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 a visa from the American Embassy or Consulate in your country.

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

In general, you should be able to obtain the visa if you present to the Consul the Form I-20 or DS-2019, your admittance letter or proof of registration, 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 visa with this document, you must also pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. Once you pay the fee, keep the receipt 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. We will try to work with the Consular Officer so that the visa can be issued. 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.

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 are a Canadian citizen, you do not need a visa from the American Consul, but you must present your Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20 or Form DS-2019) when you enter the U.S.

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 Consul 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.

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.