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All applicants for a U.S. visa stamp must apply through a U.S. consulate or embassy.  It is not possible to apply for a visa stamp in the United States.  Appearing for a personal interview is also required.

Note: Canadian citizens are not required to apply for a visa stamp.

The length of the visa, as well as the number of entries allowed, is determined by the U.S. consular officer and by agreements between the U.S. and your country of citizenship. The expiration date on your visa stamp may not match the end date of your degree program and will not cover the full length of study. You may stay beyond the expiration date of a visa stamp as long as the visa document (Form I-20, Form DS-2019, or Form I-797) remains valid.  

If your visa stamp has expired, you will need to apply for a new visa stamp on your next visit outside the U.S. through the same process as your initial visa application, at a U.S. embassy. It is not possible to renew a visa in the United States. Visas are issued only by a U.S. consular officer in a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. 

Applying for a new visa stamp usually requires several weeks so you must plan your travel accordingly. If you are from one of the countries now requiring additional name check/security screening or in a high technology or technologically sensitive field, you may be subject to processing delays of 4-12 weeks.  Please check with the  Visa & Immigration Services Administration (VISA) office.

Applying for a visa in a third country

It is possible for most international visitors to apply for a new visa in a country that is not their home country. Be sure to follow all U.S. embassy guidelines for applying. Additional wait time is possible if security checks are needed

If you plan to visit Canada or Mexico to apply for a U.S. visa, it is particularly important that you check the website of the U.S. consulate to which you will submit your application. You will find instructions about how to make the visa appointment.

If you are from one of the countries now requiring additional name check/security screening or in a high technology or technologically sensitive field, you will want to think carefully about applying for a U.S. visa in a third country. 

Before you begin the visa stamp application process, you must have the following documents specific to your immigration status:

J-1 Required Documents for Visa Stamp

Before you begin the visa application process you must have the following documents:

  • Form DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status
    Your DS-2019 is required when applying for a J-1 scholar visa at an American Embassy or Consulate and for entry into the United States. This DS-2019 has been produced by Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and is an acknowledgement that your record is in the SEVIS system. The form includes your SEVIS ID number, which is the number in the upper right hand corner above the bar code (usually starts with an N). Each dependent in J-2 status are issued their individual DS-2019 as well. 

  • SEVIS Fee Receipt
    All new scholars coming in J-1 status must pay a $180 SEVIS fee prior to applying for your visa. A new fee payment is not required for visa renewals. Simply having the original payment receipt notice is sufficient.

To apply for a U.S. visa:

You will need to present the following documents at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest to you:

  • Your Form DS-2019
  • The SEVIS Fee receipt
  • A copy of your financial support documents (evidence that you have sufficient funds to meet the expenses of living in the U.S.). These may include a bank statement, employment offer letter, etc.
  • A valid passport
  • Passport-size photographs
  • Completed visa applications forms (Visa application forms are available on individual consular Web sites.)
  • An application fee and an interview will also be required.  You must apply for your visa well in advance of your travel, as it can, in some instances take several weeks, and occasionally longer, to obtain the scholar visa.  Visit the  US Department of State web site to view current visa wait times.

Important Information

  • The U.S. Department of State has instructed U.S. consulates that they may issue a J-1 visa no more than 120 days in advance of the program start date.  However, an application for a J-1 visa can be submitted more than 120 days in advance of the DS-2019 start date in order to accommodate long processing times. Again check the Web site of the consulate where you will apply for a visa for detailed instructions
  • In addition, you may enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the starting date noted on the DS-2019 Form. If you try to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before the start date on your DS-2019, you may not be permitted to enter the U.S.
  • Additional information including guide on the visa interview process is available in our   Applying for J-1 Visa Stamp instructions
  • There have been (and continue to be) changes in the visa application process and these changes are usually reflected on the consular Web sites.

H-1B Required Documents for Visa Stamp

Cedars-Sinai employees sponsored on an H-1B Temporary Worker status seeking entry into the USA must present a valid H-1B visa stamp at a US port of entry (except Canadian citizens).  Accompanying dependents are required to apply for an H-4 visa stamp.  All visa applicants also require a face-to-face interview at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside the U.S., unless otherwise indicated by the consulate. The visa application process can take up to 4-8 weeks, so plan accordingly.

Visit the US State Department. web site for current visa wait times.  

Additional information including guide on the visa interview process is available on the Travel and Re-entry document.

F-1 OPT Required Documents for Visa Stamp

Applying for a new F-1 visa while on OPT is usually discouraged as it is difficult to prove your non-immigrant intent after you have completed your studies.  Please contact your F-1 sponsoring institution for assistance with the visa renewal process.

For Canadian Citizens

Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter the U.S but you must be sure to obtain an I-94 (admission card) from the U.S. immigration official at your point of entry to the U.S.. If you enter through a land border, you will be charged a small fee (it is currently under $10) to process the I-94 card.

As U.S. immigration inspectors are accustomed to admitting Canadian citizens as visitors, not workers or scholars, it is your responsibility to make sure you are granted the correct immigration status when you are entering the U.S.  If you are admitted as a visitor (or tourist) without receiving an I-94 entry card noting your immigration status (e.g., F-1, J-1, H-1B, TN, etc.), you will have return to Canada and enter a second time.

Visa Delays

While all individuals applying for a U.S. visa are screened before the issuance of a visa, certain individuals may be subject to further screening or clearance. This determination is made at the initial interview so it is critical that you have documentation about the nature of your research or activity. While the majority of visas are issued within a matter of days, there are instances where the issuance of the visa will be delayed until the consulate obtains clearances through the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Issues that may trigger a security clearance and/or cause a delay in the visa issuance process include:

  • Inconsistent spelling of your name

  • Your name is similar to others in the Consular Lookout system requiring further investigation

  • Nature of research/study may be considered a "sensitive technology" requiring a security clearance (Visa Mantis)

  • If you are from North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iran and Libya you will likely be subject to an additional security clearance process that can take several months


Security Advisory Opinion
If a security advisory opinion is requested by the Consulate your visa will not be issued until the clearance is received. On average this takes about 30 days, but can take longer. There is no way to expedite this process nor find out the status of the case.

Researchers working in science and technology fields should check with the VISA office before traveling. Remember these rules apply if you are applying for a visa in your home country or in a third country, so make your plans accordingly. You should also discuss your travel plans with your faculty supervisor or adviser as he or she needs to be aware of the possibility that you may get "stuck." If your clearance has been pending for more than 4 weeks, please contact  the VISA office.