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Do I need a student visa?

Prospective CISL students who are not citizens of the United States will generally need to obtain either (1) a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay or (2) an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Most CISL students are in the United States for a temporary stay with either a student (F) visa or a visitor (B) visa. Individuals who need to apply for a non immigrant visa and plan to come to the United States with the primary intent to study in a full-time course (18 hours or more per week) should apply for a student visa. Individuals who will come to the United States for a temporary stay for tourist reasons and to take a part-time course (less than 18 hours per week) should either (1) apply for a tourist (B) visa or (2) participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Citizens of Visa Waiver Program participating countries (see list of visa waiver countries) may review the requirements and apply for authorization to travel to the United States without a visitor’s visa at

How do I get a student visa?

1. Individuals who wish to apply for an F-1 student visa need a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) before scheduling a visa interview. CISL will provide a form I-20 to students enrolled in a full-time course who do the following:

2. CISL will mail the I-20 form to the student. Students should sign and date the I-20 in item 11 on page 1.

3. The student must pay the SEVIS fee. (See information about the SEVIS fee below).

4. The student must contact a U.S. embassy or consulate to schedule an interview. A list of embassies and consulates is available at the following web site: It is important to schedule the appointment as soon as possible.

5. The student must follow the instructions of the embassy or consulate by paying the visa application fee and completing the visa application forms.

6. The student must attend the visa interview. Students should bring all of the following documents:

Students should check the website of their local U.S. Embassies for any additional requirements.

How long may I stay in the U.S. with my student visa?

When you enter the United States on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full-time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in the United States. After you have completed the course of studies shown on your Form I-20, you may stay in the United States for an additional 60 days to prepare for your departure from the United States.

Can I extend my stay after I start my course?

F-1 students should request program extensions if they would like to continue studying full-time at CISL past the end date listed on their I-20s. If the request is approved, the school will issue a new I-20 to the student with the new study dates listed. Students must be in good academic and financial standing to be eligible for course extensions (note: attendance rate must be at 85% or higher to be eligible for a course extension).

Can I transfer to CISL if I have an I-20 from a different school?

F-1 students may request to have their SEVIS records transferred from one school to another school. CISL applicants with I-20s issued by other schools should complete the CISL application and send a copy of their current I-20, passport, and financial documents to CISL. Please contact the San Francisco school at or the San Diego school at for more information and requirements for I-20 transfers.

SEVIS Fee Information

What is the SEVIS fee?

The Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) monitors the status of students and exchange visitors in the United States. Schools can create I-20s using this system. The SEVIS fee is used to fund this system. See more information here:

Who must pay the SEVIS fee?

You must pay the SEVIS fee if:

  1. You are applying for an F-1 or F-3 visa and were issued an initial Form I-20 on or after October 27, 2008,
  2. You paid the SEVIS fee more than twelve months ago, were denied a visa, and are reapplying for a visa,
  3. You are an F-1 or F-3 student who wishes to change status to M-1, M-3, or J-1, OR
  4. You have been out of status for more than five months and are applying for reinstatement.

You can read more about SEVIS fee requirements here:

How much is the SEVIS fee?

The SEVIS fee is $200.

How do I pay the SEVIS fee?

The SEVIS fee can be paid on-line at by completing a form I-901 and using a credit card (Visa, Master Card, or American Express). It is important to keep a copy of the SEVIS fee payment receipt.

Can someone else pay the fee for me?

Yes. You can pay the fee yourself or someone can pay the fee for you. You may ask CISL to pay this fee on your behalf. If you request that CISL pay your SEVIS fee, CISL will collect the $200 fee from you then pay your SEVIS fee and send your receipt to you.

When should I pay the fee? How far in advance?

It is best to make the SEVIS fee payment as soon as you receive your I-20 to allow for processing time. If you pay the SEVIS fee less than three business days before your interview, make sure that you bring the paper SEVIS fee receipt with you to your interview as proof that you paid the fee.

Will I get a receipt?

Yes. You must be able to prove that you have paid the fee. When you pay the fee by the Internet you can immediately print a receipt. If you pay at least three business days before your visa interview, the embassy or consulate office should be able to verify that you paid the fee electronically. However, it is a good idea to keep a printed copy of your receipt of the SEVIS fee payment.

Is the SEVIS fee refundable if I am denied?

No. Once paid, the SEVIS fee is non-refundable unless it was paid by mistake. If your visa is denied, the SEVIS fee will not be refunded. If you choose not to apply for an F-1 visa, your SEVIS fee will not be refunded. If you reapply for a new F-1 visa within 12 months of the denial, you can transfer your SEVIS fee payment to your new SEVIS number by contacting the I-901 Fee Help Desk at 1-877-815-1205.

If I change schools, do I pay again?

No. If you have been accepted to more than one school and paid the fee using the SEVIS ID number of a school you will not attend, you do not have to pay the fee again. Bring the I-20 from the school for which you paid the fee, the I-20 from the school you will attend, and your SEVIS fee receipt when you go to the consulate.

Who is not required to pay SEVIS ?

1. A student who continues to maintain his/her student status and is using an I- 20 which was issued before September 01, 2004.

2. A student applying for a visa to return to the U.S. to continue a program of study, in which he/she has maintained student status, and which has not been completed. This includes returning to the U.S. to resume studies after a temporary absence of less than 5 months.

3. A student transferring between schools at the same educational level.

4. A student applying for an extension of stay because additional time is needed to complete the program.

5. An individual who already paid the fee and reapplied for a student visa within 12 months of having been denied one.

6. A student applying for reinstatement of student status and was not out of status for more than 5 months.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA is an on-line application system developed by the United States government to pre-screen travelers before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship bound for the United States. Starting on January 12, 2009, any person entering the United States under the visa waiver program is required to hold an approved ESTA Travel Authorization. Please visit the ESTA web site for additional information or apply here at the US Department of Homeland Security web site.

ESTA Frequently Asked Questions

Need more information about SEVIS?

Please contact CISL Student Services.