Coming to the U.S. for the first time requires the following steps:

Paying the SEVIS Fee

SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is a government database that administers exchange visitors’ status during their stay in the U.S. New J-1 exchange visitors entering the U.S. for the first time must pay a $220 SEVIS fee to the U.S. government to cover the operational costs of the SEVIS program. The fee must be paid at least 3 days prior to applying for a J-1 visa at a U.S. consulate (or, for Canadian citizens, 3 days prior to entering the U.S.).

You must present the fee receipt to the consular officer when applying for a visa, and to the immigration officer when entering the U.S. We suggest you staple the receipt to your DS-2019.

Overview of the Visa Process

A “visa” is a stamp placed on a page of your passport by a U.S. embassy or consulate that allows you to travel to the border of the U.S., where you ask an immigration officer for permission to enter the U.S. Please note that Canadian citizens are “visa-exempt” and do not need a J-1 visa stamp to enter the U.S. in J-1 status.

Applicants for visas are interviewed by a U.S. consular officer. During the interview, you must satisfy the officer that you will leave the U.S. at the conclusion of your visit. Schedule your interview appointment as early as possible, and know that consulates charge a visa application fee in addition to the SEVIS fee. If possible, apply for the visa at a consulate in your home country. The visa does not need to remain valid after you have used it to enter the U.S. Your DS-2019 and passport, however, must remain valid at all times.

  • To apply for the J-1 visa, present all DS-2019 forms issued to you, a receipt confirming payment of the SEVIS fee, evidence of funding, and passport to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
    • Anticipate delays due to security reviews.
    • The consular officer may return the DS-2019 to you in a sealed envelope. Do not open this envelope.
  • Applicants for J-2 dependent visas present to the consular officer their DS-2019s, passports, and evidence of family relationship (marriage certificate if spouse of the J-1, or birth certificate if child of the J-1).

Applying for Admission at a U.S. Port of Entry

Once your visa is approved, carry the following documents with you to the port of entry (usually the airport you land at in the U.S.)

  • Passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of your expected stay
  • J-1 (or J-2) visa stamp. (Canadian citizens are visa-exempt.)
  • Form DS-2019(s)
  • Receipt evidencing payment of the SEVIS fee
  • Documentation of the source and amount of your financial support
  • You must enter the U.S. within the 30-day period prior to the start date indicated in item 3 of the DS-2019. If unable to enter the U.S. before the start date, contact your sponsoring department to request a new DS-2019 and enter using the new form.

At the Port of Entry

Plan ahead and know what to expect. Here are some tips:

  • If you are beginning your exchange visitor program, arrange to enter the U.S. within 30 days prior to the start date at #3 on your DS-2019.
    • If you cannot enter the U.S. within those 30 days, contact your sponsoring department to request an amended DS-2019 and enter using the new form.
  • Always hand-carry your documents (you will not have access to your baggage until later) and be prepared to present them to an immigration officer at the airport. These documents will be returned to you.
  • Upon entry into the U.S., the officer will stamp your DS-2019 and passport and issue you an I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. If you are issued a paper I-94 card, you will be asked to write your U.S. address on it.
  • An immigration officer may ask why are you coming to the U.S. Tell the officer you will be an Exchange Visitor at the University of Washington. Answer all questions honestly and completely.
  • The officer may take your fingerprints and photograph.
  • If you do not have all required documentation, the officer cannot initially verify your information, and you may be directed to an interview area referred to as “secondary inspection.” We encourage patient cooperation with the immigration officer(s).
    • If the officer has questions about your affiliation with the UW, suggest that they contact ISO.