SEVIS Introduction and Visa Application Overview
In January 2003, the U.S. government initiated the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an online database created by the U.S. government to permit immigration officials to access current information recorded by U.S. colleges and universities on nonimmigrant students holding F, M, and J visas.
The purpose of the system is to provide the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with information regarding international students' local and permanent addresses, authorized employment activities, and current registration status. It also permits colleges and universities to create and update student I-20s.
CIIS assists students with the application for F-1 student visas only. Students in online programs are not eligible to apply for a student visa.
To apply for an F-1 student visa, you will need a SEVIS Form I-20 from CIIS: the "Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant, F-1 Student Status."
Citizens of Canada may obtain their F-1 visas at the port of entry. Canadian students may present their Form I-20, passport, and additional supporting financial documents to the U.S. Immigration Inspector at the U.S. Port of Entry. Landed immigrants in Canada must apply for a visa before entering the U.S.
The expiration date on your visa is the last day you may enter the United States from abroad. You need a valid visa every time you enter the country.
SEVIS I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Student Status
CIIS will issue a SEVIS I-20 for your visa application when these conditions are met:
1. You have been fully admitted into a program of study at the CIIS.
2. You have shown proof of financial support for the first year of study. In order to provide proof of financial support you will need to complete and submit the CIIS Certificate of Funding Form and official support documents.
The CIIS Certificate of Funding Form is used to show proof of support for your first year of study only, as required by the U.S. government. You must demonstrate sufficient funding to cover all study expenses including tuition, fees, books, travel, and other living expenses. Funding may come from your own personal account, a private sponsor's account, and/or scholarships/loans that have been approved. In addition to filling out the form, you will need to provide adequate verification of the funds.
The estimated totals for tuition and living expenses for a year in the U.S. at CIIS for the 2018-2019 academic year are listed in the International Student Addendum.
Proof of finances for the minimum one year tuition and living expenses must be shown in liquid assets. Liquid assets include money in a banking account, stocks or bonds with cash value. It must be stated clearly in the bank letter.
Retirement accounts cannot be used as a source of financial support unless the sponsor can provide evidence that he/she is, in fact, retired and able to access those funds without penalty for early withdrawal. Real estate or other non-liquid asset such as automobiles, jewelry, or other personal property cannot be used as a source of financial support under any circumstances.
Verification documents include:
- Original letters from your bank or your sponsor's bank stating the available account balance. The letter must be on official letterhead, dated within six months of your program start date and include the bank's seal/official signature.
- Official award letter stating the amount and duration of the scholarship awarded.
- Loan approval letter from the granting institution, stating the loan amount.
Please obtain two original copies of the financial verification documents. One set of originals should be sent to CIIS. The other set of originals should be retained by you so that you may have them available when applying for a visa and for use at the port of entry.
Setting Your Student Visa Appointment
Once you have obtained an I-20 from CIIS, you will pay the SEVIS fee and make your appointment at the U.S. Embassy. Required documents can vary, so please check the embassy website for full details. You will need the following:
- SEVIS form I-20: Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status
- Passport: The passport must be valid for travel to the United States and be valid for at least six months beyond your entry to the U.S.
- Financial verification documents
- SEVIS Fee payment receipt
- Other required documents: varies by country
- Application Fee: varies by country
The visa application process may differ depending upon the specific consular office in your home country. For further details, please locate your U.S. Embassy.
You must also present the first three documents to an immigration inspector at the U.S. Port of Entry. The immigration inspector decides whether or not to admit you into the U.S. with an F-1 nonimmigrant status.