Student Visa and Immigration
The International Center at Winthrop University wants to provide the best information on applying for and receiving your student visa. This page has a lot of information but it is important information so please read as it will help you be prepared for your journey to the United States to study.
There are five sections below -
- Statement of Financial Responsibility and Affidavit of Support;
- Transferring a SEVIS record to Winthrop University;
- Applying for the F-1 or J-1 Student Visa;
- Clearing Immigration at the Port of Entry and your I-94 card;
- Important Travel Notices to all International Students;
- How to Maintain your Legal Student Status while in the USA.
If at any time you have a question about the information provided below do not hesitate to contact the International Center.
Statement of Financial Responsiblity and Affidavit of Support
The Form I-20 is a form issued by a college/university to an admitted student that allows them to apply for the F1 student visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. To receive the Form I-20, students are required to show access to funding for their first year of study in the U.S. At Winthrop, we require a completed Statement of Financial Responsiblity and Affidavit of Support along with original bank statments or original bank letters showing access to the funds required by the University. Please note: proof of funding is not an admission requirement but is a requirement to receive the Form I-20.
When applying to Winthrop, your application must be accompanied by a bank statement or letter from the sponsor's bank dated within six months of the start date at Winthrop University showing the amount of money guaranteed. If your sponsor is not your parent or yourself, please include a brief letter from your sponsor indicating their intention to support all of your expenses related to your education for the duration of your program. If you are sponsored by a private organization or government agency, provide an official copy of your award.
Transferring a SEVIS record to Winthrop University
If you are currently studying in the USA and have a SEVIS record and Form I-20/DS-2019, you must request to transfer this SEVIS record to Winthrop University. We require you and your current International Student Advisor to complete and submit our Transfer Verification Form. This form can be faxed to 803-323-2340 or emailed to the International Center.
Applying for the F-1 or J-1 Student Visa
In most countries, first time student visa applicants are required to appear for an in-person interview at the US Embassy closest to where you live. However, each US Embassy and Consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student visas. Students should consult US Embassy websites in their home countries or call for specific application instructions.
Due to extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to US national security, it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.
Keep in mind that June, July, and August are the busiest months in most consular sections, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period. Students need to plan ahead to avoid having to make repeat visits to the US Embassy. To the extent possible, students should bring the documents suggested below, as well as any other documents that might help establish their ties to their local community.
The information below references the F-1 student visa but some students come to study at Winthrop University on the J-1 exchange visitors visa. The J-1 exchange visa application process is the same as the F-1 visa application process except the DS-2019 is the form you must receive from Winthrop University instead of an I-20 and the J-1 SEVIS I-901 fee is $180 whereas the F-1 SEVIS I-901 fee is $200. Other than these two items, the visa application process is the same.
Once you are admitted to Winthrop you will receive a packet that contains your I-20, you will need this form to apply for your F-1 non-immigrant student visa. Students should note that US Embassies are unable to issue your student visa more than 120 days in advance of program start date listed on the Form I-20. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the US Embassy will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Embassy officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.
Students are advised of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the USA no more than 30 days before the program start date listed on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the USA.
Always check with the US Embassy in your country concerning when you can apply for a student visa as the current immigration rules are constantly changing.
The I-20 that you receive was created through a mandatory immigration program known as “SEVIS”. The SEVIS program, or Student Exchange Visitor Information System, is designed to provide more efficient immigration services to international students and professors entering the USA. The SEVIS system was developed by DHS and is monitored by the United States Citizenship and Information Service (USCIS) and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE).
All student applicants must have a SEVIS generated I-20 issued by Winthrop University, which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application.
SEVIS I-901 Fee
As of September 1, 2004 all persons applying abroad for an F-1 visa must pay a $200.00 fee before being allowed to apply at a US Embassy for an F-1 visa. This fee is different from the Visa Application Fee that is also required in order to apply for the F-1 visa. Information on the SEVIS I-901 fee can be found through DHS. Individuals wanting to apply for an F-1 visa must pay the fee and print the receipt stating the payment was made before beginning the process of applying for the visa. Paying the fee and receiving the receipt can all be done online through DHS. The SEVIS I-901 fee receipt is also referred to as Form I-797.
Note: Students coming from Canada do not have to apply for an F-1 visa at a US Embassy or Consulate. You will apply for entrance into the USA using your I-20 when you arrive at the USA/Canadian border. If you are are Canadian coming to the USA for the first time as an F-1 student you are required to pay the $200 SEVIS fee.
Applying For Your F-1 Visa
An F-1 visa is a stamp in your passport that allows you to request entrance into the USA as an F-1 student. Visas to enter the USA are issued by the US Embassy in your home country and cannot be issued or renewed in the USA.
In order to successfully apply for your F-1 visa, you will need to contact the US Embassy closest to where you live and make an appointment for a personal interview. You must take the following items with you to apply for your visa:
- Form I-20 for (F-1) Students and Form DS-2019 for (J-1) Student Status. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form I-20, which was provided to you by Winthrop University. You and your school official must sign the I-20 form. All students, as well as a spouse and other dependents, must be registered in SEVIS.
- A completed application, Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant, Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application."
- Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. You should know that a US Embassy official can require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete the Form DS-157.
- An interview at the US Embassy is required for almost all visa applicants. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. During the visa interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken, as well as a digital photo. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States is required.
- One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in nonimmigrant photograph requirements.
- A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee if applicable. For fee information consult the Visa Reciprocity Table. While all F visa applicants must pay the MRV fee, including dependents, only the F-1 principal applicants must pay the SEVIS fee.
- Your receipt (Form I-797) for paying the $200 SEVIS I-901 fee.
All F-1 visa applicants should be prepared to provide:
- Your letter of admission to Winthrop University;
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.;
- Financial evidence that shows you, your parents or someone else sponsoring you has sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses for one year of your intended study. For example, you or your sponsor should have a bank statement showing access to the amount required for the year on your Form I-20. A letter from the bank on bank letterhead stating the money is available by you or the sponsor for educational purposes is helpful to have as well.
VERY IMPORTANT: You should also be prepared to establish intent to return home after you complete your studies. If an Embassy official believes your intent is to come and live permanently in the United States your student visa application will be denied.
Also, if you are coming to the USA on an athletic scholarship, it is important to stress your academic goals to the Embassy official. You can mention that being involved in athletics will help you achieve your educational goals - but do not focus entirely on coming to the USA to play a sport. Athletics are important but the primary reason to come to the USA on an F-1 student visa is to study.
The US State Department updates their website on a regular basis to give new information on their issuing non-immigrant visas. Information on the F-1 Student Visa can be found by reviewing the US State Department updates. Before applying for your visa, you may want to check for the most current information.
Your Form I-20 was issued by Winthrop University and allows you to study at Winthrop University only. You may not use your Winthrop I-20 to enter the U.S. for study at another university. You must return the I-20 to us if you do not plan to attend Winthrop University. The form may be returned to the International Center of Winthrop University, 701 Oakland Avenue, 218 Dinkins Hall, Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA 29733.
Clearing Immigration at your Port of Entry and your I-94 card
Upon arrival at the first airport that you enter in the USA, you will need to check-in or "clear" Customs and Immigration Services. The first airport that you arrive at in the United States is referred to as your “Port-of-Entry.” For more information on arrival procedures view updates posted by US Customs and Border Protection.
It is important that you carry your passport including your F-1 visa, your I-20 and your financial information with you on the airplane, do not put them in your luggage because you will not have access to them before you clear immigration at the port-of-entry.
A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the USA. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to allow or deny your admission to the United States.
You will have to present the following items to the CBP Official at your port-of-entry:
- Your passport containing your F-1 visa.
- Your I-20 (all 3 pages).
- The I-94 form (the small card you will have to complete on the airplane before landing in the US).
- You may also need to present proof of financial documentation.
Student visitors must have their I-20 in their possession each time they enter the United States. Once the CBP approves entrance into the US the official then records the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (I-94). Since the I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it’s very important to keep it stapled inside your passport. Do not throw away your I-94 card.
When you are face to face with the CBP Official at the port-of-entry the official will:
- Closely examine your Form I-20 and compare the information with your F-1 visa and passport.
- Ask to see your I-797, Receipt Notice for your I-901 SEVIS fee payment.
- Possibly examine your financial documentation and compare it with the amount shown on the I-20.
- The CBP Official may ask you questions concerning where you are going to study and how long you will be in the United States.
- Admit you into the country.
- Give you a date stamp and write “D/S” on your I-94 card.
- Stamp your date of entry in the upper right corner of your I-20.
“D/S” on your I-94 card notates that you are admitted to the United States for the “duration of your status” as a student. As long as you maintain legal status in the USA as a student, you are allowed to be in the USA to study. Do not lose or discard the I-94 card as it is an important document you will need while here in the USA. If you do lose this card you must apply to USCIS for a replacement card which currently costs $320.00. Most Immigration Officials will staple it above the visa inside the passport. You must have this card to travel, to work on-campus and to apply for Optional Practical Training.
Important Travel Notices to all International Students
Make photocopies of all-important documentation for your records (passport, F-1 visa, I-20, etc.) and keep them in a safe place! When you travel to the USA keep your passport and important papers on your person at all times.
Students have had baggage lost or stolen and their important documents disappeared with the baggage. It is a good idea to keep your important documents with you, give a photocopy of your documents to a family member and keep another set of the photocopies in your baggage.
Once you arrive for Orientation, the International Center will make photocopies of all your documents to keep in your student file in our office.
Maintaining Legal Student Status While in the USA
All international students on F-1 and J-1 visas are obligated to meet certain Department of Homeland Security (USCIS) requirements in order to maintain their legal visa status during their stay in the USA. Before you sign your I-20 or DS-2019, you should read and understand your responsibilities for maintaining legal F-1 visa status found on page 2 of the I-20 and DS-2019 and listed below:
- Maintain a valid passport.
- Attend the school you are authorized to attend as noted on your I-20/DS-2019.
- Pursue a full course of study (12 undergraduate credit hours, 9 graduate credit hours) and make normal progress towards the completion of your course of study.
- If needed, apply for an extension of program before the expiration date on the current I-20/DS-2019.
- Follow USCIS procedures for changing from one program (major) or educational level to another (from Bachelor’s degree to Master’s degree).
- Follow USCIS procedures for transferring from one school to another.
- Limit on-campus employment to 20 hours a week while school is in session.
- Refrain from off-campus employment without authorization.
- Report a change of address to the International Center within 10 days.
The International Center will give you more information on your visa classification and responsibilities during the New Student Orientation. Failure to comply with these rules will result in the loss of your legal immigration status. Losing your immigration status will prevent you from attending Winthrop University and could lead to your deportation.
If you have any questions regarding the application process for your student visa or your responsibilities while studying in the USA contact the International Center.