Immigration Requirements for Entry to the US for J-1 Students

Purpose

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) has prepared this information for individuals who have a Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (Form DS-2019) for a program of study at Boston University. It will describe how to apply for a J-1 visa to enter the U.S.

Step 1: Read Form DS-2019

Your SEVIS Form DS-2019 indicates that we have created a record on your behalf in the U.S. government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your SEVIS ID number is found in the upper right hand corner of page 1 of your SEVIS Form DS-2019. If any information on this form is incorrect, please immediately contact our office (or your “Program Sponsor” if your DS-2019 was issued by an organization other than Boston University). If all of the information on the form is correct, sign your name in the appropriate space on the form. If you have dependents (husband or wife, children under the age of 21) who will be traveling to the U.S. with you, each of them will receive their own dependent SEVIS Form DS-2019 to assist them in applying for their J-2 visa. Please contact the ISSO if you intend to bring your dependents to the U.S. with you and you have not received separate documentation for your dependent family members.

Note: The spelling of your name and your date of birth must be exactly as reflected in your passport. The same is true for dependents. If your name and/or date of birth on the SEVIS Form DS-2019 are not exactly the same as the information that appears in your passport, please forward a copy of your passport and request a corrected SEVIS Form DS-2019 from our office. Submitting an incorrect Form DS-2019 can result in delays or denial of the visa application.

Step 2: Make Sure Your Passport is Valid

In order to avoid possible problems applying for a visa or entering the U.S., it is recommended that your passport be valid for at least six (6) months beyond the date you intend to remain in the U.S.

Step 3: Pay the SEVIS Fee

The U.S. Department of State (DOS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are now requiring proof of payment of the SEVIS fee before issuing a visa or approving any benefits of status. This fee must be paid by new J-1 students with SEVIS DS-2019 forms issued to “begin a new program” in the U.S. in J-1 status. While immigration regulations indicate that the fee should be paid a minimum of three business days prior to applying for your visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, we suggest that students pay the fee as soon as they receive the Form DS-2019 to allow sufficient time for DHS to update the fee payment in your electronic SEVIS record. Please refer to the Student and Exchange Visitor website for more information: http://www.ice.gov/graphics/sevis/

J-2 dependents are not required to pay the SEVIS fee. The SEVIS fee is NOT required from students currently in the U.S. in valid J-1 immigration status. Similarly, the fee is not required from students transferring from another J-1 program if they have already paid the fee. However, J-1 students sponsored by U.S. government agencies who are exempt from paying the fee will be required to pay the fee if they transfer to Boston University. J-1 students who have studied in the U.S. in J-1 status in the past, but have departed the U.S. or changed to another immigration status must pay a new SEVIS fee before commencing the new program regardless of whether the student will need a new J-1 visa. Finally, citizens of Canada are exempt from the requirement to possess a visa to enter the U.S. However, they are still required to pay the SEVIS fee. Proof of SEVIS fee payment for these individuals will be verified at the U.S. port of entry before they are admitted to the United States in J-1 status.

The fee can be paid to DHS either

  1. over the internet with an electronic application form (I-901) and a credit card
  2. by mailing a paper application with a check or bank draft drawn in U.S. dollars to a processing center in the U.S., or
  3. by making a payment at a participating Western Union in your area.

There is currently no mechanism to pay the fee at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate or at a U.S. port of entry. The fee can be paid by the student or by a third party inside or outside the U.S. However, the student must have proof of payment when applying for the visa and entering the U.S. We strongly recommend that students pay the fee online with a credit card whenever possible to secure an immediate receipt.

Please refer to the following Student and Exchange Visitor website for more information: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm

All students who pay the SEVIS fee will receive a formal receipt that should be used as proof of fee payment. The receipt Form I-797 will be sent to the mailing address provided on the Form I-901. This receipt notice will take time to process and to arrive in the mail. The Form I-901 instructions state that receipts will be sent via airmail at no additional cost. The payee can request expedited courier delivery by indicating this request on the Form I-901 and by paying an extra fee at the time of initial payment. If the courier delivery option is selected, the student must include a contact telephone number and actual street address since the courier will not deliver to a P.O. Box. Although fee payments may be entered into the immigration (SEVIS) record, it is strongly recommended that students retain the fee receipt with other important immigration documents to use as needed.

To Pay the SEVIS Fee Online

  1. Log onto the following website: https://www.fmjfee.com/index.html and follow instructions.
  2. Complete the Form I-901 online. Make certain to type your name exactly as it appears on your SEVIS Form DS-2019 and complete each section accurately. Make certain to include the SEVIS ID number (located on the upper right hand corner of your Boston University SEVIS document) and the Boston University Exchange Visitor Program number (P-1-00576). Indicate that you will use a credit card to make the payment. You must supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information to submit the online payment.
  3. Submit the electronic Form I-901 and electronic payment.
  4. Print a copy of the online receipt to use as temporary proof of payment until you receive the Form I-797 receipt.
  5. A formal Form I-797 receipt notice should be issued within three days from date of payment. It will be sent to the address you indicated on Form I-901. Make copies of your receipt, and keep the original with your other important immigration documents.

To Pay the SEVIS Fee By Mail

  1. Log onto the following website: https://www.fmjfee.com/index.html and follow instructions.
  2. Complete the Form I-901 online. Make certain to type your name exactly as it appears on your SEVIS Form DS-2019 and complete each section accurately. Make certain to include the SEVIS ID number (located on the upper right hand corner of your Boston University SEVIS document) and the Boston University Exchange Visitor Program number (P-1-00576). Indicate that you will pay by check or money order. Print payment coupon.
  3. Obtain a check, international money order or bank draft for the appropriate amount made payable to “I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee.” The check should be for the exact amount plus the additional amount required if you wish for USCIS to return the receipt to you via courier service.
  4. Mail payment coupon and check or money order to one of the addresses listed on the payment coupon depending on the mail service you use to send the materials to the processing center.
  5. A formal Form I-797 receipt notice should be issued within three days from date of payment. It will be sent to the address you indicated on Form I-901. Make copies of your receipt, and keep the original with your other important immigration documents.

To Pay the SEVIS Fee at a participating Western Union Agent

  1. Log onto the following site: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/wu_instr.htm and follow the instructions for SEVIS I-901 Fee Payment by Western Union Quick Pay.
  2. Print out and bring a copy of the instructions from this website along with a copy of the sample form from the same site http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/wu_j_us.htm to a local participating Western Union Agent location.
  3. Travel to the nearest Western Union Agent location. Find a Western Union Agent at: http://www.payment-solutions.com/agent.asp or call the telephone number of the Western Union Commercial Services Network Agent in your country.
  4. Complete a “Blue Form” at the participating local Western Union Agent location. This form may show words such as “Payment Services” or “Quick Pay” printed in the applicable local language, however, all Quick Pay forms will be blue. Fill out all appropriate information. Make certain to include your name exactly as it appears on your SEVIS Form DS-2019 and complete each section accurately. Make certain to include the SEVIS ID number (located on the upper right hand corner of your Boston University SEVIS document) your date of birth and the Boston University Exchange Visitor Program number (P-1-00576) exactly as it appears on the sample form.
  5. Make the payment at the Western Union Agent.
  6. Retain the Western Union receipt to use as temporary proof of payment until you receive the Form I-797 receipt.
  7. A formal Form I-797 receipt notice should be issued within three days from date of payment. It will be sent to the address you indicated on Form I-901. Make copies of your receipt, and keep the original with your other important immigration documents.

If you do not have access to the internet, please contact the ISSO immediately and we will forward a paper I-901 to you. Please note that the SEVIS fee is non-refundable. However, if your J-1 visa application is denied by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, you will not be required to pay a new SEVIS fee if you reapply for a new J-1 visa within 12 months of the denial. Please contact the staff of the ISSO at issogac@bu.edu if you have any questions regarding the payment of the SEVIS fee.

Step 4: Obtain a valid J-1 visa

Citizens of all countries, except Canada, are required to be in possession of J-1 visas to enter the U.S. as exchange visitors. You must initiate the visa application process with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. It is strongly recommended that you review the web site (http://www.usembassy.gov) of that consular post to learn about their specific visa application procedures, documentary requirements and deadlines. Most consular posts will process an application 120 days prior to the start date of the academic program listed on your SEVIS Form DS-2019. Please refer to the following U.S. Department of State (DOS) website for more information: http://contact-us.state.gov/cgi-bin/state.cfg/php/enduser/std_alp.php.

To apply for a J-1 visa, you will need to submit the following documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate:

  1. Application for Nonimmigrant Visa (Form DS-156) can be obtained from any U.S. Consulate or downloaded from the following DOS website: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/frvi_forms.html. Form DS-160, the electronic version of this application, is required by certain consular offices and can be found on the same web page.
  2. Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-157), generally required of all male applicants between the ages of 16 and 45, which can be obtained from any U.S. Consulate or downloaded from the following DOS website: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/frvi_forms.html
  3. Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant (Form DS-158), which can be obtained from the U.S. Consulate or at http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/frvi_forms.html.
  4. Application fee (check with the consulate for the fee amount and how it must be paid or visit the following DOS website at http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi_fees.html
  5. One photograph (2 inches square [51 x 51mm], showing full face, without head covering, against a light background) as explained on the following DOS website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotos/index.html
  6. Passport
  7. Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (SEVIS Form DS-2019)
  8. Form I-797 receipt or online proof of SEVIS fee payment
  9. Appointment or invitation letter from Boston University
  10. Original documents proving the availability of sufficient funds as stated on your SEVIS Form DS-2019
  11. Documents that demonstrate that you intend to return home after the completion of your studies in the U.S.

All visa applicants are required to schedule a personal appointment for an interview. Please keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to schedule an appointment so you should initiate your visa application as early as possible. Before your interview, practice answering questions in English about your application, your plans in the U.S., and your plans after you return home. If your spouse and children will remain in your home country, be prepared to explain how they will support themselves without you sending them money from the U.S. Be positive and respond to questions with clear, concise answers during your interview.

You may not need to do anything special to prove that you intend to return home. It may be sufficient for you to explain that you plan to return to your country to work, to continue your studies, or to do whatever you plan to do when you return home. However, you may need to prove that you have such strong ties to your home country that you will return there. If you believe it is likely that you will need to prove your intention to return home after you complete your studies, please carefully read the enclosed handout entitled Proving “Nonimmigrant Intent” for U.S. Visa Application Purposes and refer to the information on the following DOS website: http://www.travel.state.gov/visa/tempvisitors.html

There are special procedures for citizens of Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran to apply for a U.S. visa. Please refer to the following DOS website for more information: http://travel.state.gov/visa/tempvisitors_info_additional4.html.

The consular official may decide to process your application through a special “security clearance” before granting the visa. Security clearances may take as long as a few months, so it is very important that you apply for your J-1 visa as early as possible. Most consular officials request a security clearance based on the country of national origin of the applicant or on a determined level of sensitivity of your prospective field of teaching or research. Once the application has been sent for security clearance, the applicant must simply wait until the consulate approves the visa.

If your visa application is denied, it is difficult to get the Consulate to change its decision. For this reason, it is important that you arrive at your appointment with the best and most complete supporting information. If your visa is denied, we suggest that you ask for the reason for the denial and request a reason in writing if possible. Please visit the following DOS website at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi_denials.html and contact us and we will try to provide you with suggestions that may strengthen your next application.

Step 5: Travel to the U.S.

Once you have obtained your J-1 visa, you are ready to travel to the U.S. Immigration regulations allow you to enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days prior to the start date of your program indicated in Section 3 of your SEVIS Form DS-2019. You must carry with you items 6-11 listed in Step 4 of this page. Place these documents in a folder or envelope that you will have with you at all times during your travel. During your trip to, or upon arrival in, the United States, you will be given a form called an Arrival/Departure Record (USCIS Form I-94). Using a pen, print the information requested on this form, making certain to spell your name exactly as it appears in your passport.

Step 6: Apply for “Admission” to the U.S.

When you arrive in the U.S., you will apply for “admission” and an immigration official will examine your documents. You will need to present the following documents:

  • USCIS Form I-94
  • Passport with valid J-1 visa
  • SEVIS Form DS-2019
  • Proof of SEVIS Fee payment

You should have the following documents ready to present if the immigration official asks for them:

  • Original financial documents
  • Acceptance letter from Boston University

The immigration official may ask you one or more questions. If you are asked about your source of funding, answer the question and offer to show the Inspector your financial documents. If you are asked about your “intentions,” answer the question and offer to show supporting documents.

If you have the required documents and there are no more questions, the Immigration Inspector will “admit” you to the U.S. by stamping your passport, your SEVIS Form DS-2019, and your USCIS Form I-94. When you leave the inspection area, make certain that you have the following documents in your possession:

  1. Passport
  2. Departure Record (part of USCIS Form I-94)
  3. SEVIS Form DS-2019
  4. All supporting documents

The Two-Year Home Country Physical Presence Requirement

After you finish your J-1 program in the U.S. , you may be required to spend two years in your home country, or country of last legal residence, before you will be allowed to return to the U.S. in certain types of immigration classifications. You may be subject to this requirement if:

  • Either the U.S. government or your home government directly funds your activities in the U.S.
  • Your prospective field of research, teaching or expertise appears on a document called the “Skills List,” or
  • You will receive graduate medical education or training.

If you have any questions about the two-year home country physical presence requirement, please contact our office or your J-1 “Program Sponsor” for more information.

Caution

It is important that you do not enter on a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa, or in WT or WB status through the “Visa Waiver” program. It is unlawful for individuals in these classifications to work in the U.S., and it is difficult and sometimes impossible to change status to J-1 once in the country.

Additional Information

The staff of the ISSO is pleased to provide you with information, advice, and assistance on any visa or immigration matter that relates to your activities at Boston University . For more information on U.S. Embassies and Consulates, on the visa application process, and on the “exchange visitor” program, you may visit the U.S. Department of State website at http://travel.state.gov/ or our website www.bu.edu/isso.