A U.S. nonimmigrant visa is issued as a sticker in your passport by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of the United States. This visa gives you permission to apply for entry to the United States for a temporary period of time in a specific visa status. There are many different classifications of nonimmigrant visas – some allow a visitor to study or work while others do not. If you are entering the U.S. to participate in a program of study, then you will likely apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. If you are entering the U.S. to work, then you might be seeking a J-1, H-1B or TN visa status. Most visas are issued for multiple entries and can be used for reentry while you are participating in your program in the United States.
Canadian citizens are an exception. Canadians do not need to visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to obtain a visa sticker in their passport prior to entry into the United States. Instead, Canadian citizens need to present their visa-related paperwork (Form I-20 or DS-2019, for example), valid passport and any additional related documents (SEVIS fee receipt, financial statements, contracts, acceptance letters, etc.) at the U.S. port of entry. If you are Canadian, the immigration officer will review your documents and stamp your passport indicating the status in which you have been allowed to enter the United States.
Visa Application Steps
- Determine which visa status is most appropriate for your program in the U.S. by consulting the different categories listed at left. Your purpose in the U.S. (to study, to work, to visit) is what will determine your status. If you have any questions in making this determination, contact ISSS.
- Once you've determined the visa status, fill out the proper paperwork and submit all required documents to ISSS by the requested date.
- ISSS will process your documents and contact you if anything is missing or more information is needed. Once you receive and review all the documents sent to you from ISSS, you can make an appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, if applicable.
- Once you receive your passport and visa from the U.S. Consulate, you can plan to enter the U.S.
- Enter the U.S. in your proper visa status within the allotted time frame to begin your program (see documents from ISSS). Enter with your passport and visa, SEVIS Fee payment receipt, and proper document issued by ISSS (your I-20 or DS-2019).
- Check-in with ISSS upon arrival (mandatory).
- Alert ISSS of any changes in your program.