International Student and Scholar Services

F-1 and J-1 Visa Application Process

This list of common keywords and acronyms pertain to your status as a non-immigrant visitor to the United States. It also includes a description of the necessary steps to apply for a visa to study at Oberlin College.


Department of Homeland Security (DHS): The role of DHS is to secure the United States against terrorism and other potential threats.

Department of State (DOS): The Department of State coordinates, manages, and reviews all visa applications to the United States, in addition to running the J-1 exchange visitor program.

DS-2019: DS-2019 is a paper record of a J-1 student’s information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). DS-2019, “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status (J-Nonimmigrant),” is required to apply for a J-1 visa.

Duration of Status: The period of time for which F-1 and J-1 visa holders are admitted to the United States. The end of status is the program end date on the Form I-20 or DS-2019, or the date the student stops maintaining status—whichever come first.

F-1 Visa: Nonimmigrants apply for an F-1 visa in order to enter the United States to attend a college or university. An F-1 student must have a current visa stamp in their passport in order to enter the United States (with the exception of Canadian citizens who are exempt from applying for the visa, although an I-20 and proof of paying the SEVIS I-901 fee is still required).

Form I-20: Form I-20 is a paper record of an F-1 student’s information in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant  (F-1) Student Status—for Academic and Language Students,” is required to apply for an F-1 visa.

Form I-94: The electronic record of a non-immigrant's arrival and departure, which is maintained by DHS. Once you are in the U.S., you can view your I-94 .

Port of Entry (POE): The airport, land border crossing, or port through which entry is made into the United States. This is NOT your final destinations if you made connections within the U.S., but rather the specific location you went through customs.

Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) and Designated School Officials (DSOs): The PDSO and DSOs are on-campus school representatives who provide advice on F-1 visa regulations and maintain student records in SEVIS. Dean Josh Whitson is the PDSO at Oberlin.

Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP): SEVP is a part of the National Security Investigations Division. On behalf of DHS, SEVP manages schools, nonimmigrant students in F and M visa classifications, and their dependents.

Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS): The online database that DHS uses to maintain information on SEVP-certified schools and the F-1, J-1, and M-1 students who come to the United States to attend those schools.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The component of DHS that oversees lawful immigration and the employment of non-citizens in the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): The component of DHS charged with safeguarding U.S. borders.

U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions: Applicants for visas to enter the United States must do so according to the rules of the embassy or consulate at which they apply.

Begin your application by reviewing the information available at the following websites:

The SEVIS I-901 Fee Requirement: All individuals receiving an initial Form I-20 or DS-2019 are required to pay the SEVIS fee before they apply for their visa. The fee must be paid before the date of the visa interview and the fee payment must be verified before the visa can be issued. You should allow no fewer than three business days between the fee payment and your visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The fee can be paid at .

If you are presently in F-1 or J-1 status at another school and your SEVIS record will be transferred to Oberlin, you do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again.

Important: If you are a citizen of a country exempt from the requirement to have a visa to enter the United States (e.g., Canada), you still have to pay the SEVIS fee and provide proof of that payment at the U.S. POE along with your I-20 or DS-2019.

You cannot pay the SEVIS fee at a U.S. embassy, consulate, or port of entry. The fee must be paid online with the information as noted on your Oberlin-issued I-20 or DS-2019.

Steps May Vary: There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps vary between embassies and consulates. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you intend to apply.

Your Current Visa: If you are currently residing in the United States on a visa other than F-1, you may be eligible to study full-time with your current visa, or you may need to apply for a change of status before enrolling at Oberlin. If you are on a visa other than an F-1, contact

Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160: Prepare a digital photo to submit with the online application. See photo specifications . Complete the online visa application, print the application form confirmation page, and bring that page to your interview.

Schedule an Interview: You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. embassy or consulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside your place of permanent residence.

Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category. Review the interview wait time for your location and apply for your visa early.

New Students: Student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your course of study start date. You are not permitted, however, to enter the United States in F-1 or J-1 status more than 30 days before the start date noted on your I-20 or DS-2019.

Prepare for Your Interview: Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview. When your visa is approved, you may also need to pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable to your nationality. Review the instructions available on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to learn more about fee payment.

Required Documentation: Gather and prepare the following documents before your visa interview:
  • Passport: Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-160: the confirmation page.
  • Application Fee Payment Receipt: Confirm whether you are required to pay before your interview.
  • Photo: You are expected to upload your photo when you submit Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, bring a printed photo in the format noted in the photograph requirements.
  • I-20 or DS-2019: Once we enter your information in SEVIS, we will send you a Form I-20 or DS-2019. You must sign the Form I-20 or DS-2019 on the bottom of the first page.

Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply. Additional documents may be requested to establish that you are qualified. For example, you may be asked to provide evidence of:

  • your academic preparation;
  • your intent to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • your ability to pay all educational, living, and travel costs.

During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you qualify for a visa and, if so, which visa category is appropriate based on the purpose of your travel. You need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.

Your application also includes digital, ink-free scans of your fingerprints. The timing of these scans varies by location.

After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You are to be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application.

When the visa is approved, you may be required to pay a visa issuance fee. You are also to be informed how your passport with visa is to be returned to you. Review the visa processing time to learn how soon your passport may be ready for pick up or courier delivery.

Wait until you have your visa before buying non-refundable tickets for travel.
A visa remains valid until its expiration date—or its revoking or cancellation. Therefore, a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport is still valid. If your passport expires, leave your U.S. visa in your expired passport. At POEs, present your valid visa in your expired passport and a new valid passport for admission.

Travel to a U.S. Port of Entry: A visa allows a foreign citizen living abroad to travel to a U.S. POE and request permission to enter the United States. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority under the DHS to permit or deny admission to the United States.