The University of San Francisco: International Student and Scholar Services
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Pre-Arrival: Before Your Departure

Read below for more details about what the I-20/DS-2019 is, how to apply for a student visa, , living arrangements during your studies, tips for making travel plans, and other resources to making sure you are prepared for the transition to the USF.

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What is the Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019)

The I-20 form is a 3-page, computer-generated document that is used by F-1 students. The I-20 will usually be enclosed with your acceptance letter from the Admission Office or academic department. The DS-2019 form is a 2-page, computer-generated document for J-1 students that is issued by the ISSS office or your “sponsoring agency.” Please check the information on your I-20 or DS-2019 to ensure that it is accurate. If there is an error on your I-20 or DS-2010 form (e.g., name misspelled, wrong date of birth, etc.) please contact the office that sent you your form as soon as possible.

If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university, your I-20 should be marked as “transfer pending from: (the name of your previous school).” The SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20. If you previously graduated from USF and have started a new degree program, your I-20 will be marked “initial” and the SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20.

If you have been accepted to more than one U.S. college or university and have received more than one I-20 or DS-2019, do not apply for the student visa until you have decided which school you will attend. If you decide to attend USF, use the USF I-20/DS-2019 to apply for your student visa and enter the United States using the same I-20/DS-2019!

How to Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires F-1 and J-1 visa applicants to pay a one-time fee to supplement the administration and maintenance costs of the Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS). The fee for F-1 visa applicants is $200; the fee for J-1 visa applicants is $180. The SEVIS fee should be processed by DHS at least three (3) business days prior to the consular interview. The SEVIS fee is not payable at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You or another person (e.g., friend or family) may pay the SEVIS fee either by mail or online.

To Pay By Mail:

  1. Download Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from www.FMJfee.com.
  2. Complete Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
  3. Prepare a check, international money order or foreign draft (drawn on U.S. banks only) in the amount of $200 USD for F-1 visa application or $180 USD for J-1 visa application, made payable to “I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee”.
  4. Mail the completed I-901 and payment to the address listed on Form I-901.

To Pay Online:

  1. Access Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from www.FMJfee.com.
  2. Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
  3. Print a copy of the online receipt.

DHS will issue and mail an official paper receipt (I-797) within three days of processing the fee regardless of payment method. Express delivery service for the I-797 receipt may be requested at an additional cost. Anyone who submits an individual fee electronically will be able to print out an electronic receipt immediately at the time of payment for use in advance of the mail delivery of the official paper receipt. Although SEVIS fee payments will be recorded by DHS in the SEVIS system and will eventually be used by government officials to document the SEVIS fee payment, it is recommended that the official paper receipt be used to apply for the visa. Please note, DHS will not refund the SEVIS fee if F-1 students are not granted a visa or choose not to come to the United States after their visas are granted. However, if your visa application is denied and you reapply for a new F-1 visa within 12 months of the denial, you will not have to pay the fee again.

How to Apply for a U.S. Student Visa

What is a Visa and do I need One? A visa is a physical stamp in your passport that is used at a port of entry (typically an airport) to enter the United States. It is issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The type of visa you use to enter the United States determines the type of status you will have during your stay. You will need a student (F-1 or J-1) visa to study in the United States, unless you are entering the United States with a Canadian passport.

If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university or pursuing another degree at USF, you do not need to apply for a new student visa unless your visa has expired and you are leaving the United States before starting your program at USF. Please note that it is impossible to obtain a visa once in the United States.

How do I apply for a Visa? To apply for a visa, you will need to schedule an appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Visa processing times, application procedures, and requested supporting documents vary from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so please check with the Embassy or Consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. For a complete list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, please visit http://usembassy.state.gov/. Several standard items are required for the student visa application:

  • A Non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160) and other supplementary forms (if applicable)
  • A current passport, valid for at least six months • I-20 form (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 form (for J-1 students) 
  • Evidence of financial support for the period of time and amount indicated on the I-20 or DS-2019, such as bank statements or scholarship/grant/sponsorship letters 
  • Proof that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies (for example, proof of permanent residence outside the United States, preferably in your home country, proof of property, presence of immediate family, future employment offers, etc.)
  • Visa application fee (preferably in cash in the currency accepted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate)
  • One or more passport-style photographs
  • Proof of payment of the SEVIS (I-901) fee

The consular officer may request additional documents, such as evidence of English language proficiency, school records to verify academic preparation, additional evidence of strong ties to your home country and/or your ability to support yourself while in the United States. Read all visa application documents carefully so that you know exactly what you are agreeing to when you enter the United States on a student visa.

A brief interview with a consular officer may be required as well. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the reasons for which you have decide to attend a U.S. university, your ties to your home county, and your future plans after completing your academic program.

If approved, the consular officer will stamp a student visa in your passport. Please read it carefully and confirm it is a student visa (F-1 or J-1) and the information printed on the visa is accurate. If you receive a multiple entry visa, you may use it to enter the United States as many times as you wish up to the date of its expiration as long as you have a valid I-20 or DS-2019 form. If you receive a numbered-entry visa, you will be allowed to enter the United States only for the number of times specified on the visa stamp up to the date of its expiration.

SEVIS Transfers and Changing from One USF Degree to Another

The SEVIS fee is not required when transferring schools within the United States, changing to another degree program or level, requesting a program extension, renewing a student visa, or using F-1 program benefits such as practical training. If you are in lawful status prior to travelling internationally and have less than a 5 month break in your studies, you will not be required to pay the SEVIS fee.

SEVIS Transfers: If you are transferring to USF, you must request your previous institution to release your SEVIS record to USF. Once the SEVIS transfer is complete, USF will issue a new I-20 that will be mailed to you. Be sure to provide your previous institution with a copy of your USF acceptance letter and inform them you would like to be transferred.

Change of Degree Level at USF: If you are changing from one USF degree to another, you will get a new I-20 at the end of your current program. If you plan to travel in-between the degrees, you should inform the respective admissions office (graduate or undergraduate) of your plans and where you would like your I-20 sent.

Apply and Confirm Your On-Campus Housing

Living on-campus provides you with an authentic college experience that no student should miss. It is a chance to make new friends, learn first-hand about a different culture, and participate fully in the campus community. Accommodations on campus typically include two students living in one residence hall room. Your reservation for housing is not processed until you complete the application and accept your housing assignment. If you would like to live on campus (or if you are required to live on campus) you must complete the online application in USFconnect. To access the application, log into USFconnect, click on the Student Tab, and click on USFrooms. For more information on how to apply for housing and the USF on-campus living requirement, visit Student Housing and Residential Education (SHaRE) at www.usfca.edu/housing/.

If you are a transfer student with upper-class status (e.g., sophomore, junior, senior), then you also have the opportunity for living on campus in a specific theme community: The Global Residential Community (GRC). The GRC is a year-long on-campus program that provides upper class residential students with a unique academic and experiential learning opportunity. Members of GRC are USF international and domestic students who want to learn more about different cultures and share their own. Students live on the same floor of a residence hall and gather weekly to participate in activities (e.g., international films, art museums, restaurants, plays, etc.). International students are encouraged to apply. For more information, contact ISSS or SHaRE.

Please note that the housing contract is a legally binding agreement; once signed, you are required to live on campus for the duration of the contract. University housing operates August through May with a brief closure during the winter holidays (usually around December 15-31). On-campus housing is very popular, so be certain to apply as soon as possible. If you have difficulties or questions, please contact the Student Housing and Residential Education office share@usfca.edu or (1)(415) 422-6824. You should secure your housing arrangements before arriving at USF.

Resources for Off-Campus Housing

If you are eligible for and decide to live off campus, do not apply for housing using USFrooms. However, if you fall into a category of student that is required to live on campus and you would like to be considered for exemption from this requirement, you must log in to the USFrooms system and complete the housing exemption form.

Student Housing and Residential Education offers some assistance in locating off-campus housing. However, renting an apartment in San Francisco will take some time and effort and is ultimately up to the student to find their own off-campus accommodations. The best resource to start your search is the USF Off-Campus housing website: http://www.usfca.edu/offcampushousing/.

More About Living Off-Campus: With the competitive rental market, it can take up to three weeks to locate accommodation, so plan your arrival and living arrangements in San Francisco accordingly. In order to rent an apartment, most rental agencies and landlords will verify your “credit history” in the United States, which would be evidenced by prior rentals in the United States, U.S. bank accounts, or credit cards. However, if you are new to the United States, then you can explain to the landlord that you do not have the mentioned documents. Additionally, ISSS has created a letter that explains these circumstances on behalf of USF international students. To access the letter, visit http://web.usfca.edu/isss/vendor/ and follow the instructions provided. Typically, landlords are understanding and welcome international guests.

A “lease” (or rental agreement) is a binding legal contract between you and the property owner that obligates you to pay the landlord monthly rent for the duration of the lease. Most leases are for 12 months and are very difficult to alter or break. Living off-campus, while providing greater independence, may also result in expenses that you would not have if living on campus. These extra expenses include furniture, house appliances, transportation costs, and utilities such as water, electric, and gas service.

Resources for Short Term Housing and San Francisco Hotels

When you first arrive in San Francisco you will likely need an immediate place to stay while you continue your search for more permanent housing. A listing of local hotels, hostels, and residence clubs is available on the housing website: http://www.usfca.edu/offcampushousing/.

Tips for Making Travel Plans

International students are expected to arrive at USF prior to the start of International Student Orientation (as orientation approaches, dates, times, and schedule details will be available at www.usfca.edu/isss/orientation;). In most cases, the date of the International Student Orientation will also be the program start date indicated on your Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019). If you cannot arrive by the program start date specified on your Certificate of Eligibility, notify the ISSS office.

If you have confirmation of on-campus housing, please contact the Student Housing and Residential Education office (SHaRE) by phone at +1(415)422-6824 or by email at share@usfca.edu for any questions about housing and check their website for move-in dates: www.usfca.edu/housing/.

If you wish to travel within the United States before the start of classes, you may do so on your student visa. You may enter as early as 30 days before your program start date on your Certificate of Eligibility. U.S. Embassies and Consulates usually issue the F-1 or J-1 student visa as early as 120 days before the entry date on the Certificate of Eligibility. Do not enter the United States on a tourist visa (B-2) or under the Visa Waiver Program.

Read USF Next Steps for International Students

The USF Next Steps is a great resource for detailed information on getting ready for your studies. This guide will help you register for classes, satisfy immunization requirements, know how to pay your tuition and more! Read the Steps online at: http://www.usfca.edu/nextsteps/

Obtain Immunization Records

When you arrive at USF you will need to show proof of immunizations in order to get cleared for being able to attend classes and live on-campus. You should consult your medical provider in your home country to get proof of your medical history and immunizations you have already received. For a list of required immunization and how to submit proof visit: http://www.usfca.edu/hps/_Immunization/Required_Immunizations/. You will also want to obtain records about any medical conditions you have, treatments you need, prescriptions for medication (including the generic and brand names), and eye glasses. Dental and medical records for you, and your dependents if applicable, are strongly recommended in case you need further treatment while in the United States. USF will require that you purchase student health insurance unless you show proof of comparable health insurance for the United States. If you believe that you have health insurance that can meet the requirements, bring proof of this insurance and details about the plan to apply for a health insurance waiver. You can read more about the health insurance requirement online at: www.usfca.edu/hps.