Obtaining a Visa

In order to travel, you will need to obtain a passport from your government. Once you have your passport, you need to receive an entry visa from the American Embassy or Consulate in your country.

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are NOT required to obtain an entry visa from the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, however these students will need to carry their passport (issued by Canada or Bermuda), the Certificate of Eligibility Form (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019), proof of admission and/or enrollment at MIT, and proof of financial support for your academic stay at MIT to present at your port-of-entry to the U.S.

There are two kinds of visas which would allow you to come to study in the United States: the F-1 nonimmigrant Student visa status and the J-1 nonimmigrant Exchange Visitor (student category) visa status. If you present to the Consular Officer a Form I-20 issued to you by MIT, you will receive an F-1 entry visa. If you present a Form DS-2019, you will receive a J-1 entry visa. Both types of visas require you to be a full-time student whenever school is in session (generally Fall and Spring semesters, September through June).

In general, you should be able to obtain the entry visa if you present to the Consular Officer the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, your letter of admission and/or proof of registration at MIT, and a copy of the financial documents you submitted to MIT. Remember that if this is your first time obtaining an F-1 or J-1 entry visa with this document, you must also pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. Once you pay the fee, keep the receipt of the fee payment with your form and bring it with you to the Consulate appointment.

(NOTE:  Effective June 24, 2019, the SEVIS I-901 Fee will increase — for F-1 visa holders to from US$200 to US$350, and for J-1 visa holders from US$180 to US$220).  

We are very careful when we print Forms I-20 or DS-2019; however, mistakes are possible. If a Consular Officer discovers a mistake in your form and it is too late to request a new form, please contact us as soon as possible so we can issue an updated document that you can submit to the Embassy/Consulate after your interview (the visa officer may provide guidance on how to submit additional documentation after the interview). Please be advised that the issuance of the visa is at the sole discretion of the Consular Officer and that the ISO cannot guarantee receipt of the visa.

Once you receive your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from the ISO, you are advised to schedule a visa interview appointment with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate that is closest to where you live. Links to all US Embassies/Consulates abroad are available online (http://usembassy.gov). Instructions on how to schedule a visa interview, the visa application form (Form DS-160), and clarification of documents required for a visa interview are included on each consulate’s website.

Difficulty Scheduling a Visa Interview: Note that some U.S. Embassies/Consulates may face high demand for visa interviews with limited interview slots available, given staffing levels or other conditions impacting consular operations. Students will need to continue to access the U.S. Embassy/Consulate visa interview scheduling website for available interview times. MIT does not have any mechanism to contact the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to schedule a visa interview on your behalf.

Students are advised to schedule for ANY visa interview time that is available, even if it is after your planned arrival to MIT. Once a student has a scheduled interview time, a student may be able to request an “Expedited” interview through the U.S. Embassy/Consulate by showing that an earlier interview is needed to arrive to MIT on time. The Embassy/Consulate website will have instructions about how to request an “Expedited” interview if the Embassy/Consulate have resources available to offer that Expedite services. You MUST have an already scheduled visa interview time in order to request an “Expedited” appointment. Not all U.S. Embassies/Consulates will be able to Expedite visa interviews. *NOTE: Students can only request an expedited visa interview appointment if they are within 60 days of the program start date listed on their immigration document (Form I-20/DS-2019), and already have a visa interview appointment scheduled. However, timelines to request an expedited visa interview appointment can vary by country and location (example). Students can determine their expedite visa interview appointment eligibility by visiting the https://www.ustraveldocs.com/ webpage and clicking on the specific country/location where they have their current visa interview appointment already scheduled.

**NOTE: “Emergency” visa interviews are NOT available for Student visa applications. Emergency interviews are only available to relatives of U.S. Citizens/U.S. Permanent Residents or to obtain humanitarian entry to the U.S. (for example, for medical treatment in the U.S.).

When you apply for the visa, you will give the Consular Officer all the pages of your form. Upon your arrival in the U.S., an Immigration Officer will review your documents and return the Form I-20 or DS-2019 to you. If the Immigration Officer finds some fault with your form, please let us know when you check in with our office. We will advise you on how to proceed. Please do not go to the Immigration Office in Boston without first consulting the International Students Office.

If you applied for a J-1 visa, you should remember that depending on your funding and on the country you are from, you may be subject to the two-year home residency requirement. If you are subject to this requirement, after the completion of your program of studies and academic training (if any), you will be required to return home and spend two years there before you can apply for an H, L, or immigrant visa. There are other requirements pertinent to J-1 visa students. If your family (spouse and children) will accompany you to the U.S., you are required by federal regulations to purchase hospital insurance for them. You will be asked by the ISO to sign a statement indicating that you have complied with the insurance requirements for both you and your J-2 dependents.

If you plan to attend a course in English as a Second Language at another college in the Boston area or elsewhere in the U.S., you will need to obtain a separate Form I-20 from that school. Make sure that the consular officer is also aware that you have already been accepted into a program of study at MIT. With luck, you will receive a longer visa. As soon as you complete your language program we will help you with your legal transfer to MIT.

If you receive a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019) to pursue a degree program at a school other than MIT, and you receive a visa to attend that school, you are required by immigration regulations to report to that school before transferring to MIT. You may be required to enroll at the other school for at least one semester. If you have obtained admission to MIT before traveling to the U.S. and using the entry visa issued for the previous school, you may be required to apply for a new entry visa from the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to attend MIT before traveling to the U.S. If you may face this situation, please contact your MIT ISO Advisor.

What is Administrative Processing?

After a visa applicant has their visa interview with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, their application may be subject to “Administrative Processing.”

Administrative Processing, coordinated through the U.S. Department of State, is a series of more in-depth security reviews done by the U.S. Department of State and other U.S. federal government agencies. A visa application can be subject to these extended security check reviews for a number of reasons: 

  • student’s country of birth or citizenship
  • academic or employment history, including military service
  • travel history
  • funding source
  • student’s previous U.S. visa history
  • family member’s country of birth or citizenship
  • family’s employment, academic, military, visa or travel history
  • current U.S. law enforcement targeted programs (usually based on country of citizenship/residence)
  • current geopolitical situations

The above are just some of the issues that may require this review.  In many cases, it has nothing to do with the specific student but rather a broader review of applicants from certain countries and certain fields.

Unfortunately, the processing time for administrative processing ‘takes as long as it takes’. Once an application is identified as requiring administrative processing, the application material is forwarded to the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC.  The Embassy/Consulate then has no authority over the process – they have to wait for a decision to be rendered.  The State Department then forwards the information to a number of U.S. government agencies to review its records (such as Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, NSA, etc. – the State Department has not confirmed which specific agencies are involved).  All of the agencies then need to report back to the State Department an “all clear”, after which the State Department notifies the U.S. Embassy/Consulate that the visa can be issued to the applicant.   

So, the student, the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, and MIT are all in a waiting game until the visa is processed.  Most Administrative Processing is completed within approximately 45 days from the date of the visa interview, but cases can take longer.

MIT is not able to request to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate an expedite of a visa application pending under Administrative Processing.

The ISO advises a student that if they have not heard back from the U.S. Embassy/Consulate about a pending Administrative Processing more than 90 days after their visa interview date, that they email the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to get an update (to confirm that the application is still pending and awaiting Administrative Processing to be cleared).  We then advise that the student contact the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in 30 days intervals after that first inquiry response to request updates (and to make sure the Embassy/Consulate knows he/she is still waiting for their visa). We ask that MIT students keep their ISO Advisor notified of their visa situation.

In certain limited situations, when applications have been pending more than 90 days from the date of visa interview, the ISO may have some avenues for outreach to the U.S. Department of State.

If an application is under Administrative Processing for more than 12 months, the U.S. Department of State advises that the applicant may need to submit a new application to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to begin the visa application process from the beginning.

Continuing students who are traveling and applying for a new entry visa (F-1 or J-1) at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad should consult with their academic program/department about their travel plans. It is recommended that students have a plan in place with their academic program/department in case they become subject to a lengthy Administrative Processing security review and are not able to return to the U.S. on the original planned date (to confirm if coursework be pursued remotely from abroad, or a teaching/research assistantship can be pursued remotely from abroad, until the student is able to return to the U.S.).
Please contact your ISO Advisor if any questions arise.

How early can I apply for a new Entry Visa if my Current Entry Visa in the Same Visa Status is Still Valid?
Generally, if an entry visa for student status will be valid for a traveler to return to the U.S., a new entry visa for that same status is not required. From our experience, if the current entry visa is valid for 2 or more months beyond planned return date to the U.S., then applying for a new entry visa for that same student status may not be recommended.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When an individual has their visa interview at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate, common practice is that a previous entry visa in that same status, even if it is still valid, will be “Cancelled Without Prejudice” by the Embassy/Consulate and cannot be used any longer to enter the U.S. Therefore, the visa applicant will need to wait until the U.S. Embassy/Consulate issues the new entry visa in order to enter the U.S. It is important for students, especially continuing students, to be aware of this risk and plan with their academic program for any delays in original schedule for return to the U.S.
Please contact your ISO Advisor if you have any questions.

Arriving to the U.S.

When you arrive in the U.S., the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will gather your arrival/departure information automatically from your electronic travel record in the form of an electronic Form I-94 admission record. (Students who travel by land, will be issued a white paper Form I-94 card.) You will need to download all the information on your Form I-94 record each time you enter the U.S. The number on the I-94 record will be your (Immigration) Admission Number. The I-94 record is generally marked “D/S” (duration of status) by the Immigration Officer. The “D/S” means that you will be in legal status as long as you are a student registered full-time and pursuing the same degree specified on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. Please pay attention to the completion date that appears on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. If you ignore the date and let your form expire, you will lose your legal status. If in the future you realize that you will not be able to complete the program by that date, you should contact the International Students Office at least 60 days before the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 is about to expire in order to apply for an extension.

If you are transferring from another school in the U.S., inform the International Student Advisor at your current school that you plan to transfer to MIT. Upon arrival at MIT, please let the International Student Advisor know that you need to process your legal transfer.

All new international students are required to check in with the MIT International Students Office (ISO) upon arrival in Cambridge, and sign up for an immigration orientation session. When you come to the ISO for the session, please bring your passport, I-94 card or electronic I-94 pdf, and your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, so that we can verify your legal status. We will also give you clearance to receive an MIT ID card, use the MIT facilities, and register for classes.

Information about traveling outside the U.S. will be provided during the immigration orientation session.