I-20 and Visa Information
To enter the U.S. as an F-1 student, you will need to obtain an F-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You may apply for a visa up to 120 days before the start date on your I-20.
What is the Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status?
For international students who want to study in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, the form I-20 is a required document. Issued by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to certified colleges and universities in the U.S., the I-20 proves that you are a legitimate student who is enrolled in an accredited college or university.
With your form I-20, you can pay your I-901 SEVIS fee, apply for your nonimmigrant visa in your U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and travel to the U.S.
Eligible students for F-1 status receive a form I-20 from the Bates College Designated School Official (DSO) before they apply for an F-1 entry visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad, or a change of status if you are already in the United States.
Canadian nationals must apply for a form I-20 and pay the SEVIS fee before appearing at immigration inspection at a port of entry.
Who needs an I-20?
- Non-U.S. citizens who have never studied in the United States;
- Non-U.S. citizens who are transferring from a secondary school, college or university in the United States;
- Non-U.S. citizens who are switching their current visa status to the F-1 visa; and,
- Non-U.S. citizens who are returning from a leave of absence from the United States that is greater than 5 months.
When can I expect to receive my I-20?
International Student Programs and Services (ISPS) begins issuing I-20s for initial status students entering for the fall semester during the month of May. Per U.S. government regulations, the earliest students may apply for an F-1 visa is 120 days before the program start date.
For students requesting an Initial Attendance I-20, what is the process?
- Once you have been admitted to Bates College and paid your deposit, you will receive an email from the Bates DSO to complete and submit the I-20 Request form. You will upload to the request form a scanned copy of your passport identification page, in pdf or jpg format.
- The DSO will create your F-1 record in the Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and issue an I-20.
- The I-20 will be sent to the email address you provided on your I-20 Request Form.
- You must print the I-20, then sign and date it, in ink, under the “student attestation” section.
How is my SEVIS record transferred to Bates from my current school?
Students already attending a school in the U.S. on an F-1 visa may need to have their SEVIS record transferred to us. When we receive notification of acceptance from the Admission Office, we will contact the student to arrange transfer of the SEVIS record via the I-20 Request for F-1 Transfer-In Students.
Bermudan or Canadian Citizens
Bermudan or Canadian citizens do not need to apply for a student F-1 visa; they may simply enter with the I-20, valid passport, admission letter, SEVIS Fee payment receipt, and evidence of financial support. They will however, have to pay the SEVIS fee at least 3 days before entering the U.S. The SEVIS fee cannot be paid at the border.
What are the next steps in the visa application process?
- Check the consistency of name spelling. The spelling of your name must match exactly on your passport and your I-20 from Bates College.
- Apply for the F-1 visa as soon as you receive your I-20 from Bates. Please note that each Consulate has its own application requirements and processes. U.S. Embassy and Consulate websites are available at: http://www.usembassy.gov/.
- Pay the required I-901 SEVIS Fee. You can pay this electronically or by mail, but payment must be received at least 3 days before the visa interview, or for Bermudan or Canadian citizens, 3 days before you enter the U.S. For more information on the SEVIS fee, read ICE I-901 FAQ.
- If you previously paid the SEVIS fee, and your F-1 record has stayed active, you do not need to pay it again.
- If you are transferring your immigration record from another school, you do not need to pay the SEVIS fee.
Note: Since routine visa services may be impacted at some U.S. Embassies and Consulates due to COVID-19, you might want to consider waiting until you are able to apply for your visa before you pay the SEVIS fee.
- Submit the online Form DS-160 (Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application). Follow the instructions for completing the online application form closely. Print and save the page with the barcode and bring it to your F-1 visa appointment.
- The DS-160 online visa application form requires your address in the United States. Use the address of the Center for Global Education in Box 2 of your I-20 form:
9 Andrews Rd
124 Roger Williams Hall
Lewiston, ME 04240 USA
What documents do I need when I go to my visa interview?
At the visa application appointment, the officer will conduct a brief interview of you and review your documents.
To obtain the F-1 visa, you will need the following documents:
- An I-20
- Valid passport
- Evidence of financial support (Certification of Financial Support, bank statement, assistantship or scholarship letter)
- Evidence of ties to your home country (employment offer, concrete plans on how your education in the U.S. will help your career in your home country, family and property ties, etc.)
- Visa application form DS-160
- Receipt of the SEVIS fee payment
- Admission letter from Bates College
- Check with your U.S. Embassy or Consulate to see if they require any additional documents.
Note: In some rare cases the consulate may keep your I-20. If you do not receive your I-20 after your appointment, contact International Student Programs and Services for a replacement, as you will need this when traveling to the U.S.
First entry to the U.S.
On your first entry to the U.S. with your I-20, you cannot enter earlier than 30 days before the start date on your I-20. For travel after that, (e.g., summer break), there is no restriction.
- Do not purchase your airline ticket until you have received your passport with your entry visa back from the Consulate.
- Communicate about your arrival to Bates with the Associate Dean and International Student Advisor James Reese: email@example.com
Applying for visa renewal for continuing students
F-1 students (except citizens of Canada and Bermuda) are required to have a valid, unexpired F-1 entry visa in order to enter the United States as F-1 students.
You are required to have a valid F-1 entry visa for the purpose of entering the U.S. in F-1 status. However, once you are in the U.S., the expiration of your F-1 visa has no bearing on your eligibility to stay. You may remain in the U.S. as long as you have a valid and unexpired I-20, an I-94 card marked ‘F-1 D/S,’ and are making full-time progress toward the degree objective indicated on your I-20.
Before leaving on a trip outside the U.S., check the expiration date of your visa and the number of entries you are allowed. If your visa is expired or will expire while you are abroad, you may need to renew it while you are abroad. *Short trips (30 days or less) to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean do not require renewal of an expired F-1 visa for re-entry into the U.S.
You cannot obtain a new visa while in the U.S. Visas are issued only at U.S. consulates outside of the United States. You will need the following documents for your visa appointment.
- Valid Form I-20 from Bates with a recent (within 12 months) travel endorsement signature on page 2
- Unexpired passport (valid at least 6 months into the future)
- Recent financial documents showing evidence of continued financial ability
- Receipt of your I-901 SEVIS fee payment
- Transcripts or other evidence of attendance at Bates. You may obtain your transcript via Garnet Gateway (official transcript recommended)
- Visa application form, fees, and photographs (consult the instructions of your local consulate)
To confirm the requirements and procedure for applying for renewal of an F-1 visa, consult the Embassy or Consulate where you will be applying. Most consulates post current information on their web site.
- Please be sure to plan carefully. Visa appointments and application procedures vary from consulate to consulate, and waiting times vary depending on the time of year.
Renewing your F-1 visa while on OPT
Students who must renew their visa while on OPT, must provide the following documents:
- Documents listed above plus
- Valid travel signature on form I-20 (while on OPT, signatures valid for 6 months from date of signing)
- EAD card (OPT card)
- Letter from employer, verifying employment, recognizing travel (recommended)
- Check with your U.S. Embassy or Consulate to see if they require any additional documents.
Some visa applicants may be subject to a security check as part of their visa application, which may delay getting the visa. This is often referred to as “administrative processing.” While most security checks are completed within 2 weeks, (the U.S. State Department works with the other federal agencies involved to expedite them), in rare cases they can take several months. Various factors may make you more likely to have a security check, such as your country of citizenship, your gender, and the field you are studying.
Applying as a “Third Country” National
Most students will apply for their F-1 visas in their country of citizenship but an applicant may apply for their F-1 visa at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate around the word. This is called a “third country” national application. However, this can be risky and is not recommended. Please consider the following before deciding to pursue such an application:
- You might need to obtain a visa to enter the third country.
- You will need to stay in the third country until you receive your F-1 visa and thus will need to factor in the cost and time needed to receive your visa.
- If your F-1 visa application is denied, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student and might need to return to your country of citizenship to apply for your F-1 visa.
Authorization of your F-1 Visa
If the consular officer grants you the visa, the officer will instruct you on when and where you can pick it up. The visa will have an expiration date; however, the expiration date on the visa is not the date by which you must leave the U.S. You may stay in the U.S. on an expired F-1 visa as long as you maintain your immigration status by being in possession of a valid I-20 and follow all immigration rules. If you have left the U.S. and your F-1 visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one to re-enter the U.S.
Bermudan and Canadian citizens do not need a F-1 visa to enter the U.S., but they do need an I-20.
You may stay in the U.S. until the completion of your program (see program end date on I-20) plus 60 days (e.g., grace period). During the 60 days grace period, you may travel in the U.S., prepare for your return home, etc.; however, you cannot work during that period – even on-campus.