Applying for a Form I-20
The Form I-20, or “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student,” is the immigration document that is required to obtain F-1 student status through an F-1 visa application and to maintain F-1 status after arriving in the U.S. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) manages nonimmigrant students and their dependents in the F visa classification and is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. To be eligible for F-1 student status, students must be admitted to a full course of study at a SEVIS-approved school and meet other requirements for I-20 issuance.
In order to receive an I-20 after being admitted to Stevens, a student must provide the following documents to the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office, by uploading the documentation to his/her online admission application - student status page:
- Financial documentation as outlined in the "Guidelines for Submitting Financial Documents" below
- Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form
- Copy of passport identification page with photograph
In addition, the following documents must be made available to the ISSS office by Admissions:
- Copy of written application to Stevens
- Evidence of satisfaction of admissions requirements
- Letter of Admission from Stevens
- Proof of English language proficiency, including TOEFL, IELTS, another approved equivalent, or a waiver of this requirement
Transferring from a SEVIS-Approved U.S. Institution
A student who is currently attending a SEVIS-approved school within the U.S. or who has recently completed studies at such a school should notify Stevens in order to ascertain his or her eligibility for transferring the electronic F-1 record from a previous school to Stevens. If a student will not return to his or her home country between study at another institution and study at Stevens, transferring the F-1 record is mandatory for maintenance of status. Transferring an F-1 record also guarantees that any time in full-time status that the student has accrued within the U.S. toward F-1 benefits (such as Optional Practical Training or Curricular Practical Training) will not be lost.
In addition to providing the documents listed above under “Initial Attendance,” an F-1 student transferring to Stevens must provide the following:
- Transfer-In Request form
- Copy of nonimmigrant visa
- Copy of most recent I-20 from previous SEVIS-approved school
- Copy of I-94 card or electronic I-94 record (can be found at www.cbp.gov/i94)
Requesting a Change to F-1 Status from within the U.S.
A change of status to F-1 is necessary for the maintenance of legal status when a nonimmigrant changes or ends his or her principal activity, reason, or purpose for being in the U.S. and wants to remain in the U.S. to pursue a specific educational objective full-time. Though the ISSS office issues the change of status I-20, the change of status application is adjudicated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Requesting a change of status to F-1 is a multi-step process with specific rules, and not every nonimmigrant will be eligible for change of status or find this option ideal for his or her particular situation. For a detailed explanation of the regulations, procedures, and required documentation for change of status, please review the ISSS documents Information about Changing to F-1 Status and Directions for Applying for Change of Status to F-1 or F-2. Other change of status documents can be found under the Forms section of the website here.
Applying for a Form DS-2019
The DS-2019, or “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status,” is the document that is required to acquire J-1 Exchange Visitor status through a J-1 visa application and to maintain J-1 status after arriving in the U.S. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is administered by the U.S. Department of State. To be eligible for J-1 student status, students must be admitted to a degree program at an accredited educational institution for either a full course of study, if pursuing a degree program, or a “prescribed course of study”, if participating in an approved non-degree program.
There are some key differences between J-1 and F-1 student status. Unlike F-1 status, most students who will be completely funded by personal or family funds are not eligible for J-1 status. J-1 students and their dependents are also required to carry health insurance throughout their program of study, while F-1 students and their dependents are not. Additionally, students in J-1 status may become subject to a 2 year home country residence and physical presence requirement that does not apply to F-1 students. For more information about the J-1 visa category, please consult the Department of State’s J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program website here.
In order to receive a DS-2019 after applying for J-1 student status and being admitted to Stevens, the following documents must be provided to the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office by the student:
- Application for Form DS-2019 -Student category only
- Financial documentation as outlined in the Guidelines for Submitting Financial Documents below.
- For transfer students from another Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)-approved U.S. institution (in addition to the items above):
In addition, the following documents must be made available to the ISSS office by Stevens Admissions:
- Copy of written application to Stevens
- Evidence of satisfaction of admissions requirements
- Letter of Admission from Stevens
- Proof of English language proficiency, including TOEFL, IELTS, or another approved equivalent.
After all documents are received and are determined to be sufficient, a DS-2019 will be issued for and shipped to the student in approximately 5-6 business days.
Guidelines for Submitting Financial Documents
International students requesting visa sponsorship must demonstrate sufficient funds to cover Stevens’ estimated expenses for the first year of study, as required by the U.S. government. The ability of students to demonstrate that they will not become a public charge or resort to unauthorized employment in the U.S. for financial support is essential. Information about Stevens’ estimated expenses may be found on the Stevens Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form. The financial documents submitted to Stevens for the purpose of securing an I-20 (F-1 visa) or a DS-2019 (J-1 visa) will also be required in their original form when applying for a student visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad, and when passing through Customs at the U.S. port of entry.
At the time of the visa application, students will be required to present evidence of sufficient funds for the first academic year, and at the discretion of the consular officer, may also be asked to demonstrate that equal funding will be made available for every year of study in the United States. Financial guarantee documents can come from various sources as outlined below:
Financial Documentation Requirements
- All documents must be submitted on the student's online admissions application (through the Student Status page)
- May be photocopies with the understanding that originals may be requested if necessary.
- Must be no more than 6 months old at time of submission.
- Documents must show liquid assets that can be immediately converted to U.S. dollars. Liquid funds are defined as money that is immediately accessible without any restrictions or penalties. A U.S.-based money market account is acceptable if it can be withdrawn immediately as cash in U.S. Dollars.
- Cash in a savings or checking bank account must be in excess of required estimated expenses.
- Joint accounts must include a Stevens Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form signed by all account holders.
- All documents must be English.
- Official online bank statements are acceptable if they include the bank's letterhead or logo. Unofficial printouts of screens from an online banking account will not be accepted.
- Any financial document must show the account holder’s name, date, account number, the current balance, and the type of currency.
Acceptable Sources of Funds
Family or Friends
- Bank statement or letter must be on bank letterhead and include the name of the account holder, account number, account type, date, the current balance in the account, type of currency, and be accompanied by Stevens’ Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form.
- A bank statement for a family-owned business accompanied by Stevens’ Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form and a copy of the organization's most recent annual report; specifically the Financial Statements with notes or the Auditors Report. The employer's financial statement must show income high enough to cover the sponsor's own business plus the amount promised to the student.
- Certificates of deposit(s) in the sponsor’s name with a maturity date no later than the start date of the academic term, accompanied by Stevens’ Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form.
- Salary Letter: Students with a U.S. sponsor may provide proof of sponsor’s current annual salary in the form of an employment verification letter from a U.S. employer (issued the same year as the I-20 application). The letter must list the name of the employee, the current annual salary, be on company letterhead and be signed by the employee's supervisor or an individual in the HR department. Funding is calculated as ¼ the salary if the person has zero dependents, 1/5 with 1-2 dependents, and 1/6 with 3-4 dependents.
Self-funding (Personal Funds)
- Bank statement on bank letterhead dated no more than 6 months old at the time of submission showing your name, date, account number, account type, the current balance and type of currency. If you are using a private loan, you must provide a statement from the lender showing your name as the loan holder, the amount of the loan, the date the loan takes effect, and the conditions of the loan.
- Certificates of deposit(s) in your name with a maturity date no later than the start date of the academic term
Government or other Scholarship Funding
- Award letter must be on the organization’s official letterhead, signed or stamped, and specify your name as the recipient of the funding and the amount, terms, and duration of the funding
, (including specific start and end dates).
- Stevens’ Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form accompanied by a letter from the employer on company letterhead, signed, and dated within the past six months detailing the sponsor’s financial commitment, and accompanied by a copy of the organization's most recent annual report; specifically the Financial Statements with notes or the Auditors Report. The employer's financial statement must show income high enough to cover the sponsor's own business plus the amount promised to the student.
Stevens’ Scholarship or Graduate Assistantship
- Only official award letters will be accepted. For graduate assistantships (teaching or research assistantships), letters must come from the Registrar's Office; letters issued by individual departments will not be accepted. The procedure for requesting an assistantship letter can be found on Graduate Admissions' website. Letters from Undergraduate Admissions are required for any award or scholarship for undergraduate students.
- The award letter must be on Stevens’ official letterhead, signed or stamped, and specify your name as the recipient of the funding and the amount, terms, and duration of the funding (including specific start and end dates)
- A copy of your signed award letter must be included
- Students who will be requiring an I-20/DS-2019 for a dependent must submit additional proof of financial support to cover each dependent. For information on amounts, see the Graduate or Undergraduate Financial Verification Form. Dependents may self-sponsor, showing proof of funding as described under the Self-funding (Personal Funds) section.
Unacceptable Financial Documentation
- Non-liquid funds such as stocks, bonds, life insurance, auto/land deeds.
- Value of neither property nor the proposed sale of such property or property and tax records.
- Business accounts listed in a company or business name unless they meet the requirements. outlined under “Employer” or “Family or Friends”.
- Solvency and opinion statement such as a bank letter that verifies "sufficient financial resources" is not acceptable form of financial support.
- Retirement funds.
- 401K, IRA or similar accounts.
- Accountant’s letters.
- Loan applications.
- Personal Property (jewelry, vehicles)
- Chartered Accountant Statements or other third party evaluations of funds.
Scheduling and Preparing for the Visa Interview
After receiving your I-20 or DS-2019 from Stevens, the next step is to apply for an F-1/J-1 visa at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. In order to properly prepare for your visa interview, please follow these steps:
Check your documents:
After receiving your I-20/DS-2019, review your document to make sure that all the information is correct, and contact ISSS if there appear to be any errors. You should also do this for any dependent I-20s/DS-2019s you receive for your spouse and/or children accompanying you to the U.S. You should also make sure that you and any dependent(s) have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months into the future from the date you plan to arrive in the U.S.
Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee:
You will need your initial I-20/DS-2019 to pay the SEVIS fee. The Student and Exchange Visitor Program’s website will provide you with instructions on how to do so. Click on the button labeled “Submit Form I-901 and Fee Payment.” Print two copies of the payment confirmation—one for the visa appointment and one for your own records. Your payment confirmation can also be printed at any time from the same website by clicking the “Check I-901/Print Payment Confirmation” button.
Schedule your visa interview:
Check on current visa wait times, and schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. Consulate. The Department of State’s website has information about current wait times for the visa appointment and processing. Please note that the processing wait times do not include any extra time that may be required for administrative processing of certain cases.
The U.S. Embassy’s website will help you locate the nearest U.S. Consulate and find its instructions for applying for a visa (including links to required forms). The instructions should include a link to the DS-160 application. Everyone applying for a nonimmigrant visa must complete this form. You should complete this electronic form online and take a printed copy with you to the interview.
Make a list of the documentation required for your interview. Note the procedures for paying the visa application fee and any visa issuance fees, if applicable. The U.S. Consulate’s webpage for your country should also provide you with information on how to schedule your visa interview.
Prepare for your interview:
Once you have scheduled your visa interview, make sure you take plenty of time to prepare yourself and get all necessary documents in order. Have both the originals and a set of photocopies of your documents. In addition to the items listed here, you may be required to submit additional documents listed on the U.S. Consulate’s webpage for your country:
- A passport valid for at least six months
- Form I-20/DS-2019
- Acceptance letter from Stevens Institute of Technology
- Completed visa application (DS-160). Remember to complete the DS-160 electronically, and take a printed copy with you.
- A passport-sized photo less than six months old- Visit this website for details.
- A receipt for the visa application fee
- Payment confirmation for the SEVIS fee
- Financial support documentation for you and any dependent(s) accompanying you or joining you at a later date; documentation must show that you have sufficient funds to cover both your study costs and living expenses for the period you intend to stay.
- Any information that demonstrates your intention to return to your home country after finishing your program in the U.S. This may include information/ proof concerning your property, family, or other ties to your community.
Attend your interview:
Attend your scheduled interview with all necessary documentation. For helpful tips, please read the document 10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa.
Preparing for Departure and Entering the U.S.
Once you have received your F-1/J-1 visa, you will be ready to enter the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student! Here is some information that will help you identify the items you need and prepare for your flight and entrance into the U.S.:
Booking Your Flight
When booking your flight, it is important that you input your full name exactly as it appears on your passport. Your electronic I-94 record may be created using the name that appears on the airline’s flight manifest, so making sure that your passport and airline ticket match will ensure consistency in your immigration record and will help you avoid future delays when applying for documents (such as a driver’s license or Social Security Number) or benefits after your arrival.
By law, F-1 and J-1 students can enter the U.S. any time during the 30-day period before the program start date indicated on the first page of the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. If you attempt to arrive more than 30 days before the program start date, you may be refused entry into the United States. Therefore, when booking your flight, please make sure that you are scheduled to arrive no more than 30 days before your program start date; you should not plan to arrive after your program start date.
You will need the following documents to enter the United States:
- Passport- Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months into the future from the date of entry unless your country has a passport validity agreement with the U.S.; more information is available here.
- Valid F-1/J-1 visa
- I-20 or DS-2019 document signed on the first page by a Designated School Official/Alternate Responsible Officer (Stevens International Student and Scholar Services) and by you
- A copy of your Admission letter from Stevens
- Copies of the financial documents you provided to Stevens to receive your initial I-20 or DS-2019
If your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months into the future from the date of entry and is not, you will either need to extend it or obtain a new passport before your departure. If your F-1/J-1 visa is in your old passport, you will carry both passports (old and new) with you when you travel.
Packing Your Bags
Please make sure that you carry your documents in your carry-on luggage. Do not put these documents into your checked luggage, as you will not be able to retrieve them before you go through a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry (airport or land border crossing). Failure to produce these documents at the port of entry may result in denied entry.
In preparing for your flight, keep in mind that each airline has its own size and weight regulations, as well as fees, for both carry-on and checked baggage; please acquaint yourself with your airline’s policies and fees so that you can be sure your luggage meets the requirements before arriving at the airport. Furthermore, there are several items that you are prohibited from packing in your luggage; you will find a complete list of these items here.
Remember that your carry-on bag is the only bag you will be able to access when going through Customs if you are flying to the U.S. For this reason, you should pack all of your identification and documentation needed for immigration in your carry-on bag. While it is unusual for baggage to be lost, please consider the possibility, and pack all of your essential items in your carry-on bag, including immigration documents, credit card(s), cash, medications, phone, valuable items, Stevens' address, contact information for International Student and Scholar Services (1-201-216-5189), the address of your hotel/residence, and a map. If you are planning to take any toiletries with you, you must adhere to the TSA's 3-1-1 rule.
When packing your clothing, it is important to consider the climate in northern New Jersey; there are four distinct seasons, with temperatures ranging from very cold (0 C or below) in the winter to very hot (32 C) in the summer, with moderate temperatures in the fall and spring. You should also consider purchasing a converter for all of your electronic devices. The United States uses 110-volt electricity, while many other countries use 220-volt electricity; a converter will ensure that your devices work properly and prevent them from blowing a fuse. In addition, you will need a plug adaptor since your appliances from home will probably not fit into U.S. outlets.
Entering the U.S.
Upon your arrival to the U.S., Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will stamp your passport with an I-94 entry stamp connected to an electronic I-94 record which you will later be able to access here. The stamp shows that you have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. and the date you were admitted, the immigration status under which you were admitted, and the length of time you are permitted to stay. The I-94 stamp for F-1/J-1 students should be designated “F-1 D/S” or “J-1 D/S.” “F-1” or “J-1” refers to your nonimmigrant status, and “D/S” stands for “Duration of Status,” which means that you are admitted for the full length of time designated on your I-20/DS-2019 plus any additional time you accrue for F-1 or J-1 benefits, and the grace period following the document’s end date. Please check your I-94 stamp before leaving Customs! If it is not properly designated, you must request that a Customs officer correct this before you leave the airport. An improperly designated stamp could be problematic if you later apply for a driver’s license, Social Security Number, or the like.
After arriving in the U.S., you are required to check in with the ISSS office (located on the 5th Floor of the Wesley J. Howe Center) no later than the start date on your I-20/DS-2019. You may check in by reporting to the ISSS office any time Monday through Friday between 9 AM and 4:30 PM, or by attending the official International Student Check-In session during Orientation. You will be asked to complete a check-in form and to bring your passport (containing your visa and I-94 stamp) and the I-20/DS-2019 for you and each of your dependents, if applicable. You must be prepared to provide your U.S. address, so be sure to write it down so that you can easily access it when you come. J-1 students will also need to provide proof of health insurance for the duration of their program that meets the minimum requirements set forth in the J-1 Insurance Requirements document. Check-in with ISSS is required to maintain legal status in the U.S.; it is not optional!