Once Accepted: Visa Process & Entry into the US

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides the exchange visitor (J-1) non-immigrant visa category for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. The J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, and participants in the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program are expected to return to their home countries when they complete their programs. Entry into the United States as a participant in the Exchange Visitor Program is granted with the understanding that participants will complete the objectives of a single program category.

Once your Exchange Student Application is accepted, the UFIC Exchange Student Coordinator will issue an immigration document called a DS-2019. That DS-2019 form will be sent to you along with an official acceptance letter to participate as a non-degree seeking student in the exchange program to UF for the semester or academic period for which you were nominated. You will need both the DS-2019 and the letter to apply for a J-1 visa to enter the U.S. to participate in the exchange program.

Once you receive your DS-2019 and your acceptance letter from the UFIC  Exchange Coordinator, check to be sure all the information is correct and complete.  Then you may proceed with the visa application.  The first step is for you to pay the “I-901 fee”.   Do not schedule your visa appointment until after you receive the DS-2019, because you must present the original DS-2019 form at the interview.  If you schedule the interview before you receive the DS-2019, you will need to cancel or reschedule your appointment if you do not receive the DS-2019 on time.  Setting a visa appointment ahead of time will NOT be considered an urgent reason to speed up your DS-2019.  Be sure to have all required documents in order before attending the visa appointment.  For any questions directly related to the student visa application, please contact the United States Embassy or Consulate near you.

Note: Canadian students are not required to obtain a visa but must pay the I-901 fee and must receive a stamp in their passport at the United States Port of Entry to verify J-1 status. Contact your local United States Embassy or Consulate for details.

Processing a J-1 Student Visa

The United States embassies or consulates will not issue a visa more than 120 days before the start of your program (see item 3 on DS-2019). Consulates will allow you to apply prior to this, but may not issue your visa until the 120-day time frame occurs. You should make an appointment to obtain the visa as soon as you are eligible. There are two fees involved with obtaining a visa: the application fee for the J-1 visa; and the I-901 SEVIS Fee.These are separate fees and you must pay both to apply for the visa. You will need a valid passport, acceptance letter, proof of funds, DS-2019 and the receipt for payment of the I-901 (SEVIS Fee)*. Make sure your surname and given name match on all your documentation and that all other information is correct and up-to-date. Be prepared to prove that you do not intend to immigrate to the US. Be prepared to show proof that you are an on-going degree-seeking student at your home university and will not graduate unless you return to your home university to complete the degree there.

Note:

  • If you need to reschedule an appointment for the visa, you must make a request prior to the date of the interview and show good cause for rescheduling.
  • Use the DS-2019 for the school you will attend, because regardless of how many DS-2019s you are issued; only the DS-2019 used to obtain the visa will be activated. 

* To obtain the I-901 receipt, you will need to pay the SEVIS Fee (I-901). This fee can be paid using one of three methods:

  1. Online with a credit card http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq4.htm#credit_card
  2. By mail with a check or money order http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq4.htm#_Toc81222058
  3. At a Western Union http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/wu_instr.htm
  4. To transfer a payment made on one SEVIS ID to another SEVIS ID http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq7.htm

Entry into the United States

If you are entering the United States on an initial DS-2019, you may not enter the United States more than 30 days before the start of your program. Be sure to check the Transportation Security Agency’s (TSA)website for current travel regulations.

Carry your acceptance letter, DS-2019, I-901 receipt, passport (valid for at least 6 months), proof of funds, and J-1 visa with you in your carry-on luggage. It would also be useful to have names and contacts for the University of Florida International Center and your department.

Make a full declaration using the Customs Declaration Form (obtained during your flight). If you are bringing more than $10,000 in cash, you must fill out a report with the customs official. Remember that certain articles are forbidden or restricted. Visit the Transportation Security Agency’s website for a list of prohibited items.

Make sure your passport is stamped with the correct port of entry and the correct date, and that the period of admission (usually “D/S” for “Duration of Status”), and correct visa status (J-1) are written inside the stamp in your passport. Be prepared to have your photograph and fingerprints taken. If you receive a form I-515 A, bring it to the University of Florida International Center right away. For more information click here.

I-515A Form

Form I-515A is an official document given to travelers entering the United States who do not have all the required paperwork. If a student is missing a required travel document they may be given Form I-515A.

When a Port of Entry official issues a student or exchange visitor a Form I-515A, the student or exchange visitor needs to report to their UFIC Exchange Coordinator immediately. The Exchange Coordinator will assist the student or exchange visitor by providing the proper guidance or documentation required to complete the submission process within the 30 days allowed. If these documents are not received within 30 days of the student's entry into the United States, he or she will not be in legal status and must leave the US. Once the documents are received by mail, they will be processed and returned within 10 to 15 business days.

The issuance of an I-515A causes the student to experience delays at the port of entry and to wait 30-90 days for DHS to update their paperwork.