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Travel & Visas

Your visa: the F1 and J1 student visas

The F-1 student visa allows non-immigrants to pursue a course of study in the U.S. After the F-1 visa holder completes their program, they are expected to return to their home country. The dependents of an F-1 visa holder are granted an F-2 visa.  F-2 visa holders are not allowed to work or study.  If you receive an I-20 document from UIC, you should apply for an F-1 visa.

The J-1 student visa is more appropriate for students who are on exchange visits or sponsored programs. J-1 student visas are usually issued when a student receives most or all of their funding from their home government or a U.S. governmental agency. The dependents of a J-1 visa holder are granted J-2 visas.  J-2 visa holders may enroll in school and apply for work authorization.  If you receive a DS-2019 document, you should apply for a J-1 visa.

Caution: Individuals are not eligible to register for classes if their visa status is B1/B2, WB/WT-Visa Waiver or F2 (Dependent of F1).  If you have any questions about visa types, please email

Obtaining a visa for initial entry to the U.S.

What is a visa? A visa is a stamp in your passport from the U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad that permits you to apply for entry into the U.S. at a Port of Entry. It only needs to be valid for your entry into the U.S. and does not have to remain valid throughout your stay provided that you maintain your immigration status. This means that as long as you remain within U.S. borders, your visa is allowed to expire. However, your I-20 or DS-2019 must remain valid for the duration of your stay in the U.S.

How to obtain a visa. Once you are admitted to the University of Illinois at Chicago, you will need to obtain a student visa for your initial entry to the U.S.

OIS will send you an I-20 or DS-2019. Once you have this document, you should review it to make sure the information is correct and sign the document. Please email if you have any questions or concerns about your document.

The following are recommended steps when applying for your F-1/J-1 visa:

  1. Pay the SEVIS fee. Once you pay, you will receive a receipt of payment that you must keep. You will need to present the receipt at your visa interview. You will also need this receipt notice for travel and future visa renewals.
  2. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to schedule a visa appointment. 
SEVIS stands for the “Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.” It is a database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and allows U.S. agencies to track visitors for the duration of their stay.
You may have applied and been accepted to several institutions.   Before applying for a visa, you must decide which institution you would like to attend. This is important because the name of the institution on your I-20 or DS-2019 must match the visa in your passport for your initial entry to the U.S.

To obtain a visa, you need to prepare the following documents for your visa interview:

  • Valid passport for at least 6 months
  • One passport size photograph (2X2)
  • Proof of payment of Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee
  • Evidence of financial ability to meet expenses
  • Evidence of English ability sufficient for course of study
  • Evidence of intent to depart the U.S. after completion of studies
  • Any other documents listed on the website of your Consulate or Embassy

You should be prepared to show:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
  • Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.

Applicants with dependents must also provide:

  • Proof of the student’s relationship to his/her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.);
  • It is preferred that families apply for F-1 and F-2 visas at the same time, but if the spouse and children must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder’s passport and visa, along with all other required documents.
The visa interview is not a document review, but a conversation. If you are denied a visa, make sure to get the decision in writing.

Importance of Name Consistency

To avoid problems or delays in obtaining your visa and entering the U.S., be sure that all of your immigration documents reflect the same name, exactly as it appears in your passport.

Do not use nicknames or shortened names on any of your documents, including your passport, I-20 or DS-2019, entry visa stamp, I-94 card (completed in the airplane before arrival for individuals arriving before 04/26/2013) and any additional documents that you acquire after your arrival in the U.S.

Visa Wait Times

Visa wait times vary from country to country. The U.S. Department of State offers average wait times. In general, it is important for students to apply for their visa as soon as they have all the necessary documents, ideally at least 120 days before the start of the semester.

Certain nonimmigrant visa applicants are subject to additional administrative processing and/or security clearances before being issued a visa. This involves the U.S. Consulate or Embassy checking the visa applicant’s name against information in various Department of State (DOS) databases or a security advisory opinion.

At the initial visa interview, the applicant should provide clear and concise information about their past activities and future plans while in the U.S.  In most cases, the visa is issued within 60 days.

Planning Your Arrival Date

F-1 Students:

Immigration regulations allow entry into the U.S. up to 30 days before the start date on the I-20.  If you are unable to arrive by your start date, please consider deferring (or delaying) your admission to the next semester. If you are a graduate student, you must first defer your admission with your department. Please notify OIS if you plan to defer.

J-1 Students:

The DS-2019 has been prepared for the period of time indicated in Section 3 of the form. You may enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start date.

For F-1 and J-1 students:

Plan your arrival date in Chicago so you can:

  • Rest for a few days and recover from jetlag
  • Check-in with the Office of International Services (OIS)
  • Find housing (see the housing section later in this document)
  • Attend the International Student Orientation Program
  • Attend your college and/or department orientation program
  • Register for classes. Keep in mind that if you start your program in Summer, then you must be registered for full-time in your first summer semester.


Entering the U.S.

You may want to prepare for your entry into the U.S. by visiting the website of Customs and Border Patrol. Additionally,  when you enter the U.S., an immigration officer (at the port of entry) will review your immigration documents (visa, I-20/DS-2019, valid passport).

  • You will be issued an electronic form I-94 Arrival/Departure card that can be view and printed online. (Individuals that arrived prior to 04/26/2013 received a small white paper card that they completed in the airplane or at the border.) For F-1 and J-1 students, the I-94 should indicate an authorized stay of D/S (Duration of Status), which allows you to stay in the U.S. as long as you maintain your student status.
  • Page 1 of Form I-20/DS-2019 will be stamped, indicating the date in which you entered the country, your immigration status (e.g. F-1 or J-1) and your authorized length of stay D/S (Duration of status).  Please verify this information before you leave the “check-in” area.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has developed a system called the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT). This system records the entry and exit of all foreign visitors to the U.S.  An immigration official scans each visitor’s fingerprints, takes your photograph, and checks them against national security and law enforcement databases.

After you pass through immigration, you’ve officially arrived. Welcome to the United States!

The documents you receive at the US port of entry are proof that you entered the United States legally. Please keep all of your immigration documents in a safe place.
If you need assistance while at O’Hare Airport, you may visit the Travelers Immigrant Aid Office located in Terminal 2 across from the Children’s Playground. It is open Monday-Friday 8:30am–9pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am–9pm. In terminals 1, 2 and 3, there are information booths with multilingual personnel who provide assistance. The phone number is 1-773-894-2427.

Completing the Form I-94 for Nonimmigrant Students

Use all CAPITAL letters. Use English. Use standard United States    characters and print clearly. Letters like ñ, é, ü, ç are not recognized by U.S. data systems. (Instead, use n, e, u or c.)

Name (Blocks 1, 2, 14, and 15)

The family name (Blocks 1 and 14) is also referred to as surname or last name. If you have only one name, enter it in the Family Name block. Use the letters FNU in the First Name field. Spacing is as important as spelling and must be consistent. For example: data systems will not read Mc Millan and McMillan as the same name. Hyphens must not be used.

Print your name exactly as it appears on your Form I-20.

Date of Birth (Blocks 3 and 16) and Date Issued (Block 11): Your date of birth must be given in Day/Month/Year order. This is not the same order that appears on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. For example: if you were born on the 9th day of January in the year 1986, you should write 090186 in the Birth Date block (Blocks 3 and 16). The same date format is used in block 11 for Date Issued.

Country of Citizenship (Blocks 4 and 17): In the Country of   Citizenship block enter the country that issued your passport. You can find the U.S. spelling in block 1 of the Form I-20 under the “Country of Citizenship.” It is on the second line of the Form DS-2019 under “Citizenship Country.”

Medical Insurance Policy Requirements for All Students

Additional Medical Insurance Policy Requirements for J-1 Students


Immunization Requirements

All students living on campus are required to fulfill the immunization requirements mandated by Illinois state law. We recommend that you obtain all the necessary immunizations before you arrive in the U.S. You are required to turn in a completed immunization form to the university before the end of your first semester of study. If you fail to comply with the immunization requirements, a hold will be placed on your registration the following semester. You may download the immunization form from the Office of Admissions & Records website.