Numerous steps must be taken prior to traveling, either before entering JMU for the first time, or while you travel over breaks from school. The information contained in this section will explain the most common steps applicable to students. Please contact ISSS if you have any questions regarding any of these steps, or any other travel issues.
The Department of Homeland Security requires many nonimmigrant visa seekers to pay a SEVIS fee prior to going to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy to apply for their visa. This applies to all new JMU students in F-1 status unless you are transferring your I-20 to JMU from another U.S. school. In addition, it affects current JMU scholars and students who:
It is strongly recommended that this fee be paid electronically by credit card, after which you will print out a receipt immediately. The receipt is needed in order to process your request for a visa and must be obtained prior to attending your visa interview. If you are unable to pay by credit card you may pay with a money order or cashier's check through a mail service, but you must allow additional time for processing of the receipt which you must have in order to apply for your visa.
For additional information about and/or to pay this fee, see the official SEVIS instructions.
There are several very important steps in the application of a nonimmigrant visa. Remember to follow each step carefully and be calm and professional in your approach to U.S. officials, and you will find your chance of success will increase.
Pay SEVIS Fee: The first thing you will need to do is to pay your SEVIS fee and receive a receipt for that payment.
Make Visa Appointment: In order to secure your nonimmigrant visa, you must visit the U.S. Consulate or Embassy nearest your home town in your country of residence. For example, if you live in the northern-most part of Chile, and the nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy is in La Paz, Bolivia, you may not visit that office. You will need to travel to Santiago for your visa request. You will find a list of all U.S. Consulates and Embassies in your country
The U.S. Consulate or Embassy in every country has different requirements for visa applications. Some require appointments, and some take only walk-in applications. Some will require a background check and fingerprinting, which can take several months. It is important that you contact the Consulate or Embassy as soon as possible to make arrangements for your appointment.
Attend Appointment: When you do have your appointment for an F-1 or J-1 student visa application, you should take the following documents:
While you are in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, you are free to travel back and forth, provided you have remained in status throughout your stay. Just remember that you must ALWAYS have your I-20 signed by an ISSS staff member before you travel, and you will also need a valid, unexpired visa to reenter the U.S. (unless you are traveling to Canada, Mexico or contiguous islands for less than 30 days, in which case this requirement is waived.) Also keep in mind that you may need visas to enter the country where you are planning to travel if it is not your home country.
In addition to providing you with the best identification document available, a current passport is an essential part of maintaining your legal nonimmigrant status here in the United States. Please be sure that it is always valid for at least 6 months in the future. If you are traveling back home for an extended period of time (i.e., winter or summer breaks), you may find it easiest to renew your passport while there. However, if your length of travel will make renewal at home impossible, you should contact your country's embassy here in the United States for information about the steps necessary for renewal. Most countries have embassies located in Washington, D.C., where you may be able to obtain the renewal in person while you wait. Some countries require a much longer waiting period, so you are encouraged to begin asking questions of your embassy eight to nine months before your passport will expire. The Electronic Embassy maintains a list of all Embassies found in Washington, D.C.
All countries have unique visa requirements based on intended length of stay, country of origin and many other factors. When traveling while on an F-1 visa, it is imperative that you check into whether you will need a visa to enter the countries you will be visiting (including any stops in transit.) Most countries have embassies located in Washington, DC, where you will likely be able to obtain any necessary visas. You are encouraged to check out information on the Embassy websites to begin the process of applying for the visa. The Electronic Embassy maintains a list of all Embassies found in Washington, D.C.