US Entry Visa

US Entry Visas are issued by the US Department of State and are obtained at US Embassies or Consulates abroad. The visa application must be presented during a scheduled interview at a US Embassy or Consulate.

  • If you are entering the US for the first time will need to apply for a US Entry Visa (Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt)

  • If you are a continuing student or scholar and your US Entry Visa has expired you will need to apply for a new visa in order to return to the US from abroad. 

  • There are certain exceptions to the Entry Visa requirement for travel to contiguous territories such as Canada and Mexico.

  • The U.S. Department of State provides an online Visa Status Check, which allows both immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants to check the status of their cases at the Consular Electronic Application Center.

  • All students and scholars applying for visas should consult the documentary requirements of the individual embassy or consulate at which they will be applying. Consult this complete list of US Embassies.

  • Dependents will need to show proof of the relationship to the primary visa holder, e.g. marriage and/or birth certificates.

  • See the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application for instructions on completing the form.

  • It is recommended that students and scholars apply for US Entry Visas in their home countries.

  • Although many consulates will allow third country nationals to apply for visas, such individuals may face delays or difficulty proving non-immigrant intent.

  • If denied a visa, the individual will not be allowed to (re)enter the US and will likely have to return to the home country directly from the country where the visa application was submitted.

The US Entry Visa is a stamp placed in your passport

  • Once your visa application is approved, the consular officer will issue this stamp in your passport.

  • The length of visas are determined by the DOS Reciprocity Table.

  • The purpose of the US Entry Visa is to gain entry to the US.

  • The expiration date has no bearing on your immigration status and permission to remain in the US.

  • If you maintain your status you may stay in the US, and travel domestically with an expired visa.

  • You must obtain a new US Entry Visa in order to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad.

Per I.N.A. Sect 101 (a)(15)(F)(i): You must establish non-immigrant intent, i.e. prove that you have ties to your home country such as family, property, or employment, and plan to return after your program end.

F-1 and J-1 students must:

  1. pay the SEVIS fee

  2. bring their SEVIS fee payment confirmation (that can be printed from the fee website) to the interview

  3. be ready to show that they are bonafide students with adequate funding.

J-1 scholars must pay the SEVIS fee and show that they have adequate funding.

F-2 and J-2 dependents are not required to pay the SEVIS fee.

F-1 students or J-1 students or scholars with the same SEVIS ID are not required to pay the SEVIS fee again.

F-1 Students: Your US Entry Visa may be issued no earlier than 120 days before the program start date on the I-20.

  • You can apply for the visa earlier than 120 days before the program start date to allow for visa processing and security clearance delays.

  • New F-1 students and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date on the I-20.

J-1 Exchange Visitors: You are not subject to the 120-day limit on how long before your program start date that you may apply for your visa.

  • New Exchange Visitors and their dependents may enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before the program start date on the DS-2019.

  • As a result of various conditions such as wars, natural disasters or security reasons, the US Department of State (DOS) is forced to limit or suspend visa services in certain countries. 

  • In order to accurately inform the public, DOS has posted a list of countries where US visa services are limited or suspended, or countries where US does not have embassies or consulates. 

  • Please see the complete list here.

Department of State (DOS) Application Processing Delays

  • Certain non-immigrant visa applicants will be subject to additional security checks and visa application processing delay before the visa is issued.

  • Depending on your country of origin, or if your field of study, research or employment is in a sensitive area as referenced in the Technology Alert List (TAL), the consular officer might request a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) from the DOS

  • An SAO involves multiple database checks and may be extremely lengthy.

  • The DOS states that requests to expedite processing will not be considered.

  • However, if you are experiencing security clearance delays of more than 60 days please tell ISSS and your Penn departments or schools. 

  • If your visa issuance is delayed by more than 180 days, ISSS will contact the US consular post to inquire about the case and to offer any possible assistance. 

  • By tracking visa delays and reporting to the Association of International Educators (NAFSA) and University government relations representatives, ISSS continues to be involved in advocating for smoother visa processing for international students and scholars.

  • However, individual case resolution is not possible at this point. While it is at the discretion of consular officer whether to request an SAO, individuals can hopefully avoid delays by making sure the documentation they present to the consular officer is complete and transparent.

  • It is recommended that graduate students and scholars in the sciences bring a letter from a Penn Faculty or department member containing a brief description of their research in lay terms.

  • Returning students should also bring transcripts and proof of funding. For more information, please see the following NAFSA Practice Resource on Visas Mantis Security Advisory Opinions.

Additional Visa Delay Issues

  • Processing times, appointment scheduling, and documentary requirements vary from consulate to consulate.

  • It is important to allow enough time for the entire visa application process and to come prepared with the proper documentation.

  • Missing or unclear documentation can lead to delays and possibly be reason for the consular officer to request an additional security clearance.

Certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates have produced short informational videos as listed below on the nonimmigrant visa application process.

  • Please note certain steps and procedures may differ between locations.
  • This list may not include all currently available videos.


Automatic Visa Revalidation for Travel to Parts of North America

Under certain circumstances, if you have an expired US Entry Visa you may re-enter the US after a visit of 30 days or less to "contiguous territories" (Canada, Mexico, & Adjacent Islands) without having to obtain a new US Entry visa prior to entry. This benefit is called "automatic revalidation of visa."

Required documents: 

  • valid passport

  • US entry visa, expired or valid

  • I-94 (passport stamp/I-94 printout or paper card)

  • If issued a paper I-94 card (via land border), do not surrender it at departure. Without the current I-94 card, you will need valid visa to return to the US.

  • Appropriate immigration document (I-20 for F status, DS-2019 for J status or I-797 Notice of Approval for H, O, or E status).

If you are in F or J statusthis benefit extends to the adjacent islands except Cuba.

  • Please consult the List of Adjacent Islands

  • H, O, and E status holders are NOT eligible for automatic revalidation to the adjacent islands.

The automatic revalidation of visa benefit is not extended to:

  • non-immigrants from countries designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism;

  • individuals who have ever overstayed their visas; and

  • non-immigrants who are applying for a new entry visa while in a contiguous territory.

    • Those who choose to apply for a new visa in a contiguous territory or cannot use the automatic validation of visa benefit must receive the new visa before being granted permission to reenter the U.S.  If denied an entry visa, the individual will most likely have to return directly to the home country in order to obtain a new visa. Please click here for more information.

  • All students and scholars must carefully weigh the risks of security clearance delays and the possibility of not being able to return to United States before making arrangements to apply for a new visa in a contiguous territory.

Please note that entry visas to these countries may be required for certain foreign nationals. For travel to Canada, please see links below:


What's Next?

When you arrive in the US you will need to receive an I-94 to enter the country.

Review the I-94 Process