A passport is a travel document that is issued by a country’s government to its citizens. The passport verifies the nationality and the identity of the holder for the purpose of international travel. The passport is a required document while applying for the Form I-20 and must be current for the duration of your stay while in the U.S.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the start date of your first semester, or you will not receive an I-20 from International Services. You may also be stopped from entering the U.S. with a passport so close to its expiration date.
It is a violation of your status to be in the U.S. on an expired passport. You should apply for a renewal of your passport at least 6 months before it expires so you have sufficient time to get a new one. When you want to renew your passport, you should reach out to your country’s embassy in the U.S. and inquire about the process, since it is different for every embassy. Some embassies may allow you to mail in your passport while others require your presence at the embassy.
If you lose your passport, you should contact the local police and report your passport as lost or stolen immediately. Once you have made a police report, you should contact your home country’s embassy in the U.S. and report missing travel documents.
The term “visa” refers to the visa stamp placed in your passport. It does not reference your I-20 form. All nonimmigrants entering the U.S. to study in F status are required to obtain the appropriate entry visa. Once you obtain a visa, it will be placed in your passport by the U.S. Embassy. Your visa allows you to travel to a U.S. port of entry to request entry as a nonimmigrant. After you present your passport, visa, and Form I-20 at the port-of-entry, a Customs and Border Patrol official will make this decision. Once you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record.
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are not required to obtain a student visa before entering the U.S. as long as they have a valid I-20.
Foreign nationals are not permitted to study in the U.S. if they were admitted to the U.S. as a visitor (B visa) or through the Visa Waiver Program except to take recreational study (non-credit) as part of a tourist visit.
There are several steps to follow to apply for a visa that includes paying the application fee of $160 (non-refundable). These steps may vary by embassy, so follow the instructions on the embassy website where you will be applying for your visa.
- You must complete Form DS-160, the online nonimmigrant visa application, and print the application form confirmation page to bring to your visa interview. You will need to upload a photo while completing the Form DS-160.
Gather the following required documents as you prepare for your visa interview:
- Passport – your passport must be valid for travel to the U.S. and must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your program start date.
- Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- Application fee payment receipt.
- Form I-20.
Additional documentation which may be required and is strongly recommended:
- Proof of your intent to depart the U.S. upon completion of your course of study.
- Financial documentation proving how you will pay for all educational, living, and travel costs.
- Attend your visa interview. A consular officer will interview you to determine whether you qualify to receive a student visa.
New students can be issued visas up to 120 days in advance of the start date of their first semester.
There is no guarantee that you will receive a visa. You should not make travel plans, buy tickets, or purchase housing contracts until you have received your visa.
The vast majority of visa applications are approved; however, the U.S. sets many standards under which a visa application may be denied. A visa application may be denied for the following reasons:
- The consular officer does not have all the information required,
- The applicant does not qualify for the visa category they applied for, or
- The information provided indicates that the applicant falls within one of the inadmissibility or ineligibility grounds of the law.
The most common reason that visa applications are denied is for failure to demonstrate strong ties to the home country.
If your visa is denied you are not able to receive a refund of your application fee. You may reapply for a visa but will be required to pay the application fee again.
Please notify our office if your visa is denied. If it delays your initial start date, you will need a new I-20 from our office before applying for a visa again.
Once you have been admitted to the U.S. on your student visa you are allowed to stay in the U.S. past the expiration date as long as your I-20 remains valid. If you plan to leave and return to the U.S., you will need a valid visa to reenter.
Your visa is valid for a specified number of entries to the United States: one, two, or multiple (meaning any amount), until the expiration date.
If you change your status in the U.S. and then travel, you must have a visa corresponding to your new status when you reenter the U.S.
If your passport/visa is lost or stolen, you should report this immediately to our office and the police. Often when you contact your embassy in the U.S. to receive a replacement, they will ask for a police report verifying the information filed within 10 days of losing your passport/visa. Do the following to get a new visa:
- File a police report.
- Report the lost/stolen visa to your embassy.
- Report and apply for a replacement of your visa lost/stolen to the S. Embassy or consulate abroad.
A valid visa in an expired passport is still considered to be valid. A visa is valid until it’s expiration date unless it is canceled or revoked for any reason. If you have a valid visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from that passport.
You may stay in the U.S. on an expired visa as long as your I-20 and Passport are still valid. If you leave the country when your visa is expired, you will need to renew your visa before reentering the U.S.
Renewing Your Visa
To obtain a new visa, you should apply at a U.S. embassy within your country of citizenship or nationality; it cannot be renewed in the U.S. It is possible to apply for a visa as a "third-country national" in a country other than your home country but you should contact the embassy to get additional information. The renewal process will be the same application process as when you applied for the first time.
Contact the embassy where you plan to apply in advance. Ask about specific procedures and requirements at that location.
If you renew your passport and still have a valid visa in your old one, you can continue to use the visa in your old passport to enter the U.S.
Spouse and Children
Your spouse and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) who intend to reside with you throughout your study may apply for an F-2 visa. They will be required to present an F-2 Form I-20 along with your F-1 Form I-20 and proof of relationship.
If you are in the U.S. and your visa is expired, trips to Canada or Mexico may not require a new visa application. This benefit is called “automatic revalidation of visa.” Currently, automatic revalidation allows certain nonimmigrants with expired visas to reenter the U.S. after a 30-day or less visit to a contiguous territory.
The contiguous territory is considered Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island including Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
Any nonimmigrant who applies for a new U.S. visa while traveling in a contiguous territory is not eligible for automatic revalidation benefit. If you apply for a visa in Canada your application is denied, you are not allowed to reenter the U.S. under the automatic revalidation benefit.
To reenter the U.S. under automatic revalidation:
- Only travel to Canada/Mexico/adjacent islands for less than 30 days and not travel anywhere else,
- Maintain your nonimmigrant status,
- Carry your Form I-94, your current, and valid I-20, and valid passport with the expired visa, and
- Do not apply for a new visa during this trip.
For more information, refer to the website of the U.S. Department of State. We recommend that if you choose to travel under automatic revalidation, you print and carry the automatic revalidation page which reviews Automatic Revalidation.
The I-94 is a record of your arrival into the U.S. and your departure from the U.S. This document is either recorded electronically, or it will be a white card stapled onto a page of your passport. The I-94 document includes the date of entry, the port of entry, your lawful status, an 11-digit number, and the duration of time that you may be in the U.S. Go to the I-94 site to access your I-94 record. You may need it when you have been hired for a campus job, obtaining a social security number or driver’s license, or other government applications.
The Form I-20 is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status issued to F-1 international students who have been accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified school. This form is issued by a Designated School Official (DSO) in International Services at BYU-Idaho.
Students must also obtain a Form I-20 for any eligible dependents (spouse or children) they plan to bring to the U.S. F-1 students must be issued an I-20 before scheduling a visa interview. The Form I-20 is required for international students to obtain a student visa, to enter the U.S., and to study in the U.S. The Form I-20 establishes that a student meets the criteria for non-immigrant student status.
The I-20 is required:
- To obtain a student visa.
- Whenever you enter the U.S.
- For legal stay while in the U.S.
- For government applications including, but not limited to, Social Security Number, Driver’s License, etc.
After receiving the initial Form I-20 upon program acceptance, you may receive a new Form I-20 from your DSO under the following circumstances:
- If the physical copy of the form is destroyed, misplaced, or lost.
- For travel endorsement.
- Work authorizations (CPT or OPT).
For any change to your information, such as changes to your personal information, your program of study, etc.