If you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and you’re planning to attend graduate school at Fletcher or anywhere else, you know as well as I do that you’ll need a U.S. visa.  Today, I’m going to outline the process but, since the outline is similar to information Fletcher has already sent you, my real goal is to encourage you to prepare:  understand the entire process and get your documents ready so that everything will go smoothly, although the final steps of the process are still months away!

So here are the key points.  Nearly all Fletcher students will have an F-1 visa for the period of their studies.  Before you can go to a consulate and have the visa marked in your passport, Fletcher will need to issue an I-20.  Before we can issue the I-20, you need to make your enrollment decision (and send in the relevant paperwork), and then complete a Certification of Funds (which, as an admitted student, you’ve already received).

All Fletcher international students applying for an F-1 will need to certify the same amount for their first year of studies.  Even if you know that you will save money by living, eating, and socializing simply, you still need to certify that amount.  Along with the Certification form, you should send Fletcher a photocopy of your passport showing your photograph, biographical information, and the passport expiration date.

Once our International Student Advisor has received this information, she’ll enter it in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.  (SEVIS is the U.S. Government’s internet-based system to track schools and their students, along with the students’ dependents.)  When that’s done, your I-20 form will go out to you by mail.

Though Fletcher has its own rules and procedures for many things, the visa process, as you can imagine, is driven by government regulation.  The next few steps should be identical, regardless of which graduate school you attend.

Once your I-20 has been issued, you’ll need to pay a $200 fee through SEVIS.  The fee must be paid before your visa appointment, and you’re required to bring a receipt (showing you paid the fee) with you to the consulate.  Now would be a good time to be sure you have the info you need on the fee.

When all that’s done, you can schedule an appointment with the nearest consulate office.  Each embassy or consulate has its own process and wait time for scheduling visa interviews.  Regardless of estimated wait time, please do not leave this to the last minute!  When you go for your interview, you’ll need to bring certain required documentation.

Some time after your interview, you’ll be able to pick up your visa.  You need to collect it in person.  One other note:  your visa will allow you to enter the U.S. not more than 30 days before the start of classes (or about three weeks before the start of Orientation).  Please don’t make any plans that start earlier in the summer.  (The only exception is for students required to pursue language or other training, in which case the visa will be dated for the start of that program.)

The good news on all of this is that most incoming students have no real difficulty (aside from the paperwork and inconvenience) obtaining their visas.  Occasionally, there’s a little more worry involved.  Preparing for the process, and handling all requirements in a timely way, will help relieve (or even prevent) the worry.


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