Obtaining the Student Visa
Obtaining Your Visa for Entry Into the United States
U.S. Immigration requires that all international students submit a Certificate of Finances indicating ability to cover their educational costs prior to issuance of the I-20 document used to secure a student visa. To accomplish this, provide a complete and true Certificate of Finances (COF). We encourage you to reference the COF Instructions.
The visa stamped in the student’s passport at the U.S. Consulate gives the student permission to enter for a specific purpose and period of time. Since the stamp is important only for entry and reentry into the United States, a student need not worry if it expires while they are in the U.S., but they must get a new visa to reenter if they leave the U.S. and the existing visa has expired.
The Form I-94 is the paper attached to the student’s passport and officially determines how long the student can remain in the U.S. Most F-1 visa holders have their I-94 stamped “D/S” (Durations of Status) indicating that they can remain to complete studies as long as they maintain student status. The I-94 contains an 11-digit number which becomes the student’s “admission number.” This same number is also written on the I-20 at the time of admission and on the student visa in the passport. This number will remain as the student’s admission number for the duration of their studies.
When you make the decision to attend Guilford and show the necessary finances, we will send you an I-20 form (the form you take to the U.S. Consulate to secure your visa). The first step in obtaining a visa is to make an appointment with the U.S. Embassy or consulate responsible for issuing non-immigrant visas for you home country, which may and should be done as soon as you receive your I-20. Visa applications may be issued up to 90 days before your program start date. Visit http://usembassy.state.gov for a list of consular post Web sites.
After scheduling your appointment, you should:
- Complete a visa application and, when applicable, forms DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158
- Obtain a valid passport (must be valid at least six months from your date of entry into the United States)
- Compile evidence of ties to your home country that demonstrates your intent to return home (i.e. assured employment, ownership of property, etc.)
- Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee and keep your receipt. This fee must be paid at least three days before your appointment with the embassy. More information about the SEVIS fee can be found here
- Obtain an I-20 for a spouse or dependent(s) who will accompany you to the United States
During your appointment, you will be asked to provide evidence (receipts, photos, passport, documentation, etc.) that you have completed all of the above. In addition, you will need to provide:
- Applicable visa fees
- Your I-20 form
- Proof of funding
While each embassy or consular post has their own visa application procedures and processing times, the requirements above are standard. It is a good idea, however, to consult the office where you will apply for specific details regarding documentation and procedures.
When it comes time for your interview, make sure to arrive at the consular post prepared. You should:
- Dress professionally
- Bring translated copies of your academic records with you
- Be ready to talk about your academic plans and aspirations in detail
- Be knowledgeable about Guilford College and the academic department you are entering
- Be prepared to talk about your career goals (which should indicate your intent to return home)
- Have all required documents with you and have them organized
Once you have been issued your visa, check to be sure that you have been issued the correct visa (an F-1 if you have an I-20) and that your visa indicated your school of choice: Guilford College. You will receive a sealed envelope containing your I-20–DO NOT OPEN IT. The officer at the port of entry will open this envelope when you enter the United States.
Immigration laws limit your arrival into the United States to no more than 30 days prior to the report date listed on the Form I-20.
If you are a citizen of Canada, you do not need a visa to enter the United States. However, you will need to present your I-20 form and a valid passport at the U.S. Immigration border crossing or port of entry. You must also present proof of payment of the SEVIS fee. You should receive an I-94 card marked F-1 upon entry.