Obtaining a U.S. Visa

We are delighted that you are interested in pursuing graduate degrees in public administration, public policy or public affairs schools in the United States. We hope that you will be able to do so. Here is some information about student and exchange visitor (F-1 and J-1) visas that we hope you will find useful as you plan for your academic program.

Most international students who wish to study in the United States will need an F-1 (non-immigrant) student or J-1 exchange visitor visas. Here is a short description of the F-1 and J-1 visa types that involve graduate level study in public administration and policy:

F-1, or Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university. Learn More

J-1, or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for students who will be participating in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. Usually J-1 visa holders are funded and chosen by a sponsoring organization to participate in educational and cultural exchange programs. Learn More


Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor or Student Status

The primary documentation required for obtaining an exchange visitor or student visa is a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) generated form I-20 or DS-2019 issued by a respective US University or sponsoring organization. These forms are issued to students when your admission to an academic institution or your selection for an exchange program is officially communicated to you. The university or your sponsoring institution will also send you additional information about applying for the appropriate visa, as well as other guidance about beginning your academic program in the United States. (For more information about SEVIS, see below)

Nonimmigrant Visa Application

Exchange visitors or international students are also required to submit nonimmigrant visa application forms DS-156 and DS-157 completed and signed. The form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans and it is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age and for all applicants of age 16 and over in certain countries. Please, check with the embassy and consulate in your country to see if you need to submit this form.

You will also need to fill out and submit the form DS-158 to provide your contact information and work history.

Passport and Photos

In order to be able to apply for a visa you will also need to have a passport valid for travel to the United State with an expiration date six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States. You are also required to submit one photograph to apply for a visa.


The visa interview is a requirement for applicants from age 14 through 79. As a potential student or exchange visitor you need to arrange an appointment for this interview. You should also make sure you have all the documentation you will need when you go for the interview, including the visa-qualifying document (I-20 or DS-2019), financial support documents, proof of payment of the SEVIS and visa fees, and a completed visa application form. Note that embassies and consulates get unusually higher case load in June, July and August and therefore you should plan to allow yourself more time for setting an interview appointment.


You will need to pay the SEVIS fee and the visa processing fee to be able to file your visa application. If you are an exchange visitor chosen to participate in educational and cultural exchange programs sponsored by the U.S. Government, you may be eligible for exemption from the SEVIS and visa processing fees. Your sponsoring organization will notify you if these fees are waived for your program. Note that visa fees may vary from one country to another, so please visit the website of the U.S. embassy to find out the latest rate of fees required for visa applications in your country.

Application and Travel Time

Once you have all the documentation that is required, you may apply for the visa, even if you do not intend to begin your program of study for several months. It is best to apply earlier for the visa to make sure that there is ample time for visa processing. Please, note that even if you get the visa earlier, you can not travel to the U.S. more than 30 days before your academic program starts as shown on the Form DS-2019 or I-20. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate also can not issue a visa more than 120 days before the actual start of your program in the U.S.

More Information about Visa Application Process

To a larger extent the U.S. visa application process for students and Exchange Visitors is standard across countries around the world. However, some processes and requirements for the visa application can vary from country to country. Therefore, it is advised that you check details of the visa application process from the web site of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. If you have specific questions about visas that are not answered by the embassy website, please contact the Education Information Centers (see below for more information) nearest you for individual guidance.


The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database that maintains information on foreign students and exchange visitors before and during their stay in the United States. Learn more

In order to enroll international students, U.S. colleges and universities must be approved by the School Certification Branch of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Most U.S. institutions of higher education have received this approval. Check if the university or school has SEVP approval prior to applying to the university to avoid problems with the visa application. See the complete list of SEVP approved schools.

Education Information Centers

Education information centers are national or local organizations designed to provide professional advice and up-to-date information about higher education and study opportunities in the U.S. Most of the education information centers also hold information sessions and provide individualized advice about the visa application. Attending such workshops or getting individualized advice would be of tremendous assistance to your visa application process, which represents an essential element of your proposed study in thw U.S. These centers exist in almost all regions and countries of the world. See the full list of education information centers in your location.

Arriving and Studying in US

When you arrive in the U.S. you will receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). You should keep this form until your departure from the U.S. as it contains official records of your stay in U.S. Please, consult the web site of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website to obtain answers to questions you may have regarding your stay in U.S., traveling outside of the U.S., employment and etc.

After your arrival at your university or academic institution, you may consult and ask questions to the office responsible for assisting international students and scholars. This office may be called the Office of International Services, the Office of International Education, the International Programs Office, or some other similar name. Whatever the name, these offices are equipped with the capacity to facilitate your education in the U.S. and to answer your questions about regulations and student life in the U.S. Please, make sure that this office is one of your first stops upon your arrival in the U.S.

We are thrilled with your interest in graduate degree programs in public administration and public policy in the U.S. We hope that the information provided on this page will help you to complete the visa application process successfully and wish you good luck in your study plans.

For more information on obtaining visa and any other related issues please see Useful Links on the U.S. Visa.