Applying for a Visa
As international students and scholars at BU, you must apply for the most appropriate visa that will allow you to enter the US to begin or resume your academic activities. The length of the visa will vary depending on your country of citizenship and your visa classification. The visa must always be valid when entering the US but is allowed to expire after you have entered the country. If you leave the US in the middle of your academic activities and plan to return to BU in the same visa classification to resume the same academic activities, you will need to make certain that your visa is still valid or renew your visa before you return to the US.
Citizens of Canada are not required to obtain a visa to enter the US but must follow all of the other required procedures below to enter the US in the proper immigration classification.
Please visit the US Department of State website for an overview of what is a US Visa.
1Make sure your passport is valid
In order to avoid possible problems in applying for a visa or entering the US, it is recommended that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond your expected entry date to the US.
2Make sure your immigration documents are correct
The documents that you need to support your visa classification will vary—please see the visa classifications below for specific details. To avoid delays in visa issuance and entering the US, the spelling of your name and your date of birth must be exactly the same as reflected in your passport. If your name or date of birth does not appear correctly on your documents, please notify the ISSO immediately.
Make sure the information on your SEVIS Form I-20 is correct.
Your I-20 indicates that we expect you to enroll in a specific program of study at BU and that we have created a record for you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The I-20 includes dates and information about your intended program of study. You can find your unique SEVIS ID in the upper-right corner of page 1 of your I-20. If you have dependent family members (husband or wife, children under the age of 21) who will be traveling to the US with you, they will receive their own I-20 Forms to assist with their application(s) for F-2 visa(s). Please contact the ISSO if any information on your I-20 is incorrect, or if you need to request immigration documents for F-2 dependents.
You may be required to pay a SEVIS fee. Please see below for information about scheduling a visa appointment.
J-1 Students and Scholars
Make sure the information on your SEVIS Form DS-2019 is correct.
Your DS-2019 indicates that we have invited you to study or perform scholarly activities and that we have created a record for you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The DS-2019 includes dates and information about your intended program of study or scholar activities. You can find your unique SEVIS ID number in the upper-right corner of your Form DS-2019. If you have dependent family members (husband or wife, children under the age of 21) who will be traveling to the US with you, they will receive their own Form(s) DS-2019 to assist with their application(s) for J-2 visa(s). Please contact the ISSO (or your J-1 “Program Sponsor” if your DS-2019 was issued by an organization other than Boston University) if you intend to bring dependent family to the US and you have not received separate immigration documentation for them, or if any information on your Form DS-2019 is incorrect.
If all the information on the form is correct, sign your name in the appropriate space on the form. You will then have to pay a SEVIS fee and schedule the visa application appointment at the US consulate or embassy closest to where you currently reside. Please see below for information about scheduling a visa appointment.
H-1B Temporary Workers
Review the H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797B).
Your H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797B), issued by the US Department of Homeland Security, indicates that you have been approved for temporary employment at Boston University. Please review the dates and biographical data on this form. You should also review the copy of the entire H-1B petition (submitted by the ISSO, on your behalf, to the US Department of Homeland Security) that outlines the terms and expectations for your employment. Please pay special attention to the support letters included in the packet to understand how your job has been described to the US government. This information may be useful when you apply for the H-1B visa and also when you request admission to the US at a port of entry.
If all the information is correct, you should schedule a visa application appointment at the US consulate or embassy closest to where you currently reside. Please see below for information about scheduling a visa appointment.
3Contact the nearest US embassy or consulate to apply for the visa
Citizens of all countries (except Canada) are required to be in possession of a valid visa to enter the US. You must initiate the visa application process with the nearest US embassy or consulate. It is strongly recommended that you review the website of that consular post to learn about their specific visa application procedures, documentary requirements, and deadlines. Most consular posts will process an application a maximum of 120 days prior to the start date of your academic activities.
Please refer to the US Department of State (DOS) website for more information regarding visa appointment wait times at specific consulates and embassies, as well as any additional fees required. Fees and wait times may vary based on country of citizenship and visa classification.
There are special procedures for citizens of Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran when applying for a US visa. Please refer to the US DOS website for more information.
4Schedule a visa appointment
Generally, all initial visa applicants are required to schedule a personal interview so that a consular official can take your fingerprints. 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 visa application, your plans in the US, and your plans after you return home. If your spouse and children will remain in your country, be prepared to explain how they will support themselves without you sending them money from the US. Be positive and respond to questions with clear, concise answers.
If you are traveling during a holiday period, please be reminded that US embassies and consulates are often closed for extended periods. Be certain to check schedules for local holiday hours.
Special Considerations If You Are a Continuing Student or Scholar and You Are Renewing Your Visa
If you are traveling in the middle of your academic activities at BU, you may need to renew your visa to return to the US and resume study, research, teaching, etc. The visa application procedures are generally the same but there are some limited exemptions to the visa interview requirement. Consular posts in many countries have drop-off or mail-in visa application procedures for students and scholars renewing visas if they have already been fingerprinted during a prior visa application. See country-specific application instructions on the website of the consulate where you will be applying for a visa.
You should also confirm you have all additional documentation needed to verify that you are maintaining valid immigration status and demonstrate your continued study, scholarly activities, or employment (such as transcripts, certificates of enrollment, and/or pay stubs).
5Prepare the following documents for the visa interview:
- Form DS-160: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application from the DOS website
- Application fee (check with the consulate for the fee amount and how it must be paid, or visit the DOS website)
- One photograph (you should review the consulate website to determine how to submit your photograph). Photo specifications are 2 inches square (51 x 51 mm), showing your full face, without a head covering, and against a light background, as explained on the DOS website.
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond the expected date of entry to the US
- Additional documents, varying by visa classification (see below)
Additional Documents Required for F-1 or J-1 Students and J Scholars
- Your immigration document (I-20 for F-1 students, DS-2019 for J-1 students and scholars)
- Proof of F or J SEVIS fee payment (if applying for first or initial F-1 or J-1 visa)
- Boston University admission letter for F-1 or J-1 students, or a letter of employment/appointment for J-1 scholars
- Original documents evidencing how you will pay for your studies and living expenses
- Additional documents for the F or J visa required by the specific consular post where you will apply (see details at nearest US embassy or consulate)
Since the F and J are temporary, nonimmigrant visa classifications, you will need to be able to explain that you intend to return to your home country after you complete your academic activities in the US. In many cases, you will simply need to answer questions during your interview to explain your intention to return home. You may also wish to bring documents that help demonstrate ties to your home country that support your intent to return home—essentially, documents that reflect your “nonimmigrant intent”. Please refer to Proving Nonimmigrant Intent.
Additional Documents Required for H-1B Scholars
- Form I-797B H-1B Approval Notice from US Department of Homeland Security
- Copy of entire petition submitted by BU on your behalf to US Department of Homeland Security including, but not limited to, the I-129 Petition for Temporary Worker, the Certified Labor Condition Application Form, the letter of appointment or employment issued by Boston University, and other supporting documents
- Additional documents for the H-1B visa required by the specific consular post where you will apply (see details at nearest US embassy or consulate)
6Be patient—your visa may take some time to be processed through security clearances
The consular official may decide to process your application through a special “security clearance” (also referred to as administrative processing) before granting the visa. Most consular officials request a security clearance for a visa application based on the national origin of the applicant or on a determined level of sensitivity in a prospective field of study. Once the application has been sent for security clearance, the applicant must simply wait until the consular post approves the visa.
The Department of State performs security checks at all US embassies and consulates, particularly for male visa applicants between the ages of 16 and 45 from predominantly Muslim countries. Although the DOS has not published an official list of countries, it is likely that these procedures apply to citizens of the following countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In addition, many students and scholars studying or conducting research in areas considered to be sensitive technology and/or are on the Technology Alert List (TAL) are subject to special security clearance by the Department of State when applying for a visa.
Security checks can take anywhere from three business days to three months or more, but most are approved in three to four weeks. Citizens of the above-mentioned countries who plan to travel and apply for a new visa stamp must be aware of the potential for security clearances and plan for possible delays.
Even if you are not from one of the countries listed above, we recommend that you consult with an advisor in our office if you plan to travel and apply for a new visa. However, while an ISSO advisor may be able to help you determine if you are at high risk of being subject to a security clearance, security checks are not limited to citizens of these countries and are at the discretion of the consular officer. The decision to subject a person to a security clearance check may be based on a number of different factors including, but not limited to, information in your visa application forms, international travel patterns, and your field of study or research. Violations of US immigration status as well as criminal arrests or misdemeanor infractions (including certain motor vehicle charges) may also subject a student or scholar to security clearance procedures and affect visa eligibility.
Please recognize that potential delays in visa application processing may make it impossible for you to return to resume your studies or activities on time. Therefore, if you need a new visa, please seriously consider your travel plans. Travel over winter Intersession is of particular concern; US embassies and consulates typically experience a high volume of visa applications during this period and many consulates close or reduce their hours during the holidays.
If visa applicants apply for a visa stamp at a US embassy or consulate in a third country (a country other than their country of citizenship), they may not return to the US while they wait for approval and a possible security clearance.
7In the unlikely event that your visa is denied, contact the ISSO
If a 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 the reason in writing if possible. Please read the Visa Denial information on the DOS website and contact the ISSO; we will try to provide you with suggestions that may strengthen your next application.
8Schedule your travel to the US
Once you have obtained your visa, please see Entering the US as you make your travel plans. This resource provides information regarding deadlines to enter the US and the documentation necessary to be admitted to the US in the proper immigration classification to begin your academic activities. Visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for details regarding preparing to enter the US and what to bring
Be sure to schedule your travel plans so you can arrive in the US before your academic activities begin—you’ll want some time to search for housing and get settled. Immigration regulations determine the amount of time allowed in the US before activities begin, and vary by visa classification. If you are unable to arrive in the US prior to your expected start date, it is important that you contact the ISSO as soon as possible as you will likely need new documentation and special authorization to delay your arrival.
In section 5 of the I-20, US immigration regulations allow F-1 students (and dependent family members in F-2 status) to arrive in the US a maximum of 30 days before your program start date.
J-1 Students and Scholars
In section 3 of the DS-2019, US immigration regulations allow J-1 students and scholars (and dependent family members in J-2 status) to arrive in the US a maximum of 30 days before your program start date.
On the I-797B H-1B Approval Notice, US immigration regulations allow H-1B employees to arrive in the US a maximum of 10 days before you are authorized to begin employment.