All nonimmigrants require a valid visa stamp in their passports before coming to the U.S. under any nonimmigrant status, including F&J. An exception to this general rule exists for citizens of Canada (and Bermuda under limited circumstances) who are visa exempt, thereby not requiring a visa stamp. All students must make sure that their passports are stamped upon entry to comport with their intended status.
Travel Outside the U.S.
In general, a valid visa stamp is also required for nonimmigrants returning to the U.S. after travel abroad. An exception to this rule exists when traveling only to Canada or Mexico (and in some circumstances, certain adjacent territories) and complying with the automatic visa revalidation standards.
The visa stamps in passports are only used for admission to the U.S. in a specific status. Upon entry into the U.S. visa stamps do not have contribution to one's legal status in the U.S. Accordingly, it is unnecessary for nonimmigrants maintaining status in the U.S. to possess a valid visa stamp in their passport while residing in the U.S. However, an expired visa must be renewed following a departure from the U.S. with the intent to return in the corresponding legal status. Do not mistake the validity of your visa for the duration of approved stay in the U.S.
Visit http://usembassy.state.gov/ for a list of embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions. Each website will have specific visa application procedures for your area. Also visit http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/wait-times.html/ for information about visa wait times in your area. Note that the visa wait times information is not always accurate. Visa application procedures, appointment times and visa issuance times are subject to change without notice.
Visa application appointments must be scheduled in advance. You should allow at least one month to schedule your visa application appointment. In some instances, applications must be scheduled many months in advance. Please note that you should ensure that you schedule your visa application appointment for a date when you will have all requisite materials. Visa applications will often require a document from the U.S. such as an I-20, DS-2019 or I-797. You should ensure that you will have this document at the time of your application.
F-1 and J-1 applicants (among others) must demonstrate to the U.S. consulate that they do not plan to reside in the U.S. permanently. These applicants should be prepared to provide the consulate with ample documentation that they plan to return to their home country.
F-1 and J-1 applicants must also pay the SEVIS fee prior to their applications for initial F or J status.
Some visa applicants may be subject to additional processing which will increase the typical processing tiimes: Administrative Processing. This is a general term used for a security review of a visa application. It can add weeks, sometimes months to the usual visa processing times. Once a security review is begun, there is nothing the university or other interested parties can do to accelerate the process. You should inform the ISO and your advisors if you have been subject to review.
Consult with the ISO before any departure about needed documents for the visa application.