Visa and Pre-Arrival Information

For the appropriate instructions on your pre-arrival, please select the appropriate drop-down.

▼   Applying for F-1 Visa: ELC Students

SEVIS I-901 Fee Requirement
To be eligible for an F-1 student visa, incoming exchange visitors must pay a SEVIS fee to activate the I-20. This U.S. Government required fee supports the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a computerized system that maintains and manages data about foreign scholars and students during their stay in the United States.

The fee can be paid to the Department of Homeland Security by mail, online, or Western Union Quick Pay.

To pay online:

  • Complete the Form I-901. Be sure to list your name exactly as it appears on your I-20 form and your date of birth in month/day/year format.
  • Supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard, or American Express information. Debit cards with the visa or MasterCard logo are also accepted.
  • Print a copy of the online receipt. A copy of the I-901 fee payment receipt will be required at your visa appointment.

To pay the SEVIS fee by mail or Western Union Quick Pay, see instructions here.

Applying for the F-1 visa

  • Visit the website of the U.S. Embassy/Consulate you will apply for instructions on how to schedule an interview.
  • Complete the DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application.
  • Pay the visa application fee by following instructions on your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.
  • Prepare and bring to your visa interview :
      • Passport valid for at least six months into the future
      • Form I-20
      • Completed visa application
      • 2 photographs
      • Receipts for payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee and visa application fee
      • Financial evidence to show there are sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study
      • Be prepared to explain the program in which you will participate at the University of South Alabama, the reasons you want to participate, and any information that helps to establish your non-immigrant intent since the F-1 visa is for non-immigrant status
      • Any additional information listed on the Consulate's website
      • F-1 students may arrive to the United States 30 days before the program start date listed on the I-20

Additional Helpful Website

Department of State

▼   Applying for H-1B Visa

Applying for an H-1B Visa

NOTE: Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement. Canadian citizens should present themselves at a Port of Entry for admission to the U.S. in H-1B status.

If you are coming to the University of South Alabama from abroad, you will need to apply for an H-1B visa to enter the US. To do so, you will need to make an appointment with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. For more information on the required documents, please refer to the website of the US Embassy where you intend to apply. The exact visa application procedures and timelines vary from country to country and even from Consulate to Consulate. Please review the visa application instructions that are given on the US Embassy or Consulate website. For a list of all consulates and embassies, please visit www.usembassy.gov

Please note that you may be selected for “administrative processing,” more commonly called a “background check,” by the Consular official when you apply for your visa. Background checks can be imposed for a variety of reasons, including your personal background or the scientific or technical field in which you work. The government issues a new Technology Alert List (TAL) every year, which lists professions identified by the U.S. State Department as being a higher risk to national security. Working in a field included in this list does not necessarily mean that your visa application will be delayed, but you should be prepared for the possibility. The TAL is a classified document and not available to the public. Some fields on the TAL include nuclear technology, chemical, biotechnology, and biomedical engineering, advanced computer/ microelectronic technology, materials technology, and information technology, robotics, and urban planning.

Below is a list of documents generally required when applying for an H-1B visa:

  • Passport - It is strongly recommended that your passport is valid for the whole period covered by your H-1B Approval plus an additional 6 months.
  • DS-160 Confirmation Page - Form DS-160, a web-based non-immigrant application, required at all U.S. posts. 
  • Photograph - Uploaded with your DS-160. 
  • Application Fee - Each applicant must pay a nonrefundable application fee. There may be additional reciprocity fees for certain countries. Remember to take a copy of each fee receipt with you to your visa appointment!
  • Original H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797)
  • Copy of your entire H-1B Petition - A copy will be sent to you with the I-797
  • Form I-797 Approval Notice for Waiver of 2-year foreign residency requirement – if you were subject to the 2-year requirement. Eligibility of H-1B visa requires presentation of actual waiver from USCIS, not the recommendation letter from the U.S. Dept. of State.
  • Additional documents: Your CV, a list of your publications, and an itinerary or general statement about your plans in the U.S. Please refer to the website of the consulate where you intend to apply for a complete overview of additional documents

You can find out the typical wait times for scheduling an appointment and processing a visa at your local U.S. Embassy.  Choose the city you will be visiting then click “Go”.

I-94 Arrival/ Departure Record
The I-94 is the Arrival / Departure Record, in either paper or electronic format and serves as an official record of where and when non-U.S. citizens entered the country. It also gives the classification and the date by which the visitor may stay. Most Arrival/Departure records are electronically created and must be printed by the foreign visitor after arrival. Those entering by land are still provided a paper form and generally the CBP Officer attaches it to the visitor's passport. It is important to verify that your I-94 information is correct and to print out this record after your arrival. You can print your I-94 here.

▼   Applying for J-1 Visa: Exchange Students and Scholars

Upon receiving your immigration documents packet, please verify that your name, date of birth, city/country of birth and citizenship as listed on your DS-2019 match what is listed in your passport. Contact the Office of Immigration and International Admissions if changes are needed on your DS-2019.

SEVIS I-901 Fee Requirement
To be eligible for a J-1 Exchange Visitor visa, incoming exchange visitors must pay a SEVIS fee to activate the DS-2019. This U.S. Government required fee supports the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a computerized system that maintains and manages data about foreign scholars and students during their stay in the United States. 

The fee can be paid to the Department of Homeland Security by mail, online, or Western Union Quick Pay.

To pay online:

  • Complete the Form I-901. Be sure to list your name exactly as it appears on your DS-2019 form and your date of birth in month/day/year format.
  • Supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard, or American Express information. Debit cards with the visa or MasterCard logo are also accepted.
  • Print a copy of the online receipt. A copy of the I-901 fee payment receipt will be required at your visa appointment.

To pay the SEVIS fee by mail or Western Union Quick Pay, see instructions here.

Applying for the J-1 visa

  • Visit the website of the U.S. Embassy/Consulate you will apply for instructions on how to schedule an interview. If you are an exchange student, be sure to mention that you are applying for a J-1 student visa as these applications are given priority for scheduling.
  • Complete the DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application.
  • Pay the visa application fee by following instructions on your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.
  • Prepare and bring to your visa interview:
      • Passport valid for at least six months into the future
      • Form DS-2019
      • Completed visa application
      • 2×2 photograph in the prescribed format
      • Receipts for payment of the SEVIS I-901 fee and visa application fee
      • Financial evidence to show there are sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study
      • Be prepared to explain the program in which you will participate at the University of South Alabama, the reasons you want to participate, and any information that helps to establish your non-immigrant intent since the J-1 visa is for non-immigrant status
      • Any additional information listed on the Consulate’s website
      • J-1 Students and Scholars may arrive to the United States 30 days before the program start date listed on the DS-2019

I-94 Arrival/ Departure Record
The I-94 is the Arrival / Departure Record, in either paper or electronic format and serves as an official record of where and when non-U.S. citizens entered the country. It also gives the classification and the date by which the visitor may stay. Most Arrival/Departure records are electronically created and must be printed by the foreign visitor after arrival. Those entering by land are still provided a paper form and generally the CBP Officer attaches it to the visitor's passport. It is important to verify that your I-94 information is correct and to print out this record after your arrival. You can print your I-94 here.

212(e) Two-year Home Country Physical Residency Requirement
The 2-year home residency requirement or 212(e) applies only to some J-1 and J-2 exchange visitors, not to all J visa holders.  If you are subject to the 212(e), it should be noted on your J visa stamp in your passport and/or at the bottom of your DS-2019.

If you are subject to the 212(e) requirement, this means that you are required to return to your “home” country and be physically present in your home country for two years after completing your J-1 Program.  It is possible to seek a waiver of the requirement in limited circumstances detailed below.

Restrictions Until 212(e) Requirement or J-1 Waiver is met:

  • One cannot apply for any immigrant status such as H, L, or K Visa or Permanent Residency.
  • One cannot change status from within the US from a J-Visa to any other non-immigrant visa category. Anyone changing status to another non-immigrant visa category would have to do so outside of the United States at a U.S. Embassy.

Options While Subject to 212(e):

  • One can apply at a US Embassy or Consulate to return to the US on a another non-immigrant visa, such as B-1/B-2 visitor, F-1 student, etc.
  • One can travel freely to other countries other than your home country.

212(e) Waiver Information
There are five different bases upon which a J-1 can obtain a waiver of 212(e), the most common of which is the “statement of no objection from home country.” The U.S. Department of State has information about the application process. It is essential that a J-1 visa holder talk to both the Immigration Coordinator and his or her department before applying for a waiver of 212(e).

Please note: You should not apply for the 212(e) Waiver unless you have been guaranteed sponsorship for a change of status to another legal category, such as H-1B, L, or Permanent Residency. IE recommends that you wait until the final year of your J-1 eligibility to file the 212(e) waiver. OIIA requires university-approved legal counsel to petition for this waiver on your behalf. Contact the Immigration Coordinator for more details.

Once the recommendation letter to waive the 212(e) is received from the State Department, J status cannot be extended.  After the waiver has been recommended, the J-1 Exchange Visitor is limited to the end-date that is listed on the most recent DS-2019.

A waiver of 212(e) makes a J-1 eligible to change status to H-1B or PR (among other statuses), but it does not guarantee that the J-1 will be sponsored for H-1B or PR.

12-month and 24-month Bars
Time spent in the United States in any J status (including J-2 status) during the 12-month period preceding a prospective professor or research scholar's program begin date may affect their eligibility for participation as a Professor or Research Scholar.

  • 12-month bar – The 12-month bar prevents someone from becoming a J-1 Professor/ Research Scholar for 12 months following any previous J participation in the J categories of student, specialist, trainee, physician, visitor, intern, counselor, au pair, or summer travel/work (including J-2 dependents of those in these categories).
  • 24-month bar for repeat participation as a J-1 Professor/Research Scholar – The 24-month bar requires that there be a period of at least 24 months between each stay as a J-1 Professor or J-1 Research Scholar. The 24-month bar is not the same as the 212(e) Rule, also known as the two-year home residency requirement.

The general exceptions to the 12- and 24-month bar rules are:

  • The exchange visitor is already in J-1 status and is transferring to the new sponsor’s program as defined in 22CFR514.42.
  • The participant’s previous J-program in any category other than Professor/Research Scholar was less than six months.
  • If the previous stay was as a J-1 Short-term Scholar.

Note: The 12/24-month bars affect all persons in J status. A spouse or child who holds J-2 status is not eligible to return as a J-1 Scholar/Professor until the requirements of the bar are fulfilled.

Additional Helpful Sites:
U.S. Department of State

Study in the States

Education USA

▼   Applying TN Status

 For applicants within the United States

Travel within the United States for any international student or scholar on a non-immigrant visa does not require any special documentation, letters, or any signatures from Capstone International Services. However, U.S. and Alabama state law require that anyone on a non-immigrant visa be able to present proof of their legal status within the United States at any time. It is recommended that for travel outside of Tuscaloosa, you take your passport and your accompanying documentation (i.e. TN Approval Notice or I-94 Card for TN). Also, it is recommended that you keep photocopies of your main passport page, visa page, I-94 Card, and any other visa documentation with you at all times even when not traveling.

For applicants who are outside of the United States

To be able to travel outside of and return to the United States in TN status, you will need to carry documentation of your TN status with the institution.  In general, the documentation of your TN status would be your appointment letter and proof of your TN qualifications.  If you applied for a TN from within the US (via an I-129 filed by the University of South Alabama), the documentation of your status with the University of South Alabama will include the original approval notice for your TN as well as copies of all TN application materials and your appointment letter for your current position at USA.

Additionally, TNs seeking to reenter the United States must have a valid passport proving Canadian or Mexican citizenship.  Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after the date you intend to return to the United States.  If your passport is expiring, you should make plans to renew or extend your passport before your travel.

For Mexican Citizens, with the exception of visits to Canada or Mexico that last less than 30-days [22 C.F.R. § 41.112(d); 8 C.F.R. § 214.1 (b) (1)], you will also need to have a valid TN visa stamp in your passport to be able to return to the United States. The TN Visa Stamp cannot be obtained within the United States. Visa appointments must be made with a US Consulate or Embassy outside of the United States to obtain or renew the TN Visa.

Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa stamp requirement in general, meaning that they do not have to get a TN (or TD-dependent) Visa stamp at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.

It is recommended that faculty and staff in TN status carry their most recent USA appointment letter whenever traveling internationally.

Visa Requirements for Transit through and Travel to Other Countries
Traveling through/to another country may involve obtaining a transit/entry visa to that country. It is best to check the consulate website of the country you wish to visit to get the current visa procedures. Do not assume that you will be allowed to transit through another country without a visa prior to your departure. Failure to obtain necessary transit/entry visas may result in being denied entry onto your flight. 

I-94 Arrival/ Departure Record
The I-94 is the Arrival / Departure Record, in either paper or electronic format and serves as an official record of where and when non-U.S. citizens entered the country. It also gives the classification and the date by which the visitor may stay. Most Arrival/Departure records are electronically created and must be printed by the foreign visitor after arrival. Those entering by land are still provided a paper form and generally the CBP Officer attaches it to the visitor's passport. It is important to verify that your I-94 information is correct and to print out this record after your arrival. You can print your I-94 here.

▼   Arrival to the U.S. for J-1 Exchange Students and ELC F-1 Students
 

Entering the United States
Traveling is essential for all international students whether you are a newly admitted international student who is traveling to the U.S. for the first time or a current international student who would like to travel abroad for a short visit. We are here to help you become familiar with important immigration regulations that pertain to your particular case.

Arrival to the United States
F-1 and J-1 students may arrive to the United States 30 days before the program start date listed on the Form I-20.

Always carry your documents with you on the plane! Do not store your passport, I-20/DS-2019, or other immigration documents in your baggage or luggage. If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will be unable to present the documents at your port of entry. As a result, you may not be able to enter the United States.

You should hand carry the following documentation in a folder or envelope:

  • Your passport, valid for at least six months into the future
  • SEVIS Form I-20 or Form DS-2019
  • Evidence of financial resource(s)
  • Letter of admission from the University of South Alabama
  • Paper receipt of the SEVIS I-901 fee 
  • Name and contact information for your sponsoring organization, including a 24-hour emergency contact number.

As You Arrive at the Port of Entry
Proceed to the terminal area for arriving passengers. Have the following documents available for presentation:

  • Your passport
  • Your I-20 (F-1 Students) or DS-2019 (J-1 Students)
  • Customs Declaration Form (CF-6059B).
  • All visitors entering the United States must state their reason for wishing to enter the country. You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. It is important for J-1 students to tell the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer that they will be an exchange visitor. F-1 students must tell the Customs and Border Protection Officer that they will be a student. Be prepared to include the name and address of the school program where you will enroll/participate.

Once your inspection is successfully completed, the inspecting officer will stamp your passport with date and port of entry information. The officer will also write the classification being given which should be F1 or J-1 and valid until D/S meaning duration of status.

Before Leaving the Inspections Area
Make sure you have all of your documentation, including the following:

  • Passport
  • I-20 (F-1 Students) or DS-2019 (J-1 Students)
  • All supporting documents (letters, proof of finances, etc.)
  • Secondary Inspections Requirements

If the CBP officer at the port of entry cannot initially verify your information or you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as "secondary inspection." Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

It is important to answer all questions the CBP officer asks. Remember to remain calm. Secondary inspection is a normal process.

The CBP officer will first attempt to verify the status of F-1 or J-1 visa holders by using the Student and Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS). In the event that the CBP officer needs to verify your admission/participation with your sponsoring school or program, it is strongly recommended that you have the name and telephone number of your foreign student advisor available. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evenings, weekends, holidays), you should also have the emergency phone number.

J-1 Exchange Student Daytime Contact:
Office of International Education
(251) 460-7104

F-1 Student Daytime Contact:
English Language Center
(251) 460-7185

After hours, emergency contact:
University Police Department
(251) 460-6312

Failure to comply with U.S. government entry-exit procedures may result in your being denied entry to the United States. Under certain circumstances, the CBP officer may issue a "Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor" Form (I-515A), which authorizes temporary admission into the United States. If you are admitted with the Form I-515A, you must work with the Immigration Coordinator to submit proper documentation without delay.

I-94 Arrival/ Departure Record
The I-94 is the Arrival / Departure Record, in either paper or electronic format and serves as an official record of where and when non-U.S. citizens entered the country. It also gives the classification and the date by which the visitor may stay. Most Arrival/Departure records are electronically created and must be printed by the foreign visitor after arrival. Those entering by land are still provided a paper form and generally the CBP Officer attaches it to the visitor's passport. It is important to verify that your I-94 information is correct and to print out this record after your arrival. You can print your I-94 here.