Visa Information

Obtaining and Maintaining an F-1 Student Visa

Since most ELP students attend on an F-1 Student Visa, the following is intended as general information that is important to obtaining and maintaining full-time student status. Following these points will help you obtain an F-1 Student Visa.

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Important Points for Obtaining and Maintaining Your F-1 Student Visa

What Are the Keys to a Successful Visa Interview?

  • Tell the consular officer you will return to your home country. The officer wants to make sure you are not moving to the United States permanently.
  • Be ready to speak to the officer in English and tell how learning English will help you in your home country. Practice with a friend before the interview.
  • Speak for yourself - do not bring family and friends with you into the interview room. The officer wants to talk to you – not your family and friends. If your family comes to the embassy with you, your family should wait in the waiting room.
  • Tell the officer why you want to learn English at California State University, Los Angeles. Explain how English can help you in your future career when you go back to your home country!
  • Keep your answers clear and short. The officer will decide about your visa in the first minute of talking to you. You must make a good first impression!
  • Have your documents ready for the officer at the beginning of the interview so that you don't waste time looking for them.
  • In some countries, it's harder to get the visa. The officer may be very strict with you, so you must convince the officer that you will return to your home country after you finish your education.
  • You are not supposed to work in the United States. So you must show your bank statement to the officer to prove you have enough money to live and study.
  • Keep a positive attitude and do not argue with the officer!  If you cannot get the visa, ask the officer to write down the reason. Also, ask the officer what you can bring to your next interview to help you get your visa. Then, later on, go back to the embassy for another interview. Show more information about your job and family. Give the officer more proof that you will return to your home country.

When Can I Arrive in the United States?

International students can arrive in the United States up to 30 days before their Registration Day. This date is shown on your Form I-20, which states the Last Day of the Registration Period as the date in Section 5: “The student is expected to report to the school no later than _______.”  That date is the last day you can arrive at the ELP Office to Register for the tem, and you cannot enter the U.S. sooner than 30 days before this date.

  • For example, if your Form I-20 says “no later than 08/16/2016,” then you can only enter the U.S. only as early as 30 days in advance, in this case, 07/16/2016, which is 30 days before the end of the Registration Period.  This is important because if you come too early or too late, you might not be able to be admitted at the airport, and will be turned back to your country. It is very important to come during the 30 days of your Registration Period.

How Long Can I Remain in the United States?When you arrive in the U.S. at the Port-of-Entry, and immigration officer will stamp the date you enter the U.S. and also contains the date you are required to depart the country into your passport.  For most F-1 students, the departure date is abbreviated as “D/S.”  This means that you may remain in the United States during your “Duration of Status” as a full-time student.  In other words, “You can stay in the U.S. as long as you maintain full-time student status.”

How Can I Maintain My Full-Time Student Status?

  • You must enroll in a Full Course of Study (at least 18 hours per week for the duration of your school’s program with only minimal absences).
  • You must make “normal progress” toward completing your studies.
  • You must not work or engage in other prohibited activities.
  • You must keep your Form I-20 valid:
    • Renew your Form I-20 before it expires (new Bank Statement and Sponsorship Form are required).
    • Have your Form I-20 signed by a Designated School Official in the ELP Office before any travel outside the U.S.
    • If you are taking an approved vacation during a Summer Term, complete an ELP Vacation Request Form and turn in to the ELP Office.
    • If you move to another home, you must inform the ELP Office of your new address within 10 days;
    • If you are sick and cannot come to class, obtain a note from your doctor or from the Student Health Center to excuse your absence.
    • If you wish to transfer to another school, you must also transfer your Form I-20: complete an ELP Transfer-Out Form and bring a Letter of Acceptance from the new school to the ELP office before the end of the current quarter.
    • If you are leaving the U.S. to return home forever, you should submit an ELP Completion Form at the ELP Office.

SEVIS Fee Questions and Answers

What is the SEVIS Fee?

SEVIS stands for the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).  It is a computer system used to track international students and exchange visitors during their stays in the United States. The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires F-1 Student Visa applicants to pay a one-time fee of $200 to supplement the administration and maintenance costs of the Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS).  Generally, all people who wish to apply for an F-1 Student Visa must pay the SEVIS Fee. F-2 Dependents (spouse and minor children of the F-1 visa holder) do not have to pay the fee.  For more information, see

When Do I Pay the SEVIS Fee?
You must pay the SEVIS Fee at least 3 business days before you apply for your F-1 Student Visa.

How Do I Pay the SEVIS Fee?
You must pay the fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) either online (Internet) or by postal mail (with a Form I-901).  Either you, yourself, can pay the SEVIS Fee or another person, inside or outside the U.S. can pay it for you. Whether you choose to pay the fee by the Internet or by postal mail, DHS will send a paper receipt (Form I-797) by postal mail to the address you provide on Form I-901.  You may choose to have this receipt sent to you either by regular postal mail or, at an additional charge, by express delivery.

How to Pay Online by Internet
If you pay the SEVIS fee by Internet, your payment is processed immediately at the time you make payment, and you can print a receipt directly from your computer.  You can use that computer-generated receipt at a U.S. Embassy, Consulate, or Port-of-Entry in order to verify your payment.  Here is how to pay by Internet:

  1. Find the Form I-901 at
  2. Complete the form online and supply the necessary credit card information (Visa, MasterCard or American Express) at the website.  Be very sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your Form I-20.
  3. Print a copy of the online receipt.
  4. Make a copy of your receipt and keep it with your other important immigration documents.

How to Pay By Postal Mail
When you send the SEVIS fee and Form I-901 by postal mail, it will not be processed until the Department of Homeland Security receives it.  If you mail your payment rather than pay on the Internet, it can take a long time for payment to be received and for you to receive a receipt by return mail. Here is how to pay by postal mail

  • Obtain Form I-901 ("Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants")
  •  Download Form I-901 from
  • Request Form I-901 by telephone at +1 800 870 3676
  • Complete the Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your Form I-20.
  • Prepare a check, international money order, or foreign draft (drawn on U.S. banks only) in the amount of USD $200, made payable to "Department of Homeland Security"
  • Send the completed Form I-901 and payment to the address on Form I-901.
  • Make copies of your receipt, and keep it with your other important immigration documents.

Verification of SEVIS Fee Payment

A paper receipt is not required in order for you to obtain an F-1 Student Visa or to enter the United States at a Port-of-Entry. U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Ports-of-Entry will be able to verify your fee payment without a receipt in most circumstances if you paid the fee far enough in advance.  You must make electronic (Internet) payments at least 3 business days before your visa interview if you will rely on electronic fee verification at the embassy or consulate.  When you send the payment by postal mail, you must send the payment by a quick method so that that it arrives at the Department of Homeland Security address listed on Form I-901 at least 3 business days before the scheduled visa interview.

I Have Already Paid the SEVIS Fee for One School, and Then Decided to Attend A Different School.  Do I Have to Pay the Fee Again?
If you have been accepted to more than one institution and paid the fee using the SEVIS ID number of an institution you will not attend, you will not have to pay the fee again.  Take the Form I-20 from the first school, the Form I-20 from the second school, and your SEVIS Fee payment receipt to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Do I Have to Pay If I Transfer to Another School, Travel Outside the U.S., or Renew My Visa?
No, not unless you travel outside the U.S. for more than 5 months.

Can I Pay the SEVIS Fee at a University, Embassy, Consulate or Port-of-Entry?
No. The SEVIS fee can only be processed by the Department of Homeland Security via Internet or postal mail.

Will the Department of Homeland Security keep a record of my payment on file?
DHS should enter SEVIS Fee payments into your permanent immigration (SEVIS) record, but we strongly recommend that you keep a copy of your fee receipt (Form I-797).