Q: How do I know if I am an international student?
A: You are considered an “international” or “non-immigrant” applicant if you need a visa to reside and study in the U.S. If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you are not considered an international applicant even if you currently reside outside of the U.S.
Q: What is a Visa?
A: A visa represents permission from the Department of State for the bearer to enter the U.S. in a particular visa category. Those who wish to come to the U.S. as students or scholars, and have been issued the Form SEVIS I-20 by an educational institution or sponsor, are eligible for the F-1 visa. Once a visa is issued, it appears in one page of the passport, is machine-readable, and may include a photo of the bearer. The visa has a period of validity that the bearer should be aware of, and indicates the number of times that it can be used, either “multiple” (M) or a limited number such as “1” or “2.” There are two categories of U.S. visas: immigrant and nonimmigrant. Immigrant visas are for people who intend to live permanently in the U.S. Nonimmigrant visas are for people with permanent residence outside the U.S. who wish to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis – tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work or study. More information on student visas can be found at: travel.state.gov
Q: How do I get a Visa and how early should I apply for one?
A: Since visa requirements and processing times are not the same in every country, you should contact the U.S. Embassy in your home country. This link will help you find the closest Embassy or Consulate to you. (if you do not reside in your home country at the moment, you can still apply for a U.S. visa at the nearest American Embassy or Consulate). FInd visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for all U.S. Embassies or Consulates.
You may apply for your F-1 student visa up to 120 days before your program start date.
Q: What is an I-20 Form?
A: The I-20 is a very important document. You must have a valid and active I-20 while you are in the U.S. as an F-1 student. This form allows you to apply for a visa, and to enter and re-enter the U.S. It also shows what, where and when you are studying and it must be current at all times. The College is required to report any changes you make to your study program, your name, or your address to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) system. The I-20 is one of your most important immigration documents while in the U.S., and is updated every semester.
Q: After Otis has received all my application documents, when will I receive my I-20 form?
A: Otis will DHL your I-20 form once we’re received all the required documents. If you have a current I-20, we will issue this after your SEVIS record is transferred to our institution.
Q: When should I arrive in Los Angeles?
A: You can enter no sooner than 30 days prior to the start of the term, and we recommend arriving no less than one week prior to the start of school, in order to take your placement exam and register for the start of classes.
Q: Can I throw away my I-20 from my former school?
A: No, don’t throw away any I-20s you have. It is important to keep all I-20s from every school you have attended as a permanent record of your immigration status in the U.S. You may be asked by USCIS to show your old I-20s, so please staple all I-20s together, and keep them with your passport.
Q: What happens if my F-1 visa expires while I am still studying in the U.S.?
A: The visa stamp in your passport is an “entry permit” only, so you need not be concerned if it expires once you have entered the U.S. However if you plan to travel out of the U.S. and re-enter, you will need to go to the U.S. Consulate (preferably in your home country) and apply for a new F-1 visa. You will need to provide proof of sufficient funding to cover your tuition and living expenses and a signed SEVIS I-20 showing that you have maintained your F-1status. An official transcript and proof of your close ties to your home country are also recommended. The U.S. Consulate is not obliged to issue you a new visa.