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Understanding F and J Visas

o   F-1 Student Visa & I-20

  • The F-1 visa is the most common student visa type and is issued to students who are admitted to a full-time academic or language program at a US institution. Once the student is accepted, the US institution prepares the I-20 form, which confirms that the student has gained admittance to the college or university. After having received this document, the student can apply for the F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate in their home country.

o   J-1 Student Visa

  • The J-1 visa is an exchange visitor visa issued to students at all academic levels.

o   DS-2019 Form

  • This “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status” is required to support an application for an exchange visitor visa (J-1).

o   F-2 and J-2 Visa (Dependents)

  • Students who plan to have dependents (spouse and/or children only) accompany them during studies must request dependent I-20/DS-2019

Entering the U.S. (F & J Students)

You have your visa in your passport. Your bags are packed and you’re ready to go! Learn about documents needed to enter the U.S. for the first time as a student. 

How to Enter the U.S.



Organize your Documents 

Have these documents in your hand (and not packed in a suitcase) for the officer to review:

F-1 Student

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • I-20
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Financial documents (used for your I-20 application)

Note: The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 30 days before the program start date on your I-20.

J-1 Student 

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • DS-2019
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Financial documents (used for your DS-2019 application)

The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 30 days before the program start date in item 3 on your DS-2019.


Enter through a U.S. Port of Entry 

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is the government agency that controls admission to the United States. Your visa and other immigration documents are evidence of your eligibility to apply for admission in a particular visa status at a U.S. Port of Entry. The CBP officer makes the final decision on your admission to the U.S. in a particular status and determines how long you may stay based on your documents.

Learn what to expect at a U.S. Port of Entry

1. Get in line

There will be two lines for Customs and Immigration—one for U.S. citizens and Permanent Residents and the other for international visitors.

2. Meet the CBP Officer 

The officer will review your documents and ask you a few questions about the purpose of your travel to the U.S.

If all is in order, the officer will admit you to the U.S. and will stamp your passport with:

  • date and place of arrival
  • immigration status
  • expiration of your stay in status 

3. Check carefully that the stamp is correct for your status 

Stamp should be for F-1 or J-1 for “D/S” which reflects Duration of Status (until the end of the program on the I-20 or DS-2019 plus a grace period). CBP also creates an electronic record of your arrival (I-94 Arrival/Departure Record).  Check it a day or two later to make sure it is correct.

4. Gather your things

Make sure you have all your papers and hand luggage with you before you leave the inspection area. Pick up your luggage at the designated carousel for your flight and exit the airport passing through Customs.