This article outlines the steps that all prospective students must follow in order to successfully enter into the U.S. to begin their studies. Language International recommends that all prospective students apply for an F-1 student visa. In support of an individual’s application for an F-1 visa, all of our language schools are authorized to issue a Form I-20 A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Students.

Step 1: Student applies to Language International

Once you have registered online, the following application materials must be emailed to your student advisor or faxed to Language International at +1 (617) 849-5554.
  • Copy of your passport: Please note, your passport must be valid 6 months after your course end date.
  • Proof of payment: If you are paying by bank transfer, please send us a copy of your bank transfer receipt. If you are paying by credit card, we need to wait for a credit card authorization before proceeding to the next step.

Step 2: Student obtains a Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility

Once all items above are submitted to Language International, and it is confirmed that the student is eligible for I-20 enrollment, a Designated School Official (DSO) at your language school will issue the initial attendance I-20 through SEVIS. The I-20 will be mailed to the student’s home address.

Step 3: Student pays the $200 SEVIS I-901 fee

The Department of Homeland Security has implemented a $200 SEVIS I-901 Fee for any I-20 issued. Please be advised that Language International is not involved in the administration of this fee. It is the student’s responsibility to make payment for this fee directly to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Please note, the SEVIS Fee can only be paid by credit card, not by check or bank transfer. For more information regarding this fee or if you would like to make payment, please go to the U.S. Immigration website. Please note, when making payment, remember to print a receipt of the transaction since a receipt will be needed at the Embassy/Consulate during the visa interview in Step 4 below.

Step 4: Student applies for an F-1 visa at the US Embassy/Consulate

Once the student receives the I-20, he/she will need to visit the US Embassy/Consulate to obtain the F-1 visa. For more specific information regarding the appropriate documentation and procedures required for visa issuance, please contact the Embassy/ Consulate directly, as regulations vary per country. Please note, issuance of the visa is not guaranteed, even when an I-20 has been issued by Language International. Approval to issue the visa is made solely by the U.S. government at the Embassy/Consulate.

Step 5: Student enters the US

Upon arrival to the U.S., the student will need to be approved entry into the U.S. through the Port of Entry. To be approved, the student must possess a valid F-1 visa, Form I-20 and passport. All documents must not be expired and the name of the school on the visa must match the name of the school on the Form I-20. If the student lacks any of these materials, he/she may be detained and/or denied entry. If approved entry, the student will be given the Arrival/Departure document, also called the Form I-94. Please note, students who receive a Form I-515A at the Port of Entry must inform their DSO immediately upon arrival at the center.

Step 6: Student begins study in the US

After successful entry through the Port of Entry, the student must report to the center that issued the I-20 on or before the start date listed on the I-20. At this time, the student must speak with the DSO and attend orientation, in order to obtain important information and register for classes. A failure to report on the start date listed on the I-20 will result in termination of the student’s SEVIS record, thereby placing the student out of legal status. NOTE: F-1 students are not permitted to postpone their start date once they have entered the U.S. Postponements must be processed before traveling to the U.S. since an updated I-20 will be mailed to the student

Additional US visa information

Below we outline more information about how to obtain an F-1 student visa. F-1 is the visa class that you need to apply if your primary purpose for entering the US is to study. If you have questions that this document does not answer, please visit the US Department of State website.

Am I responsible for obtaining a US visa in order to study at a language school in the US?

Yes. While Language International is happy to advise on and support your application process, you must make the application and provide all required documentation yourself.

Part 1: Obtaining an I-20

What is an I-20?

The I-20 is the document that language schools issue to students who are going to study with them full-time. It enables students to apply for a student visa at their local American Embassy.

What do I need in order to obtain an I-20?

We need to receive a copy of your passport, a filled-out application form, and full payment of your program in order to obtain an I-20.

How much time does it take to get the I-20?

From the moment we receive your passport, application form, and full payment, it takes up to 2 weeks for students to receive their I-20 via courier or express mail. Please keep this in mind if you want to apply for your visa as soon as possible, or you have already made your visa appointment.

What is the application deadline?

All English language schools in the US have rolling admissions, which means there are no specific deadlines. However, you should allow at least 2 weeks for Language International and the school to process your application and to issue your I-20. The process may take longer if you originally submit an incomplete application. Once you receive your I-20 you should allow 2 months to receive your F-1 visa.

Why is an I-20 important?

The I-20, also called a “Certificate of Eligibility", confirms that a non-immigrant has been admitted to a U.S. school that is approved by the U.S. government to enroll non-immigrants. The I-20 is issued by the Designated School Official (DSO) at the school the student intends to study at and is required by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate to obtain F-1 visa status. In addition, F-1 students must maintain a valid I-20 by studying full-time to remain legally in the U.S. after their start date, and communicate regularly with their DSO to ensure they maintain legal status while in the U.S.

For how long will my I-20 be valid?

The length of time printed on your I-20 is usually pre-determined by the number of weeks you will be studying with the school, except for the school Kaplan Aspect where the length of time is pre-determined by the course you are taking.

If you end your course before your I-20 expiration date and do not re-enroll (as in most cases), your DSO will shorten your I-20 to reflect your early end date. If you want to stay for the full length of your I-20, you will have to pay for an extension/repeat of your course and continue to maintain full-time studies during the extension. After your last day of study you will be permitted a grace period of 60 calendar days to transfer to another school or depart the U.S.

Can my I-20 be extended if I need more time to study?

If you believe you need to continue studies after your I-20 end date, you can speak to your DSO to see if you qualify for an extension. However, I-20 extensions are not common and require you to meet very specific criteria. Given this, it is important that you pace yourself during your studies to ensure you meet your academic goals in a timely manner and hence complete your studies with your school by the end date listed on your I-20. Please note that all requests for I-20 extensions must be made to your DSO before your last day of study. I-20 extensions will not be granted if requested after your last day of study. There are no exceptions to this policy.

How will I receive my I-20?

You have a choice as to how you would like to receive your I-20: by regular mail or by courier. We strongly recommend using an express courier service for international shipments because this way the package can be traced. In general, the school will mail your I-20 by regular mail, in which case you will not be charged a mailing fee. If you elect to have your I-20 mailed by an express mail service, you will be charged a mailing fee. The average mailing fee is USD 50, but can vary depending on your school and your country of residence. Please note, if you apply four (4) weeks or fewer before your start date, your I-20 will be mailed by express mail service regardless of whether or not you request the service, and you will be charged an express mailing fee.

Can I change my start date after receiving my I-20?

You can change your start date anytime before entering the U.S. Simply contact your student advisor at Language International to confirm your new start date as soon as you know about the change. At that time, we will mail you a revised I-20 to show your new study dates. Failure to notify Language International about these changes may cause problems for you at the Port of Entry and/or U.S Embassy. Once you enter the U.S., you cannot postpone your start date. There are no exceptions to this policy. However, if you want to begin before your start date, this is acceptable. Simply contact your student advisor and let them know you want to start early.

Can I change schools or locations after receiving my I-20?

If you have not received your F-1 visa, you can change schools or locations at any time. Simply contact Language International to confirm the new school or location and a new I-20 will be mailed to you from the new school or location. Your original I-20 will be cancelled, so you should not use it at the U.S. Embassy or Port of Entry. If your visa has been issued, you can change schools or locations, but you may need to get a new visa before entering the U.S. American law requires the name of the school on your I-20 to match the name of the school on your visa for successful entry to the U.S. If the names do not match because you changed schools or locations after getting your visa, you may be denied entry to the U.S. Check with your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate to see if a new visa is required before travelling to the U.S.

Part 2: Obtaining an F-1 (student) visa

What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 visa is an immigration document that permits a foreign citizen to come to the US to study full-time for a temporary period of time.

Does Language International issue F-1 visas?

No. All visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad.

How do I get an F-1 visa?

You must first apply to Language International. If eligible for admission, Language International will issue an “Initial Attendance" Form I-20. Upon receipt of Form I-20, you will need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee online at The SEVIS I-901 fee supports the system that tracks students and ensures they maintain their visa status while in the U.S. After paying the fee, you will then need to visit the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in your home country to get an F-1 visa.

Which Embassy do I visit?

In general, you are expected to visit the U.S. Embassy/Consulate in the country for which you hold citizenship (i.e. the country that issued your passport). If your country does not have a U.S. Embassy/Consulate or if you are currently located in a different country to the one that issues your passport, you should contact the closest U.S. Embassy to see if they can accept your application for an F-1 visa. To learn more about your local U.S. Embassy, visit US Department of State website.

What documents must I present to get an F-1 visa?

For a list of items required by the U.S. Embassy/Consulate for an F-1 visa, visit the website for your local U.S. Embassy at US Department of State website.

How long does it take to get a visa?

The average wait time varies from country to country. See website to confirm how long it takes at your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

For how long will my visa be valid?

Language International does not issue your visa and therefore cannot confirm for how long it will be valid. Instead, you should confirm this information with your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate.

Can Language International help me complete the government’s application for a visa?

No. Students are solely responsible for completing all government documents.

What is the likelihood that I will be approved an F-1 visa?

Language International does not issue visas and therefore cannot confirm the likelihood of approval. However, you should note that visa issuance is not guaranteed.

What happens if I am denied a visa?

If denied your visa, you should ask the Consular Officer the reason for denial before you leave the Embassy. You have the right to request the denial in writing as well. If the reason for denial was caused by a mistake on your I-20, the school can revise your I-20 and write a support letter to help you get your visa during a second interview. If no reason or a different reason is stated, Language International or the school will likely be unable to assist you further. In most cases, the government’s decision is final and there is little Language International or the school can do to change their decision.

Will I get a refund if my visa is denied?

You will be refunded in full minus the courier fee, application fee, bank fee, health insurance fee, and any currency exchange differences. Please provide the letter of visa denial from the Embassy.

Other requirements: Evidence of financial circumstances

Does Language International require details of my financial circumstances to support my application?

Yes. Most schools require a bank statement/letter showing that you and/or your sponsor have enough funds to cover your cost of study and living expenses. In addition, it must show that all funds are readily available without penalty for withdrawal. For this reason, statements from current and/or savings accounts are best. Income statements, property deeds and other similar forms of investments are typically not acceptable.

Can I submit multiple bank statements if I do not have enough funds in one account?

Yes. You can show funds through multiple accounts and/or multiple sponsors, if necessary.

Do I have to show a bank statement even if I have paid?

Depending on the school, if the amount paid to Language International is equal to or greater than the cost of study as indicated on your I-20, you may not be required to submit a bank statement/letter. If the amount paid is less than the cost of study, you will be required to submit a bank statement.

How much money do I need to show on my bank statement?

It is the cost of study (tuition, fees, accommodation) plus at least USD 125 a week to cover living expenses. Please note, we require all of our students to pay in full before the start date.

Part 3: Entry into the USA

When can I enter the U.S.?

You have up to 30 days before the start date listed on your I-20 to enter the U.S.

Can I enter the U.S. after my I-20 start date?

If you travel to the U.S. after your I-20 start date, you will probably face problems at the Port of Entry, since it appears you failed to meet the requirement of reporting to the Language International centre by your start date. To prevent problems at the Port of Entry, you should contact Language International and ask that we postpone your start date if you are unable to arrive before this date. At that time, the school will mail you a revised I-20 with a postponed start date.

What documents will I need to show at the Port of Entry?

In general, you must show the Port of Entry Officer the following documents. If these documents are missing or incomplete, you may be detained, questioned or denied entry altogether.
  • A valid (non-expired) passport
  • A valid (non-expired) F-1 visa with the name of the school you will be attending printed at the bottom
  • All three pages of your I-20 issued by the school you will be attending (center name should match the name of the school listed on your visa.)

What happens at the Port of Entry?

Please visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website and review the document called “What a Student Can Expect." This document discusses what you will need to do at the Port of Entry. It is available in English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

What is an I-94 and why is it important?

The I-94, also called the “Arrival/Departure Document", is a small white piece of paper that you will receive when you enter the U.S. It will be attached to your passport/visa at the Port of Entry and it confirms successful entry into the U.S. The Port of Entry Officer will hand-write an expiration date on the I-94, which confirms how long you can legally stay in the U.S. Before leaving the Port of Entry, make sure your I-94 says “Duration of Status" or “D/S." All F-1 visa holders should get “D/S on their I-94." This means you are able to stay in the U.S. as long as you are maintaining valid F-1 status by studying full-time at a Department of Homeland Security approved school. (Please note, you can only study as long as permitted by the expiration of your I-20.) If your I-94 shows a different expiration date, you should question the Officer, since you may face problems after entry if you do not get “D/S."

What is Form I-515A and what do I need to do with it if I am given one at the Port of Entry?

Form I-515A is a government form given to some travelers who are missing documentation required for entry to the U.S. If you are given this form by a Port of Entry Officer, you must ask what documentation you are missing. Once confirmed, you will be required to submit that documentation to the government within 30 days after entry. If you do not meet this deadline, you will fall out of legal status and will have to leave the U.S. immediately. If you are given this form, please speak to the DSO at you’re your school immediately after entry. Your school can assist you in completing the documentation.

When do I need to start my studies?

You are required to arrive at the school and begin full-time studies on or before the start date listed on your I-20. If you do not meet this requirement, your I-20 will be terminated, you will fall out of legal status and will have to leave the U.S. immediately. If you are outside the U.S. and unable to travel to the U.S before your start date contact Language International and we will update your I-20 by postponing the start date. If you have already entered the U.S. you will not be allowed to postpone your start date. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Visa terms questions

How soon can I start my course?

If you are applying for a visa you need to allow 2 months before your desired start date of your course in the USA to ensure that your visa is in place and your accommodation can be arranged.

I didn't write a start date on my application because I want to start as soon as I get approved for a student visa. Is that acceptable?

We need to have a start date in order to process an application. Give yourself enough time for your visa to be processed and to secure accommodation.

I want to travel with my family. Can I do that?

Yes, but we will need to indicate on your I-20 that you are travelling with dependents. Please provide us with their full names (as written on passport), date of birth and relationship to you.

What are the study requirements at the school?

As an F-1 student, you will be required to study at the school that issued your I-20 for at least 18 hours per week. You will learn more about the school’s attendance requirements on your first day of class.

What happens if I do not meet the school’s full-time study requirements?

If you do not meet the school’s full-time study requirements, you risk falling out of legal status with the following consequences:
  • Your I-20 will be terminated.
  • You will no longer be eligible to study at the school.
  • You will not be eligible for a refund.
  • You will be required to leave the U.S. immediately after termination of your I-20.

Can I work during my studies at Language International?

As an F-1 student, your primary purpose for staying in the U.S. must be full-time study, so that you can achieve your academic and/or career goals. Therefore, the government restricts your ability to work to the following situations only:
  • On-Campus, Part-Time Employment: You may work at the school that issued your I-20 for up to 20 hours per week. This is an option only if there is a position available and you are the most qualified candidate for that position. Please note, there are a limited number of these positions at most schools.
  • Off-Campus Employment Due to Financial Hardship: If you have studied for at least nine (9) months and can demonstrate in writing that you are experiencing a financial hardship that arose after admission to the school, you may qualify for this type of employment. This type of employment requires DSO and government approval before you can begin work. Please note, if you are found to be working without government approval and/or in a position not listed here, your employment will be considered unauthorized. This will result in immediate termination of your I-20 in the SEVIS student tracking system. If this occurs, you will no longer be eligible to study with Language International; you will not receive a refund and you must leave the U.S. immediately.

Can I participate in practical training or OPT/CPT while at the school?

No. You are not eligible for practical training (OPT/CPT) under any circumstance. There are no exceptions to this rule.

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