Visa and Immigration

What is a visa

A citizen of a foreign country, wishing to enter the United States (U.S), generally must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The type of visa one must have is defined by U.S. immigration law, and relates to the purpose of the travel.

A nonimmigrant visa is most frequently a tourist, business, student, or specialty worker visa that will permit the applicant to stay for a particular period of time in the United States to accomplish a specific purpose. Non-immigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. but wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis - for tourism, business, temporary/specialty work, study, or medical treatment.

An immigrant visa is for a person who intends to live permanently in the U.S.A visa does not guarantee entry to the U.S. A visa simply indicates that a U.S. consular officer has reviewed your application, and that the officer has determined you are eligible to apply for entry to the country for a specific purpose.

F-1 Nonimmigrant visa

You will need a F-1 student visa to enter the U.S. to study. You should apply for the visa at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country using the I-20 that you received from SF State. If you have been accepted by several U.S. colleges or universities, do not apply for your F-1 student visa until you decide which school you will attend. Current U.S. Immigration Service regulations require that you only use the I-20 from the school that you plan to attend to enter the U.S. or to apply for a new F-1 student visa.

Canadian citizens do not need F-1 visa stamps to enter the F-1 Students, but they do have to show the I-20 and proof of sufficient financial resources at the port of entry to the U.S. in order to obtain status as an F-1 international student. Canadian students must show the SEVIS fee payment receipt when they enter the U.S.


The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) manages the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVP is a program under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

SEVIS is an electronic means of providing information to the U.S. Government on all F-1, M-1, J-1 students, scholars and their dependents. It is also a system for tracking a student’s immigration history. Schools are required to use SEVIS for the following purposes:

  1. Issuing I-20 forms to students
  2. Recommending off-campus employment
  3. Maintaining up-to-date records on the status of each student


The I-20 is an official U.S. government form. A prospective nonimmigrant student must have an I-20 issued by an SEVP-certified school in order to become F-1 student.  Only an SEVP-certified school can issue an I-20 to students that have been accepted for enrollment. It acts as proof of acceptance and contains the information that is needed to pay the SEVIS fee; apply for a visa or change of status, and admission into the United States.  The I-20 has the student’s unique SEVIS identification (ID) number on the upper right hand side directly above the barcode. SEVIS ID numbers are an N followed by 9 digits.


The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires that all individuals entering the U.S. in F-1 student status pay a $200.00 SEVIS I-901 fee to cover the costs for the continued operation of the SEVIS program. The SEVIS fee is a U.S. Government fee paid directly to DHS. It is not a University fee and does not provide any funds or services to SF State.  All new international students entering the U.S. in F-1 status for the first time to begin a new program and who have an "initial attendance" I-20 will need to pay a non-refundable $200.00 SEVIS I-901 fee and show evidence of a fee payment BEFORE applying for an F-1 student visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country.

Before you can pay the SEVIS fee, you will need to receive an I-20 from SF State. Upon the receipt of the I-20, you may pay the SEVIS fee online.

How to apply for an F-1 visa

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provided a user friendly website explaining the entire process of arriving the U.S. See Student Process Steps: How to Navigate the U.S. Immigration System

Where to apply:

Websites of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions at

How to apply:

U.S Department of State - Student Visas

Education U.S.A - Prepare for the Student Visa

After you apply:

Visa Wait Times - for Interview Appointments and Processing

Check visa application status

How to complete an F1 visa application form (DS160)