Visa Documents and Requirements

1. How do I obtain a student visa?

Soon after you complete the international student questionnaire in your off-campus portal, your Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility will be issued. The Form I-20 will allow you to apply for your student visa and get an interview at your US Embassy or consulate. Visa wait times can be long, so please schedule your visa appointment immediately upon receiving the documents.

2. What is an I-20 or DS-2019 and should I keep my old I-20's or DS-2019's?

The I-20 (for F-1 visa) and DS-2019 (for J-1 visa) documents are certificates of eligibility that demonstrate sponsorship from Washington and Lee University. These documents are extremely important and necessary for traveling both inside and outside the U.S., obtaining work authorization, and obtaining a visa. You may stay in the U.S. with an expired visa as long as your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid. If you lose your I-20 or DS-2019, please contact Hunter Swanson at hswanson@wlu.edu immediately to obtain a replacement. 

Yes, you may need to submit them for future visa applications.

3. What is SEVIS and the SEVIS fee?

SEVIS is the acronym for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which is used by the U.S. government to track student visa records. Payment of the SEVIS fee is required to obtain a student visa and funds the system. W&L pays the SEVIS fee on behalf of students. You will receive a copy of the SEVIS fee receipt at your email address when the fee is paid. A physical copy of the SEVIS fee receipt will also be included in the welcome packet mailed to you before your first-year at W&L. Be sure to keep the record of your SEVIS fee payment, and keep it with you when you enter the U.S. for the first time.

4. How do I maintain my student visa status?

As an international student, it is absolutely critical that you fully understand the terms and conditions of your visa. Failure to comply with visa regulations may lead to termination of your visa and/or lead to major issues later on if you seek to change your visa status (e.g. to a work visa after graduation). Fortunately, the US government has created constantly updated websites that help to explain the terms and conditions of your visa which you can reference throughout your student career. In addition, you are strongly encouraged to contact your International Student Advisor (ISA), Hunter Swanson if you have any questions (hswanson@wlu.edu). Your ISA will assist you in maintaining your visa status.

If you are an F-1 visa student, you should understand the following sections of the Study in the States website:

Maintain my Student Status                                                               
Know the Rules for F-1 Students                             
Enroll in a Full Course of Study                       
Transfer as an F-1 Student                                   

Know about F Student Benefits
Learn about Employment Rules
Check Your SAVE Case Status
Change your Immigration Status

 If you are a J-1 visa student, you should understand the common questions on the Department of State's J-1 visa websiteJ-1 visa only applies to exchange students.

A brief summary of the reporting requirements for both F and J student visa holders is listed below: 

• Enroll in a full course of study at the beginning of every session (excluding authorized break periods) 
• Consult with their ISA before dropping below a full course of study for any reason 
• Report changes of contact information and/or address within 10 days of the change 
• Report any change in sources of financial support to their ISA
• Seek the approval of the ISA/USCIS before engaging in employment or practical training 
• Report any changes in program of study to their ISA 
• Report any change in academic status to their ISA
• Notify their ISA prior to traveling outside the United States 
• Notify their ISA upon applying for change of nonimmigrant status 
• Notify their ISA upon approval of an adjustment of status to an immigrant
• Consult with their ISA to extend their program
• Notify their ISA if they intend to transfer 
• Notify their ISA about changes in dependent status

5. What documents do I need to bring when I am traveling to the U.S. and what is a travel signature?

When traveling inside the U.S., you should bring copies of your original passport, and I-20 or DS-2019.

When traveling outside the U.S., you should carry your passport, student visa, and I-20 or DS-2019 with a valid travel signature (more about travel signatures below). If you are entering the U.S. for the first time, you should also carry your SEVIS Fee Receipt and letter of admission from W&L. If you have any trouble entering the U.S. you may call Hunter Swanson's mobile number at (540) 550-4270, message Hunter via Whatsapp, or call W&L Public Safety at (540) 458-8999.   

Your I-20 or DS-2019 has a section for a travel signature that approves travel outside the U.S. Each signature is valid for one year.  If you plan to travel outside the U.S. and your I-20 or DS-2019 has not been signed within the past 10 months, please contact Hunter Swanson (hswanson@wlu.edu) to obtain an updated signature.

6. What is an I-94 travel record and how do I obtain it?

An I-94 travel record provides evidence that you entered the U.S. legally on a certain date. You will need the I-94 to apply for work authorization, obtain a Driver's License, and for other purposes. You can access your I-94 travel record at this website.

7. How do I renew my visa?

If you need to renew your student visa, you will need to schedule a visa appointment (like you did to obtain your initial visa) and bring the following documents to your visa renewal appointment:

Valid Passport (which is not due to expire for at least 6 months)

Copies of your most recent I-20s or DS-2019s

Enrollment Verification 

Financial documents which provide proof of sufficient funds as specified on your I-20 (these can be bank statements, your financial aid award letter, etc.) 

Be prepared to answer questions regarding your plans for returning home after you complete your progam in the U.S.  Please note that you are allowed to remain in the U.S. with an expired visa as long as your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid. However, you will always need a valid visa to re-enter the US after traveling abroad.

You should plan on renewing your visa in your home country. However, if applying in your home country isn't possible, you can attempt to apply at a U.S. Embassy or consulate in a third country. However, it is recommended that you contact the Non-Immigrant Visa Section at the Embassy or consulate in the third country in advance to inquire whether you will be allowed to renew your visa there.

8. How can a relative obtain a visa to visit me at W&L?

If you have a relative who is not a US citizen, who lives abroad, and who is hoping to visit you in the US for graduation, Parents and Family Weekend, or any other reason, your relative may need to obtain a visitor visa. The CIE has created a guide for inviting relatives to campus.

9. My passport will expire soon, how do I renew it?

You will need to determine your country's process for renewing a passport. Since the U.S. F-1 visa regulations require you to maintain a valid passport while studying in the U.S. It is recommended that you start the process of renewing your passport early. In many cases, it is possible to renew your passport from within the U.S. by working with your home country's U.S.-based Embassy or consulate.

10. Do I need to file taxes?

Yes, every international student must file a tax return every year, regardless of employment status. The deadline to file a tax return is mid-April. The CIE purchases code for a tax prep software program for all international students to use and provides instructions for filing both the US Federal tax return and the State of Virginia tax return. 

The CIE will help you obtain the documents you need and guide you through the process using the International Student Tax Guide.

11. What is academic probation and what happens if I am put on academic probation?

Students are placed on academic probation whenever their term GPA, or cumulative GPA, falls below 2.0. If this happens to you, you will have one term to change your status by earning a term and cumulative GPA above 2.0. The automatic rule provides for an automatic suspension if you fail to move off of probation. Because student visa regulations require that international students must be enrolled full-time, an academic suspension will also result in a termination of your student visa. However, if you apply for and receive reinstatement, you will have the opportunity to regain your student visa status and return to W&L. 

12. What happens if I need to take a leave of absence? 

Students who wish to leave the University temporarily for academic, medical, religious or military-service reasons, may request a Leave of Absence for a specified period of time by petitioning the Committee on the Automatic Rule and Reinstatement. International students may sometimes remain in the U.S. for a medical leave of absence. The effect of a leave of absence on your visa status is explained in detail on the Study in the States website

13. Can I be deported? 

Yes, but deportation of international students generally only occurs when a student has committed a serious criminal offense. The Legal Affairs office at the University of Illinois provides a comprehensive explanation of possible causes for deportation.