your Visa

If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., you do not need to depart for the express purpose of renewing it as long as you are in valid immigration status. However, if your visa expires and you depart the U.S., you must renew your visa before you can return.

The process for renewing a visa is identical to the process for applying for a visa except that you should not have to pay the SEVIS fee a second time.

It is not possible to apply for an F-1 visa while in the U.S. It is possible to apply for one as a third-country national (i.e. in a country other than your home country), but you should be aware that third-country nationals often face more stringent requirements than residents of the country where they apply.

Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR)

Under certain circumstances, a student whose visa has expired may visit Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands in the Caribbean for a period of less than 30 days without renewing their visa. For more information, please contact the GEC.

Reinstatement

When is the best time to apply?

You must apply to the USCIS for reinstatement to F-1 student status as soon as possible under the following circumstances:

  • You did not carry a full load for the program of study without prior approval from the GEC.
  • You did not attend school during a regular term unless you were excused for medical reasons.
  • You did not attend the school you were authorized to attend by USCIS.
  • You did not notify USCIS of a transfer or change of educational level in a timely manner.
  • You remained in the U.S. beyond the time authorized under duration of status and did not apply for extension of stay.
  • You worked without proper authorization.
  • You violated the immigration regulations in any other manner.
Who is eligible for reinstatement?

You are eligible for consideration for reinstatement to F-1 status only under the following circumstances:

  • You have not been out of status for more than five months at the time of filing for reinstatement.
  • You do not have a record of repeated or willful violations of the F-1 regulations.
  • You are currently pursuing or intend to pursue a full course of study in the immediate future at the school which issued the Form I-20.
  • You have not engaged in any unauthorized employment.
  • You are not deportable.
  • You can establish that the violation of status was a result of circumstances beyond your control, or that the violation relates to a reduction in course load that would have been approved by the GEC.
What you need to do:
  • Contact the GEC to discuss your situation and consider your application for reinstatement.  Bring your I-20, passport, and I-94 card.
  • Write a letter to USCIS asking for reinstatement and explaining the circumstances of your case, keeping in mind the eligibility requirements stated above.
  • Complete an I-539 Form (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status).
  • Attach a check or money order from a U.S. financial institution payable in U.S. dollars in the amount of the required fee. Please refer to the USCIS website for the most up-to-date fee information.
What the GEC will do:
  • Issue a new I-20
  • Submit the new I-20, form I-539, and your letter to the USCIS
  • Advise you of other options if you are ineligible to apply for reinstatement
What USCIS will do:
  • If reinstatement is authorized, USCIS will send the adjudicated I-20 to the GEC.
  • If reinstatement is denied, USCIS will give you a voluntary departure date.
IMPORTANT NOTE

You cannot apply for reinstatement if you have worked without authorization.

 

F-1 Change of Non-Immigrant Status

There is no specific time to apply for change of status. If you are in a given non-immigrant classification and would like to change to another classification, you can do so any time by sending your petition to the USCIS with all appropriate supporting documentation and fees.

Changing from F-1 to another status

What you need to do:
  • Download a form I-539 (application to extend/change nonimmigrant status) from the GEC.
  • Fill it out and return it to GEC along with all the following documents:
    • Your check or money order (no cash) payable to the Department of Homeland Security or to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
    • All of your original forms I-20.
    • Original of your I-94 card and those of your dependents, if applicable.
    • Evidence of your eligibility for new status (DS-2019 or other similar document).
    • Evidence of your financial support for the new status.
    • Evidence of SEVIS Fee payment.

*Note: Application and SEVIS fees change constantly. View the list of updated fees.

What GEC will do:
  • Review documents making sure that the forms are filled out accurately and the packet is complete.
  • Issue any new forms necessary to support your eligibility.
  • Send the packet to the USCIS.
  • Contact you once the USCIS communicates its decision.
What USCIS will do:

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

 

Changing from another status to F-1

What you need to do:
  • Download a form I-539 (application to extend/change non-immigrant status) from the GEC and complete it.
  • Fill it out and return it to GEC along with the following documents:
    • Your check or money order (no cash) payable to the Department of Homeland Security.
    • Original of I-94 card and those of your dependents, if applicable.
    • Letter of admission to Elon University.
    • Evidence of your eligibility for F-1 status (form I-20).
    • Evidence of your financial support.
    • Evidence of SEVIS Fee payment.

*Note: Application and SEVIS fees change constantly. View the list of updated fees.

The Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC) will:
  • Issue any new forms necessary to support your eligibility.
  • Review all documents making sure that the forms are filled out accurately and that the packet is complete.
  • Send the whole packet to the USCIS office in Mesquite, Texas.
  • Contact you as soon as it receives USCIS decision.
What USCIS will do:

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

 

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