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.

  • 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)

  • 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.