Obtaining the Visa
Requirements for admissions to a degree program
If you have been accepted to a degree or exchange program to attend Western Carolina University (WCU), and have met all requirements to obtain your Form I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1), then you will be issued the appropriate form. Most WCU international students arrive in F-1 status. In general, only students who are sponsored by their government or by a U.S. government agency, and are required by the sponsor to obtain J-1 visa, will be issued a Form DS-2019. To qualify for a J-1 visa, students must present evidence that the greatest part of their financial support is from some source other than personal funds, whereas F-1 students may be completely supported from personal or family funds.
Apply for a Visa
With your I-20 or DS-2019 in hand, contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy to find out about application requirements, procedures, hours, fees and processing times, since the procedures differ between different countries. Visit the U.S. State Department for a list of U.S. embassies and consulates.
You will present the following documents to the Consular Officer
- Valid Passport
- Form I-20 or DS-2019
- Letter of admission or invitation from Western Carolina University
- Proof of financial support (i.e. bank statement, scholarship award letter, and/or affidavit of support, to match the amount indicated on the Form I-20 or DS-2019)
- Two (2) photographs (The passport-style photos must be 2” by 2”. The photos must be in color with full face, frontal view on a white to off-white background. Head height should measure 1” to 1 3/8” from top to bottom of chin, and eye height is between 1 1/8” to 1 3/8” from bottom of photo. Your head must be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order of which you are a member.)
- Visa application form (available at the U.S. consulate)
- Test score reports (i.e. TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, if required for your program)
- Evidence of your intent to return to your home country upon completion of your studies
- Visa application fee (find out from the consulate what amount is and what forms of payment are accepted)
Entering the United States
Make plans to arrive in Cullowhee at least two weeks before the start of the semester if you plan to live off campus, to give yourself time to find a place to stay. If you have made arrangements to live on campus, you should plan to arrive in time (2-3 days prior) for the mandatory international student orientation, usually held a few days before the first day of class.
On the airplane, before entering the United States, you will be given a white card to fill out, called Form I-94. At the port of the entry, you will be asked to present your passport, containing a valid F-1 or J-1 visa, and your I-20 or DS-2019, and the I-94 to an officer of the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). The officer should then return the following documents to you:
- Form I-94 with a USCIS stamp and a notation for "F-1, D/S"
- Top Page (student copy) of the I-20 with an USCIS stamp
- Form I-94 with a USCIS stamp and a notation for "J-1, D/S
- The pink copy of the DS-2019 with an USCIS stamp on the lower left side
These are your immigration documents. Make sure that you have these documents before leaving the USCIS desk. The form I-94 (a white card) is usually stapled into the passport opposite the visa. Keep them in a safe place. The "D/S" notation stands for "Duration of Status," which means that you are authorized to stay in the United States, as long as you are maintaining student status.
Admittance to Multiple Schools
F-1 students who have been accepted to several different schools, and have received several Forms I-20, must enter the United States with the I-20 of the school they plan to attend, regardless of what I-20 was used in order to obtain the F-1 visa. It is acceptable to have an F-1 visa issued with a notation of one school, and at the port of entry present an I-20 of a different school. (If asked, explain to the immigration inspector what the situation is, that you were accepted to more than one school, and this is the one you wish to attend.) This will avoid having to apply for "reinstatement" (application I-539) and paying a $300 processing fee for entering with the wrong I-20.
Traveling (Fall 2014):
If traveling abroad, you must take your I-20 with you, as your I-20 is required to re-enter the U.S. It is your responsibility to verify that the travel endorsement signature on page 3 of the I-20 is unexpired. This signature is valid for one year for multiple visits outside the U.S. We require you to get your travel endorsement several weeks before departing the U.S. to avoid the holiday rush. If you require an updated travel endorsement, we have scheduled time slots on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 from 10am-12pm and Thursday, December 4, 2014 from 2pm-4pm at IPS (Camp 109).
Also, before traveling abroad, please verify that your visa will be valid when you return. If your visa will expire, you must reapply for a visa. Your I-20 is required to reapply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Please verify the end date in Block #5 of your I-20 is correct for your time of study, so that you can obtain the necessary new visa.