Obtaining a Visa and Arriving in the U.S.


How to Apply for a U.S. Visa

Congratulations! You have been accepted to CWRU and can obtain an immigration form (Form I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1)) from the Visa & Immigration Services & Advisors (VISA ) Office to apply for a U.S. visa.

Once you receive your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, you should apply for a visa as soon as possible. The Department of State website includes information on:

  • Student visa categories
  • Visa application process and advice
  • Visa wait times and denials

Required Fees

The I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee is a required fee charged by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Its purpose is to defray the costs of the administration and maintenance of the system, which is used to monitor and track F-1 students, J-1 Exchange Visitors, and their dependents. The SEVIS fee applies to students who are:

  • Entering the U.S. as an F-1 or J-1 student
  • Changing status within the U.S. to F-1 or J-1

Students who are transferring their current F-1 or J-1 status with SEVIS to CWRU have already paid this fee. The only reason a transfer student would have to pay the fee again is if their current status is completed and a new SEVIS record is issued.

SEVIS payments cannot and should not be made until you receive your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.

Once you receive your form, you will need to pay the SEVIS fee by completing an I-901 Fee Remittance Form, in English, online. You are required to have proof that you paid the SEVIS fee in order to obtain a visa, so be sure to print the payment confirmation page after payment is complete and retain it in a safe place, as you may need it again later.

When you attend your interview at a U.S. consulate abroad, confirmation of SEVIS fee payment must be provided to the consular officer. You can request a visa appointment prior to paying the SEVIS I-901 fee, but you must have paid the fee and have a printed payment confirmation prior to your visa interview.

If you are a Canadian citizen, a visa is not required, however, you will need to present your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and prove that you’ve paid the SEVIS fee by presenting the payment confirmation to the Customs & Border Protection officer at the port of entry.

If you have paid the required I‑901 SEVIS fee, you can access your information, check the status of your payment, and get any updates at FMJfee.com.

Advice for Applying

Unless you qualify for a waiver of the visa interview (not likely if you've never had a U.S. visa before), you will need to attend at in-person interview at a U.S. consular post. 

The procedures you must follow and the length of time required to process a visa application vary from consulate to consulate. Contact the nearest U.S. consulate as soon as possible to request information about visa application procedures and requirements. The U.S. Embassy website is organized by country and you can click on each country’s link to then identify the consulate most conveniently located for you. Consulate websites provide students with more specific information about any documentation and/or requirements unique to that location.

Keep in mind that:

  • Interviews are short, so you should be prepared and make efficient use of your time with the consular officer.
  • Proper preparation means providing as much documented proof as possible that you meet the criteria for a nonimmigrant visa.
  • Interested parties (such as sponsors) may provide written information to support your application but may not always be allowed to accompany you to the interview; consult the consulate for more information.
  • It is extremely difficult to obtain a visa after an initial rejection of a visa application. Consular officers will reconsider cases if visa applications are denied, but applicants must be able to show additional or new convincing evidence that their circumstances (personal, professional or financial) have changed considerably since the previous application. It’s in your best interest to prepare your first application carefully and to present your case as clearly as possible.

The information that follows has been compiled from websites prepared by the U.S. Department of State that are meant to provide guidance for student visa applicants. There are many suggestions given here, and it’s important to remember that each consulate and consular officer is different; it is at their discretion to follow different procedures in processing visa applications, require specific documentation to supplement applications, and give more attention to certain criteria than others when reviewing application materials.

It’s also crucial to remember that each applicant’s case is different and will be considered separately from any other applicant’s case; you may do everything suggested here and be denied a visa while another seemingly less prepared person is granted one.

Consular officers charged with reviewing student visa applications appear to focus on four main criteria: We’ve provided some suggestions of ways to establish that you meet the criteria. While this is neither a checklist nor guarantee that you’ll be approved for a visa, it should help you be prepared and increase the likelihood of success.

In the event that your visa application is denied, please contact an international student advisor at ISS so we can best advise you about next steps.


Your sole purpose in coming to the U.S. is to be a full-time student.

You should carefully consider your purpose for coming to the U.S. before you apply for a student visa. Your application is likely to be denied if it appears that you have only partial or primary—rather than sole—interest in being a full-time student during your stay in the U.S.


You must have both the ability and intention to be a full-time student.

Your ability can be proven with sufficient academic preparation and English-language knowledge. You can document your ability with items such as your diploma, transcripts of courses and test scores (TOEFL, GRE, GMAT, etc.).

Be aware that verbal responses and written statements you give to the officer during an interview will be considered as further evidence of your English-language ability; therefore, you should acknowledge any help you had in preparing statements written in English.

Your intention can be evidenced by specific plans for your course of study and clear academic and career goals. Your immigration document (the I-20 or DS-2019) and acceptance letter issued to you by CWRU will help to support your intention, but your verbal and written statements also will have an impact on the consular officer reviewing your application.


You must possess adequate funds to cover all tuition, health insurance, and living and anticipated incidental expenses during your stay in the U.S. without engaging in unauthorized employment.

Personal or family funds for your financial support in the U.S. can be documented by either an official statement from a bank or investment firm. The document must stipulate the country in which the funds are available as well as the amount of funding available for withdrawal for the purpose of your education.

Proof of a scholarship, assistantship, or fellowship award can be documented with a letter from the sponsor stating its ability and intention to provide funds. If you receive a financial award from CWRU, the award letter will state the amount of funding provided.

Intent to return to home country

You have economic, family, social or other ties to your country that are strong enough to compel your departure from the U.S. upon the completion of your studies. You may be able to meet these criteria with documented proof of:

  • Assets in your country—property such as an apartment, a house, land, or investments—accompanied by appropriate proof of ownership (lease, deed, financial statement, receipt, etc.)
  • Dependents remaining in your country, such as a spouse, children, or elderly parents. Your claim that dependents will rely on you for financial support upon your return to your country might be supported by letters from interested parties (e.g., family members, friends, members of the clergy, social workers, etc.).
  • Employment which you may resume or begin upon your return to your country. The nature of this agreement should be detailed in a contract or letter from your employer.
  • Employment opportunities or prospects which are likely to be available in your country upon your return. The future availability of jobs in your field should be evidenced by articles or advertisements in newspapers, academic or professional publications, etc.
  • Career goals (specified in your verbal/written statements) and talent and potential (supported by letters from former instructors or academic advisors) in your field of study.
  • High social status in your country or connections to influential business people or government officials in your country. Evidence might come in the form of a letter written by the influential person to whom you or your family is connected.

Note: The most common reason for a visa denial is the applicant’s failure to prove “strong ties” to his/her home country of residence. It is crucial that you compile substantial and compelling evidence that you intend to return to your country at the end of your course of study in the U.S.

Arriving in the U.S.

There is a lot to consider when you’re planning your arrival in the U.S.!

You are required to arrive on campus by the start date printed on your I-20 or DS-2019 form, which is also the first day of class.

Many programs at CWRU offer orientation programs which new students are either strongly recommended or required to attend. These programs are typically held one to two weeks prior to the indicated start date on your immigration form.

Given that new F-1 or J-1 international students are permitted to enter the U.S. 30 days prior to the start date indicated on their I-20 or DS-2019, attending an orientation program should not be a problem. In fact, arriving a bit early to campus is a good idea, as it will allow you to get adjusted to the time change and settle into your new surroundings. Read more about how to travel to CWRU from the airport and helpful tips about what to pack in your carry-on baggage.

Port of Entry Requirements

Effective April 30, 2013, the I-94 paper record became electronically generated at the border. The paper I-94 card will no longer be issued for most people traveling by air or sea as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now gathers travelers’ arrival/departure information automatically from their electronic travel records.

Your immigration details, such as your admission status (e.g. F-1, J-1), date of entry and status end date will be stamped directly into your passport. Your arrival/departure information will all be recorded electronically by CBP and accessible to you online. Learn more about I-94 forms.

It is a good practice to access your I-94 Admission Record online after entering the U.S. to check that all of your personal information is correct. You also should print a copy to keep with your immigration documents as proof of your current status in the U.S.

Be prepared to present this printed copy of your I-94 when applying for a Social Security Number or driver's license and when completing an I-9 Form for employment. There may be other instances in addition to those just mentioned when you'll be asked to present this printed information.

Paper I-94 cards will still be distributed at land borders with Canada and Mexico. International Student Services encourages you to ask for an I-94 when you are enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico if you don’t automatically receive one. If you entered the country more than two years ago, your I-94 record will not appear in the online system at this time; your current I-94 card will remain valid.

For help and for more information on the I-94, download the I-94 Fact Sheet or ask an International Student Services advisor for help.

If you cannot access your I-94 information and have been in the United States at least 10 days, please contact the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Cleveland at 216.267.3600 and select option 2. They will attempt to fix your situation over the phone or will make an appointment if necessary.

Required Documents

When arriving at the port of entry, go to the terminal area for arriving passengers to begin inspection and be prepared to present the following documentation to the CBP officer:

  • Valid passport (must be valid for at least six months into the future at all times), including attached envelope of immigration documents provided by Embassy or Consulate, with F-1 or J-1 entry visa stamp
  • SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019, issued by CWRU
  • Receipt Notice or Internet Receipt verifying SEVIS fee payment
  • Evidence of financial resources
  • Name and contact information for Designated School Official (DSO) or Responsible Office (RO) at your intended school or program

Like all entering visitors, you will be asked to explain the reason you wish to enter the United States and to provide information about your final destination. It is important that you explain to the CBP officer that you will be a student at Case Western Reserve University. Also, be prepared to include the address of the university.

When your inspection is complete, the officer will:

  • Stamp your passport with your immigration details. The likely notation will include information about your status (either F-1 or J-1), the date, and D/S, which means Duration of Status.
  • Return the I-20 or DS-2019 and passport to you.

For more information on entering the United States, please visit the Customs and Border Protection website.


Even if you have substantial funding from CWRU, you should bring with you approximately $2,000 (USD) to cover immediate expenses for initial supplies and books, settling-in costs such as security deposits for rent, telephone, and utilities. We recommend you bring these funds in a combination of cash (a combination of $1, $5, and $20 bills totaling about $300-600) and the balance in "traveler's checks" in U.S. dollars. Traveler's checks provide a safe way to carry money while traveling in the United States and abroad. They are insured against loss and theft and are more readily accepted in the United States by businesses away from your area of residence than personal checks. Banks sell traveler's checks, for which they charge a small fee of usually 1% for the value of checks purchased.

Establish a bank account as soon as possible after your arrival in the United States. It is not wise to carry or keep large amounts of cash. For more information about banking options, visit the Banking and Legal Services page on the International Student Services website.