Apply for a U.S. Visa Stamp

A visa is a stamp in your passport that allows you to request permission to enter the United States — it is considered an essential travel document, and getting an F-1/J-1 visa is an important part of attaining F-1/J-1 visa status for study in the United States and at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. F-1 and J-1 international students must have a valid stamp in their passport to be eligible for entry or re-entry to the United States. There are some exceptions for travel to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island for less than 30 days. Visa stamps are obtained at US Consulates abroad. It is not possible to get a U.S. visa stamp (not even a renewal) within the U.S. Citizens of Canada do not need a visa stamp in their passports in order to enter the U.S.

In this section, we will help you navigate the F-1/J-1 visa application process. If you haven’t already received an I-20 or DS-2019 from UNC Charlotte and paid your SEVIS I-901 fee, use the left side bar menu to read those sections before coming to this page.

Prepare your documentation

As you can probably imagine, the U.S. government (specifically, the U.S. Department of State) is going to require a number of documents from you in order to grant you a visa. Gathering these documents early on in the process will be helpful. Though the list below is not exhaustive, is tailored to newly admitted students, and your local Embassy or Consulate may require documentation beyond this list, these are some basic requirements that you’ll be expected to provide:

  • valid passport
  • valid I-20 (for F-1) or DS-2019 (for J-1)
  • print out of the SEVIS I-901 fee receipt for NEW F-1 or J-1 status (see previous section from left side bar for details)
  • Proof of admission (new students), or proof of enrollment (continuing students)
    • New students – you should show your letter of admission
    • Continuing students – your may print your Enrollment Verification certificate to show proof of enrollment (see instructions from Niner Central), or if you are traveling during winter or summer break, you may print your unofficial transcript showing you are enrolled for the upcoming term
  • recent financial support documents

By preparing these documents ahead of time, you can help ensure a smooth visa process.

Contact a U.S. Consulate where you will apply

There are many U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the world, and you will generally want to apply for your visa at the one closest to your home. Use the searchable list of of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions below to find out which location you’ll be working with to secure your visa:

Find Your Local U.S. Embassy or Consulate

After thoroughly reviewing the information about the process on your local embassy or consulate website, if you have additional questions or want to know if additional documents are required (beyond the ones mentioned previously), you may contact the Embassy or Consulate directly. However, don’t expect a quick response!

Complete the DS-160 to schedule a visa appointment

The vast majority of U.S. Embassy or Consulate websites will have a dedicate webpage(s) for non-immigrant visa applicants. The first step will involve completing the DS-160, an online application form with many questions that you will need to answer accurately and honestly. Be prepared to spend several hours completing the DS-160. you will also need to pay any Visa Issuance fees at this stage. Note that Visa Issuance fees are different from the SEVIS I-901 fee; both sets of fees must be paid.

Next, once you have the DS-160 confirmation sheet/special barcode use the embassy or consulate’s service center or support service to schedule your appointment, pay your visa issuance fee etc. To see how long it may take to secure a visa appointment at the present time, click the button below:

Visa Wait Times

Prepare for your visa interview (if applicable)

Once you’ve scheduled your visa interview and have gathered all of your documents, as a non-immigrant visa application, you will need to prove to the consular officer that you do not intend to immigrate to the United States. In other words, you need to show him or her that you have definite plans to return home after college. You must establish that you have non-immigrant intent; in other words, you must prove that you have no wish to move to the U.S. permanently.

There are several ways you can be prepared to support your intent to return home in your visa interview:

  • have a few sentences in mind that express how you intend to use your degree or research at home after your finish your program
  • bring copies of deeds to any property (land, house, apartment) that you or your family owns in your home country
  • bring bank statements of any accounts that you or your family maintain in your home country
  • if you have an employer who intends to employ you when you return home, bring a letter from that employer

Feel free to read NAFSA (Association of International Educators) 10 Visa Tips for the student visa interview too.

Visa Delay?

In normal circumstances, the entire visa application process can sometimes be wrapped up in 1-3 months.

However, it may sometimes take longer, or even much longer. While all individuals applying for a U.S. visa are screened before the issuance of a visa, certain individuals may be subject to further screening or clearance, commonly known as Administrative Processing. To enhance your visa application process, we recommend you to:

  • Spell your first and last name consistently
  • If you have ONE NAME ONLY, please insert it in the last name box and leave the first name box blank

Unfortunately, if you are from North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Russia, Iran or Libya, no matter what you do or do not do, you will likely be subject to an additional security clearance process that can take 9+ months– if you are from one of these countries, consult with the ISSO early on after your admission to discuss expectations for when you may be able to start your program.

Finally, if you study a technology or field that has sensitive military applications, you may also be subject to a delayed screening (see “Security Clearance” below).

Visa Denial?

Any failure to meet one of the specific requirements of the applicable visa category may result in what is called “214(b) denial” of the visa application. For example, a student’s F-1 visa application may be denied if he/she fails to possess sufficient funds to cover educational expenses. Additionally, a student must be able to show strong ties to his/her home country, which he/she has no intention to abandon.

214(b) is the number one reason for students’ visa denials. It is referred to as “failure to establish entitlement to non-immigrant status,” or more commonly, “presumption of immigrant intent” because the majority of 214(b) denials are applied to intending immigrants. See the section immediately below titled “Non-Immigrant Intent” for more information.

Students who are denied an F-1 visa may resubmit their application with new documentation focusing on their ties to their home country. Read the United States Travel.State.Gov website for more information about F-1 visa denial.

Non-Immigrant Intent?

As mentioned above, students hoping to secure an F-1 or J-1 visa (which are nonimmigrant visa types) must prove “non-immigrant intent” via providing evidence of strong ties to the home country. “Strong ties” to one’s home country may be cultural, social, professional, or any aspect of life that has a binding effect between a student and his/her country of residence. Family members, a job, a steady source of income, a house, an investment and bank accounts are all examples of “strong ties.” They also differ from country to country, and person to person. So a full time job may be important for one applicant, but not so convincing for another. A student or a retired parent can still get a non-immigrant visa without a job, for example.

In short, “strong ties” is a vague concept that must be proved by physical evidence. For this reason consular officers are trained to look at all aspects of a visa application, not one particular document or piece of evidence.

Security Clearance

If a visa applicant’s area of study is listed on the U.S. federal government’s technology alert list, the U.S. consulate may complete a security clearance prior to granting the visa. This process may delay your visa application by anywhere from one to three months. There is no way to know for certain ahead of time whether you will be subject to this type of clearance. If you find that your field of study is on the list, it would be advisable to get a letter from a professor in your department which describes briefly and clearly the specific area of your research. This letter will not deter a security clearance, but it may expedite the clearance.