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What is a US Entry Visa?

A visa is a sticker placed in your passport by a US consulate outside the US. The visa sticker allows you to request entry into the US. Nonimmigrant visas, such as student visas, are issued to person who are intending on coming to the US for a particular purpose, such as study, research, teaching, or other reasons.

  • Once you enter the US, the entry visa does not affect how long you are allowed to stay. It only affects your ability to re-enter the US following a trip abroad.
  • The length of your visa is not based on the length of your academic program (students) or job but on "visa reciprocity" agreements between the US and different countries about standard visa lengths for different types of activities. In general, visa reciprocity means that a person coming to the US to study would get a visa that is of the same length as a US citizen going to another country to do the same type of activity. For the visa reciprocity schedule for your country, go to the US State Department's visa reciprocity page and search for your country and visa type (e.g., "F" for F-1 visa)
  • Canadian citizens do not need visas, but must have other documents related to their purpose of coming to the US (e.g., F-1 students from Canada must still have a Form I-20 and related supporting documents to come to the US in order to study)

Steps to Obtaining a Visa

Once you have your visa certificate(s) from Tufts, you can take steps to apply for the appropriate visa at a US consulate overseas. As a rule, you should plan on applying for a visa in your country of citizenship or country of legal permanent residence. The time it takes to get a visa appointment, and exact visa application procedures, will vary from consulate to consulate, so consult the web site of your consulate for more information.  Planning ahead is also extremely important, as visa processes can take a few days to several months, depending on individual circumstances.

  1. Obtain and check your visa certificate from Tufts (e.g., Form I-20, Form DS-2019, I-797 Approval Notice, or other document) to make sure the information on it is correct. Contact the International Center if you have any questions or notice any errors on your form. Sign it at the bottom of page 1 (J-1s must use blue ink to sign Form DS-2019).
  2. Pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee at least three days before your visa appointment (F-1 and J-1 visa applicants only).
    • $350 for F-1 students (F-2 dependents do not pay the fee)
    • $220 for J-1 students and scholars (J-2 dependents do not pay the fee)
  3. Read the information about nonimmigrant status and visa eligibility (see bottom of page)
  4. Make your visa appointment at a US consulate in your country of citizenship or legal permanent residence and pay the US visa fees
    • When making your appointment, you may need to complete the Form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application and pay the DS-160 fee (currently US$185)
    • Citizens of certain countries may be required to pay an additional visa reciprocity fee - go to the Visa Reciprocity web site to find out if this additional fee applies to you
      • The Visa Reciprocity web page will also indicate the standard length of visas issued to different countries based on visa type (e.g., F-1, J-1, H-1B)
  5. Prepare your visa application materials, including:
    • Your passport, which should be valid at least six months into the future
    • Your visa certificate (I-20 or DS-2019)
    • US passport photos
    • Your I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt (F and J visa applicants only)
    • Financial documents, such as your scholarship letter(s), bank statements, or job offer letter from Tufts
    • Your Tufts admission letter (students) or invitation / appointment letter (for scholars and employees)
    • CV or resume (for scholars and employees)
    • Passports and proof of family relationship for any dependent family members coming with you to the US
    • Other supporting materials as instructed by the International Center or the US consulate
  6. Follow instructions provided by the US consulate regarding the visa approval process, timelines, and pick-up instructions
  7. Plan your arrival to the US
    • Note: F-1 students and J-1 students and scholars coming to start new programs can enter the US only 30 days before the start date printed on their Form I-20 or Form DS-2019

Persons Already in the US in Another Status (Non F-1 or J-1 Status)

If you are already in the US in another status, contact the International Center with details about your specific situation. Depending on your current immigration status and intended activity at Tufts, it may be possible or necessary for you to change your status from within the US. In other cases, the International Center may recommend that you depart the US and return with a new visa following the instructions above. You can also go to our change of status web page for more information.

If you are in the US in a protected status (e.g., Temporary Protected Status, refugee / asylum status, etc.) or as a pending immigrant, the International Center recommends that you speak with an immigration attorney about your options before pursuing F-1 or J-1 status. In many cases, persons in a protected status or who have pending immigrant petitions are eligible to study without having to obtain F-1 or J-1 status.

If You Already have a Valid Visa (F-1 Students)

If you were an F-1 student at another school and obtained a valid F-1 visa through that school, you can still use that visa to enter the US to attend Tufts. You must, however, have a valid I-20 from Tufts. The I-20 will always be from your current school, but the F-1 visa may be used as long as it is valid and unexpired, and even if the SEVIS ID number has since changed. You have the option of applying for a new visa at your nearest consulate, but it is not usually required as a condition of entering the US.

Visa Delays and Denials

Certain persons applying for visas may face delays or denials due to a variety of reasons, such as missing documents. In other cases, a visa application may be delayed due to administrative processing, which is a security check. Read more information about visa delays in our Travel Center and contact the International Center if you have any questions.

Students from China who are facing visa delays or denials due to Presidential Proclamation 10043 should contact the International Center directly at with details about their specific situations.

Other Visa-Related FAQs

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