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FAQ for New Students
There are two full-time student visa categories, F-1 or J-1. The majority of international student come into the United States on an F-1 student visa. For some students, there may be the option to enter on a J-1 student visa. A student may choose or be assigned based on his or her eligibility and long term plans.
The F-1 visa is granted to a student whose sole purpose is to pursue education in the United States and who intends to return to their home country after completion of studies. The dependents of an F-1 student are granted an F-2 visa if they come with the F-1 student. If your spouse comes on an F-2 visa, they are not permitted to work or earn money in any capacity.
F-2 dependents: A spouse and/or children (under the age of 21) wishing to accompany the F-1 student to the United States can be issued F-2 dependent I-20s. While in the United States, F-2 dependent spouses may not study full-time but are permitted to study part-time. F-2 dependent children can only engage in full-time study at the elementary and secondary school levels.
The J-1 is an Exchange Visitor visa. J-1 students must be fully admitted to the University of Maryland, Baltimore through the appropriate admissions office in order to pursue degree-seeking or non-degree-seeking study. In addition to being fully admitted, they must meet one of the following criteria:
- They are coming pursuant to an exchange agreement that the University of Maryland, Baltimore (or a school of UMB) has signed with a foreign institution of higher education.
- Their studies are primarily funded from the U.S. government, their home country government, an international organization, a bi-national commission of the United States and a foreign country, or the University of Maryland Baltimore.
J-1 students from certain countries and those receiving funds either from the U.S. government or their home government may be required to return home for two years after completion of studies (“two-year home residence requirement”) before being able to return as or change to another immigration status.
J-2 dependents: A spouse and/or children (under the age of 21) wishing to accompanying the J-1 student to the United States can be issued J-2 dependent DS-2019s. J-2 dependents are eligible to apply for work authorization through USCIS. Additionally, J-2 dependents can enroll in courses.
Two-Year Home Residence Requirement
Some J-1 Exchange Visitors are subject to the two-year home country physical presence requirement — INA § 212(e). This "two-year home residence" requirement applies to you if you receive any funding (including nominal travel grants) from your home government or a U.S. government agency.
It also applies to you if trained personnel in your field are identified by your home government as being in short supply and your field has consequently been included on the U.S. government's "Exchange Visitor's Skills List." The two-year home residence requirement also applies to persons receiving graduate medical education or training. If you do not know whether your country and/or field appears on the "Exchange Visitor's Skills List," check the Department of State website.
An exchange visitor who is subject to this requirement must reside for an aggregate of two (2) years in his or her country citizenship or permanent residence or have the requirement waived before being eligible for other U.S. immigration statuses, including H, L, or permanent resident status. Check the DOS website for information about the process of applying for a waiver of this requirement.
The SEVIS fee is a U.S. government-mandated fee to support the operation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The SEVIS fee is a one-time fee paid by new F-1 students or J-1 exchange visitors for each new program. For continuing or transferring F-1 or J-1 students applying for a visa stamp, there is no need to pay the SEVIS fee again.
What information do I need to have to pay the SEVIS fee?
You should have your passport and your I-20 or DS-2019 in front of you when paying the fee. The following information from these documents is required for fee payment:
- SEVIS ID (which appears above the bar code on the right side of your I-20 or DS-2019)
- UMB F-1 School Code or J-1 Program Number (in Section 2 of I-20 or DS-2019)
- Passport Number
When do I need to pay the SEVIS fee?
You should pay the fee at least three (3) business days before your visa appointment, change of status filing, or your entry to the United States (citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from visa requirements).
How much is the fee?
See the chart below to determine the amount of your fee:
How do I pay the fee?
Online: Go to www.fmjfee.com to pay this fee online with a credit card. Make sure that you are at a computer that has printer access. When you have completed the SEVIS fee payment process, you will be able to print out a receipt documenting payment. Bring this receipt with you to your visa appointment and to the port of entry.
Western Union Quick Pay: See this website for information on how to pay the SEVIS fee using this service.
By mail: You can download the I-901 form and find information about how to mail in the SEVIS fee payment here.
The visa stamp in your passport is obtained at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and is used for entering the United States. Once you are in the United States, you do not need to keep your visa stamp current. It is only when you leave the United States and need to return to the United States that you must have a valid U.S. visa stamp to re-enter.
Immigration status is granted at the U.S. port of entry (or by application to change status through an immigration service center) and is stated on the passport stamped by the port of entry officer and entered into the automatic I-94 system (or on the I-94 sent by the immigration service center). If you entered by sea or air, your I-94 was entered in the online system.
In most situations, your visa type and immigration status are the same. They would only be different if you changed your immigration status after entering the United States. If you change your status within the United States, the next time you travel out of the United States you will need to go to a U.S. consulate and apply for and obtain a new visa stamp which matches your new immigration status.
How to Obtain a Visa
Once you are admitted to UMB, you will need to get a student visa stamp in your passport to enter the United States (citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from the visa requirement).
If you have been accepted by several institutions, do not apply for a visa until you decide which you will attend and have received your I-20 or DS-2019.
To Obtain a Visa:
- Submit to OIS the required online forms and documentation and take Online International Student Orientation.
- Receive your I-20 or DS-2019 from the OIS.
- Schedule a visa interview.
- Pay the SEVIS fee at least three days before the interview.
When you go to the U.S. consulate for your visa interview, bring:
- A valid passport
- I-20 Form (for F-1 visa) or DS-2019 Form (for J-1 visa) prepared by UMB or your sponsoring agency
- Your admission letter to UMB
- Original financial documents
- Passport-type photographs
- SEVIS fee payment receipt
Visit the Department of State's List of Consulates and Embassies to check your local consulate for an exact, up-to-date list of required documents. You can enter the United States no more than 30 days before the start date noted on the I-20 (item 5) or DS-2019 (item 3).
Apply for your visa stamp as soon as you receive your I-20 or DS-2019. If your application for a student visa is approved, the consular officer will place a visa stamp in your passport. You may then use it to enter the United States.
Transfer students: A person is considered a transfer student for immigration purposes if they are currently in the United States as an F-1 or J-1 student and are transferring from one U.S. educational institution to another. See Transferring Schools for more information.
Entry to the United States
Upon issuance of your F-1 or J-1 visa, you may make your travel plans to enter the United States. F-1 and J-1 students are allowed to enter the United States no more than 30 days before the start date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019. Transfer students are exempt from this 30-day rule. You should carry the following documents with you to the port of entry:
- I-20 or DS-2019
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 or J-1 visa
- Financial documents
- Letter of admission to UMB
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda
DO NOT COME IN AS A TOURIST. Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need a visa stamp to enter the United States to study. You do need to present your I-20 or DS-2019 form and the other required documents at the U.S. border. It is important that you make sure you are processed at the border and get an I-94 card with the proper student designation. Canadian-landed immigrants, however, must obtain a visa stamp before attempting to enter the United States. Contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in Canada if you are uncertain.
F-1 Students and the I-20
The I-20 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for those who wish to study in the United States. The Form I-20 must be taken to the U.S. embassy or consulate when you apply for a visa. You will be issued an I-20 after you have:
- Been admitted to UMB
- Submitted all required forms and documents electronically to the OIS
- Completed Online International Student Orientation
It is extremely important that you submit all required documentation to the OIS for I-20 issuance. You will experience a delay in receiving your I-20 if all documents are not received in a timely manner.
IMPORTANT: Apply for admission by your selected program's due date to ensure that you will receive your I-20 in time to enroll. If all required information is not received, you will not be issued an I-20.
J-1 Students and the DS-2019
The DS-2019 is a Certificate of Eligibility for J-1 Exchange Visitor Status under the sponsorship of authorized organizations participating in programs that promote cultural exchange under the Fulbright-Hays Act of 1961. You will be issued a DS-2019 after you have:
- Been admitted to UMB
- Submitted all required forms and documents electronically to the OIS
- Completed Online International Student Orientation
It is extremely important that you submit all required documentation to the OIS for DS-2019 issuance. You will experience a delay in receiving your DS-2019 if all documents are not received in a timely manner.
For Students Outside the United States
You cannot schedule visa interviews before receiving confirmation from the OIS that an I-20 or DS-2019 has been issued and mailed to you.
For Students Inside the United States
- If you are presently in the United States in another immigration status and wish to change to a student status, please consult our page on How to Change to Student Status.
- If you are presently in the United States as an F-1 or J-1 student, please work with the international student advisor at your current institution to identify a date for your SEVIS record to be transferred to UMB. The OIS is not able to issue your I-20 or DS-2019 until this date has arrived.
Many individuals who are currently in the United States in a valid immigration status other than F-1 or J-1 may change to student status when they are admitted to a program or if they are currently pursuing study at UMB in another immigration status. Please note this is general information and is not intended to replace the advice of an OIS advisor or a qualified immigration attorney. Students are encouraged to schedule an appointment with an OIS advisor to receive more tailored, case-specific advice.
There are two ways to change to student status:
- Change by Travel
You may change your status by leaving the United States and re-entering in F-1 or J-1 status. This requires that you apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa at a U.S. consulate. Once you have obtained the appropriate visa, you would then enter the United States in student status. When you are at a port of entry, the immigration inspector will admit you in F-1 or J-1 status by issuing you an I-94 marked "F-1 D/S". For students in J-1 status, you will be issued an I-94 marked “J-1 D/S”.
See above "How To Obtain a Visa" for more information.
- Change by Application
You also may attempt to change your status by submitting a change of status application to a USCIS service center while remaining within the United States. Your current immigration status cannot expire more than 30 days before the start date on your I-20 or DS-2019.
If you change your status this way, the next time you travel out of the United States you will still need to go to a U.S. consulate, apply for and obtain the visa stamp appropriate to your new immigration status.
Additionally, you can NOT apply while remaining in the United States if:
- You are a J-1 visa holder who is subject to the two-year home residence requirement OR
- You entered the United States using the visa waiver program.
The application process is a two-step process
- Obtain an I-20 or DS-2019 from the OIS
If you are a newly admitted student to the University, the admissions office will forward your name to the OIS. If you are a continuing student at the University, please contact the OIS to receive an email with instructions on how to electronically submit a request for an I-20 or DS-2019.
- Submit the application package to USCIS.
This requires that you assemble the following materials:
- A completed Form I-539
- A bank check, money order, or personal check made payable to Department of Homeland Security, USCIS for the required $370 fee
- Copies of the biographical and expiration pages of your passport
- Copies of your current U.S. visa
- Copies of both sides of your current I-94 card, with the red stamp clearly legible - or - the print out of your electronic I-94
* This includes photocopies of the I-94 cards of any dependents who are changing with you.
- A copy of your new form I-20 or DS-2019 from UMB, signed on the bottom of Page 1 by you
- Original financial documents
* If your financial sponsor is an individual other than yourself and in the United States, Form I-134 (affidavit of support) is also recommended.
- The receipt from the payment of the SEVIS fee.
- Copies of other pertinent immigration documents (i.e., I-20 for F-2 dependents, DS-2019 for J-1/J-2s, I-797 approval notice for H-1Bs, etc.);
- A letter explaining why you are requesting the change of status.
This is extremely important: Your letter should clearly explain your current status, your plans for study at UMB, and your longer-term plans. Keep in mind that F-1 and J-1 status are NON-IMMIGRANT classifications. This means that you must indicate, and in certain cases may be required to document, that you continue to maintain ties to your home country — whether in the form of a residence, an expected job offer, or continuing family ties. It is not unusual for the USCIS to request documentation regarding your ties to your home country, and you should be prepared to provide such documentation.
- Also include these documents if you are:
- A newly admitted student: A copy of the admission letter.
- A continuing UMB student: Copies of your transcript and an enrollment letter.
Changing from a dependent status
For those changing status from a dependent status, also include the following:
- Copies of the principal’s immigration documents (passport, visa, I-94, and other relevant immigration documents).
- Evidence that the principal is maintaining their immigration status (i.e., paycheck stubs for employment-based immigration statuses, transcripts for F-1 or J-1 students, etc.)
For those changing from A, G, or NATO statuses, also include:
- Form I-566 endorsed by the U.S. Department of State (DOS). For those changing from A, G, or NATO derivative statuses (i.e., your spouse or parent is the individual employed by the embassy or international organization), please note that DOS will not endorse the I-566 until the A, G, or NATO principal has ended their tour in the United States. This form is forwarded to DOS from the visa office in the embassy or international organization where the A, G, or NATO principal is working.
After the application is filed
Once your change of status (COS) application is filed and you have received your receipt notice, please send a copy to the OIS. This is so that your OIS advisor can perform the necessary maintenance on your SEVIS record to prevent your SEVIS record from going into “canceled” status, which may cause your COS application to be delayed. Upon approval, bring your I-20 or DS-2019 and I-797 approval notice to the OIS during walk-in hours so that we may update your records and activate your SEVIS record.
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