Students pursuing studies under F-1 or J-1 status in the U.S. require specific documentation for entry into the U.S. One such requirement is an unexpired F-1 or J-1 entry visa sticker/stamp in the student’s passport.
*IMPORTANT: Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from the U.S. entry visa sticker/stamp requirement, but they MUST possess all other required documentation when entering the U.S. through a U.S. “Port of Entry (POE)”.
There are two (2) “Categories” of U.S. immigration statuses that allow for study in the U.S.: The “F-1 Student” category and the “ J-1 Exchange Visitor” student category. Both statuses fall under the “Nonimmigrant” category, requiring full-time enrollment during an MIT program’s required academic terms, such as fall and spring. For an alphabetical listing all of the “Nonimmigrant” U.S.statusclassifications and specific requirements refer to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) website.
- Obtaining A U.S. Visa Sticker/Stamp
- Required Documentation For Visa Application & Interview
- Scheduling Visa Interview Appointment
- Attending Visa Interview Appointment
- Visa Approved, Arrival To The U.S.
- Additional Information For Current/Continuing Students
- Important Reminders & Information
OBTAINING A U.S. VISA STICKER/STAMP
Students wishing to apply for a U.S. entry visa sticker/stamp should review all the information listed on the U.S. Department of State (DOS) website prior to their visa sticker/stamp application. Additionally, students should plan on applying at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate in their home country, follow the instructions listed by DOS, and check visa interview appointment wait times. NOTE: Students cannot apply for a visa sticker/stamp from inside the U.S.
- Due to high demand, students should secure ANY available visa interview appointment time, even post-arrival, at the nearest U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad, in their home country [see below ‘Scheduling Visa Interview Appointment’ section for additional information].
- NOTE: Each individual intending to enter the U.S. under F or J status, whether F-1 and F-2 or J-1 and J-2, is required to submit their own visa sticker/stamp application.
REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION FOR VISA APPLICATION & INTERVIEW
Students must review the instructions for how to apply for a visa sticker/stamp on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website where they will apply. When applying for a U.S. entry visa sticker/stamp at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad, specific documentation is required:
- Valid Passport: A student’s passport must be valid for at least six (6) months beyond their period of stay in the U.S. (unless exempt by country-specific agreements).
- Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 Confirmation Page: Students can find helpful information on how to complete the Form DS-160 on the DOS ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ webpage and also an example of a Form DS-160 here.
- NOTE: The U.S. contact and address information on a DS-160 needs to be a personal contact in the US, or the students’ academic department contact, usually found on the letter of admission. It cannot be the ISO.
- DS-160 Application Fee Payment Receipt: Students are required to pay this fee before their interview.
- I-901 SEVIS Fee: For initial MIT F-1 or J-1 entry visa sticker/stamp applications, it is essential that the student pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee and retain the receipt as proof. The student will need to bring it with them to their visa sticker/stamp appointment (new/incoming students only).
- Photos: Students will be required to upload a photo when completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, the student must bring printed passport-size photos in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
- MIT-Issued “Certificate of Eligibility” Document: Form I-20 for a nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status or a Form DS-2019 for a (J-1) Exchange Visitors Student Status.
- Once MIT has issued a student either a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, the student must:
- Review the “Certificate of Eligibility” document(s) for accuracy. Any errors in the document(s) should be reported to the ISO as soon as possible for reissuance of the document(s).
- Print, and then hand-sign and date the document(s). U.S. immigration regulatory guidance explicitly prohibits students from electronically signing their “Certificate of Eligibility” document(s).
- Once MIT has issued a student either a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, the student must:
- Financial Documentation: The financial documentation submit to a U.S. Embassy/Consulate should be the same financial documentation submitted to the ISO for the MIT program.
- If student has a fellowship, assistantship, and/or scholarship, they should obtain a description of the fellowship, assistantship, and/or scholarship requirements from their MIT department. Students should also include their appointment letter.
- MIT “Letter of Admissions”: Recently issued MIT “Letter of Admissions” (new/incoming students only).
- Evidence of MIT Transcripts and Enrollment/Registration: Recently issued “official” MIT transcript, not a digital transcript, and evidence of enrollment/registration, which can be obtained online, from the MIT Registrar’s Office (current F-1 or J-1 students only).
- MIT Department Description: Copy of the student’s MIT department description.
- MIT Program Description: Copy of the student’s MIT program description, including specific details about the program’s curriculum and structure.
- Students Resume/CV: Copy of the student’s up-to-date resume/curriculum vitae (CV), detailing their educational, employment, and professional history—both foreign and domestic. This documentation may also be requested as part of a visa sticker/stamp application, interview, and for entry into the U.S. NOTE: Providing multiple versions of a resume/CV can cause confusion with U.S. immigration officials, therefore students should ensure consistency in their documentation.
Additional Documentation for Visa Application and Interview
Additional documentation, beyond the above-mentioned documents, may be requested by U.S. immigration officers at any stage of the visa sticker/stamp application process and entry into the U.S. This might include:
- List of a student’s publications and presentations, including samples, if applicable.
- Letters of recommendation from current and previous institutions, both foreign and domestic.
- Up-to-date resume/CV of MIT program advisor, if applicable.
IMPORTANT: The ISO recommends students to prepare a wide range of documentation, as detailed above, in advance of a which could significantly aid a student’s visa sticker/stamp interview. Accordingly, applicants should be prepared to provide additional documentation regarding their area of study and research when applying or renewing a visa sticker/stamp.
Additionally, it’s important to note that while a student should bring an extensive array of documentation to an interview, it’s advisable to only present the specific documents and/or information requested by the consular officer Students should keep all responses succinct and to the point, avoiding unnecessary elaboration.
SCHEDULING VISA INTERVIEW APPOINTMENT
Scheduling a Visa Interview Appointment at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate Abroad
Certain U.S. Embassies/Consulates may offer limited interview appointment times due to demand, consular staffing limitations, and/or operational constraints. Students are advised to regularly check the U.S. Embassy/Consulate interview scheduling website for available interview appointment times or explore alternative U.S. Embassy/Consulate locations within their home country (if feasible). NOTE: MIT and the ISO do not have the capability to expedite and/or arrange visa interview appointments with U.S. Embassies/Consulates on behalf of students.
Expedited Visa Interview Appointments Eligibility Criteria
The ISO advises students to secure ANY available interview appointment time, even if appointment time is after the student’s intended arrival to MIT. As, once a student has an interview appointment time confirmed, they are eligible to request an “Expedited” interview appointment (**different from an “Emergency” interview appointment) through the specific U.S. Embassy/Consulate country/location website where the current visa interview appointment is scheduled. A student may be eligible for a for an “Expedited” interview appointment if:
- The student already has an interview appointment time scheduled.
- The student is within 60 days of the start date indicated on the student’s MIT-issued “Certificate of Eligibility” document (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019).
- The student has NOT been denied a visa sticker/stamp within the last six (6) months.
ATTENTION: Eligibility criteria for an “Expedited” interview appointment can vary by country and the specific Embassy/Consulate [example]. To determine eligibility, students are strongly advised to visit the DOS ‘US Travel Docs’ website.
– If a request for an “Expedited” interview appointment is denied, the student will lose the eligibility for a second request during the visa sticker/stamp application process.
– Inadequate planning, missing a booked flight, or other travel-related issues are not considered valid reasons for requesting an “Expedited” interview appointment.
**NOTE: “Emergency” interview appointments are NOT available for student visa sticker/stamp applications. These interviews are exclusively for relatives of U.S. Citizens/U.S. Permanent Residents or for humanitarian entry into the U.S. (e.g., medical treatment).
ATTENDING VISA INTERVIEW APPOINTMENT
A U.S. consular officer will interview the student to determine the student’s qualifications and eligibility for a U.S. entry visa sticker/stamp, ensuring that the student meets the necessary criteria according to U.S. law (*not required for citizens of Canada and Bermuda).
ATTENTION: Issuance of a U.S. visa sticker/stamp is at the discretion of a U.S. consular officer, who is mandated to conduct comprehensive security checks. The ISO/MIT does not have the ability to guarantee approval or expedite this process due to U.S. national security measures.
- As part of the application process, digital fingerprint scans, ink-free, are typically taken during the interview, though practices may vary by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate location.
- Students who present an MIT-issued Form I-20, will receive an F-1 entry visa sticker/stamp. Students who present a Form DS-2019 will receive a J-1 entry visa sticker/stamp.
- Following a student’s visa interview, a consular officer may determine the need for additional “Administrative Processing (221g)” and will provide guidance on how the student can submit the additional documentation after the interview.
IMPORTANT: Students should bring an extensive array of documentation to an interview [see the ‘Documentation Required for Visa Application & Interview’ section above], it’s advisable to only present the specific documents and/or information requested by the consular officer Students should keep all responses succinct and to the point, avoiding unnecessary elaboration.
Students who experience delays or undergo “Administrative Processing (221g)” are advised to maintain collaboration with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate and ensure ongoing communication with the ISO and their respective MIT department. Additionally, students should update this information by logging into their iMIT Portal account (through “Full Client Services for Students”) and navigating to the “Admission” section in the left sidebar menu, select “Visa Interview & Approval”, and complete the e-Forms. This process enables the ISO to access current data on students and their visa sticker/stamp processing times, aiding us in assisting other students who inquire about visa wait and processing times.
What is “Administrative Processing”
After a student completes their visa interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad, their application may be subject to “Administrative Processing (212g)”. This process entails comprehensive security reviews conducted by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and other federal agencies. Various factors can prompt these extended security checks, including, but not limited to:
- Country of birth or citizenship.
- Academic or employment history, including military service.
- Travel records.
- Source of funding.
- Previous U.S. immigration history.
- Family members’ backgrounds in terms of birthplace, employment, academics, immigration history, and/or travel records.
- Inclusion in current U.S. law enforcement targeted programs, often linked to country of citizenship/residence.
- Current geopolitical situations.
The above are merely a few examples of the issues that could prompt a “Administrative Processing (212g)” review. Often, it is not specifically about the individual student but rather a comprehensive assessment of applicants from particular countries or certain fields.
Unfortunately, the duration of “Administrative Processing” can vary significantly. Once identified for this review, the student’s application is sent to the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in Washington, DC. After which, the U.S. Embassy/Consulate has no authority over the process, but instead must wait for a decision to be rendered. DOS shares the information with several other U.S. government agencies (such as Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), FBI, NSA, etc.—though specifics are undisclosed). All agencies must provide clearance before DOS allows the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to issue a visa sticker/stamp to a student.
Waiting for the “Administrative Processing” decision to be rendered places the student, U.S. Embassy/Consulate, and MIT in a period of stasis until the process is completed. While most cases conclude within one (1) to six (6) weeks post-interview, some cases may extend beyond this timeframe.
ATTENTION: The ISO/MIT does not have the ability to guarantee approval or expedite this process due to U.S. national security measures.
90 days following a visa interview, students who have not received an update on their visa application/“Administrative Processing”, are advised to email the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to request an update on the status of their application. Following a student’s 90-day outreach to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate on the status of their application, the ISO recommends that the student continues to contact the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in 30 days intervals. Students encountering delays or “Administrative Processing” should maintain regular communication with both their ISO Advisor and their respective MIT department about their visa situation throughout this process.
NOTE: In certain limited situations, where applications have been pending for more than 90 days post-visa interview, the ISO may explore outreach options with the DOS. Moreover, if an application remains in “Administrative Processing” for over 12 months, DOS recommends that the applicant initiate a new visa application process with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
VISA APPROVED, ARRIVAL TO THE U.S.
ATTENTION: Students are advised NOT to make any travel arrangements to the U.S. until they have physically obtained their visa sticker/stamp and have the document in their possession.
Students who have secured their F or J visa sticker/stamp and have the document physically in their possession, should review the ISO ‘Pre-Arrival Checklist’ webpage to ensure they have completed all eight (8) steps outlined on the webpage.
When students arrive at a U.S. port-of-entry (POE), a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Immigration Officer will inspect their immigration documents and collect their travel arrival/departure information to create their electronic U.S. I-94 Entry/Arrival Record. This record is provided to all individuals entering the U.S. (excluding U.S. Citizens). For those in F or J status, this record acts as their “U.S. Admission Number” for Immigration purposes and serves as a crucial document signifying their immigration status in the U.S.
IMPORTANT: Every time students and dependents enter the U.S. in F or J status; it is mandatory to download, review, and SAVE a copy of their I-94 Record. This is required upon EVERY entry into the U.S., as the I-94 Record Number changes with each entry.
Additionally, it is crucial for individuals to ensure that their I-94 Record ALWAYS accurately reflects their biographical and immigration information. An I-94 Record should specify the “Class of Admission” as “F-1” or “J-1” (“F-2” or “J-2” for dependents), and the “Admit Until Date” as “D/S” (for “Duration of Status”), as these specifications denote that the individual is maintaining a legal U.S. student immigration status. DO NOT FORGET to complete this process upon every entry into the U.S.
If an immigration officer identifies any issues with a student’s immigration documents, the student should notify their ISO Advisor. An ISO Advisor will review the student’s documentation/situation and offer guidance on necessary next steps, if needed. NOTE: Being sent to “Secondary Inspection” DOES NOT necessarily indicate an issue with a student’s entry into the U.S.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR CURRENT/CONTINUING STUDENTS
All MIT-sponsored F-1/J-1 students currently enrolled and continuing their MIT academic program should adhere to the following guidelines for U.S. entry visa sticker/stamp applications.
- During a visa sticker/stamp interview at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate, it is common practice for a previous entry visa sticker/stamp (in the same status), even if still valid, to be “Cancelled Without Prejudice”. This means that specific visa sticker/stamp can no longer be used to enter the U.S., and the student must wait until the U.S. Embassy/Consulate issues the new entry visa sticker/stamp before the student can enter the U.S.
- Therefore, current/continuing students are advised to consult their academic program/department before traveling and applying for a visa sticker/stamp with a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad. This proactive step ensures clarification of potential risks, creation of a contingency plan, and (if permitted) remote coursework or remote teaching/research assistantships. So, prior consultation and arrangements with the student’s academic program/department is critical in helping to navigate any possible “Administrative Processing” delays until the student can return to the U.S.
- Students with additional questions should contact their ISO Advisor directly.
Visa Sticker/Stamp Application Timelines
The ISO frequently receives the question, “How early can I apply for a new entry visa sticker/stamp, for the same U.S. immigration status, if my current entry visa sticker/stamp is still valid?”
- Generally, if a student’s entry visa sticker/stamp remains valid for their return to the U.S., obtaining a new entry visa sticker/stamp for the same status is not required before re-entering the U.S.
- Our experience suggests that students should only apply for a new entry visa sticker/stamp when outside the U.S. and the current visa sticker/stamp is set to expire within the next 60 days – OR – the visa sticker/stamp has already expired. However, students should confirm their eligibility to apply for a new entry visa sticker/stamp directly with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate of where they will apply.
IMPORTANT REMINDERS & INFORMATION
U.S. Immigration Status
An entry visa sticker/stamp in a student’s passport does not indicate their immigration status within the U.S. Only the following three (3) valid documents determine a student’s immigration status in the U.S.:
- Valid “Certificate of Eligibility” document (Forms I-20 or Forms DS-2019).
- Unexpired Passport.
- Valid I-94 Record.
If all these documents are valid/unexpired, it is acceptable for a visa sticker/stamp to expire while a student is inside the U.S. Additionally, the dates of a visa sticker/stamp is typically based on “Visa Reciprocity”, reflecting agreements between countries. For example, if a U.S. citizen studies abroad as a student in Italy, the duration of their visa sticker/stamp would be similar to that of an Italian student studying in the U.S. However, the ultimate decision and visa sticker/stamp dates are always subject to the discretion of the consular officer.
An entry visa sticker/stamp in a student’s passport does not indicate their immigration status within the U.S. Only the following three (3) valid documents determine a student’s immigration status in the U.S
Remember to Update the ISO
Students are advised to update their visa sticker/stamp information by logging into their iMIT Portal account (through “Full Client Services for Students”) and navigating to the “Admission” section on the left sidebar menu, select “Visa Interview & Approval”, and complete the e-Forms. This process enables the ISO to access current data on students and their visa sticker/stamp processing times, aiding us in assisting other students who inquire about visa wait and processing times.
After thoroughly reviewing the ISO ‘Getting Started’ webpages, students with additional questions are encouraged to use the search tool located at the top of the ISO website or consult the comprehensive FAQ section on the ISO ‘Knowledge Base’ webpage. Additionally, MIT students have the option to contact their designated ISO Advisor directly for assistance.