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Student Visas and Documentation

Official requirements and procedures for international students can seem daunting, but learning the basics doesn’t take long. Here’s a brief guide to the most important things to know.

Student Visas and I-20s

What is an I-20?
Form I-20 is a United States Department of Homeland Security document issued by colleges, universities, and vocational schools that provides information for issuing a student visa. Please note that an I-20 is not a visa. An I-20 is a “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status.” Please read the guidelines on the I-20 before signing your name. Do not unstaple or separate your I-20.

How do I get an I-20?
After receiving an acceptance letter and confirming your intent to enroll as a student, the Conservatory will issue an I-20 upon receiving the following (deadlines are for Fall applicants):

  1. Enrollment deposit: Due from graduate students by April 15, and from undergraduate students by May 1
  2. Bank statement with proof of funding: Due by May 15, and accompanied by an Affidavit of Support if the bank funds are not in the student's name. This form can be found on the Financial Aid Office website.
  3. A scan or photocopy of the student's passport photo page.
  4. A completed Institutional Certification of Finances for International Students, which can be found on the Financial Aid Office website and the College Board Profile, is due by February 1.

Once the documents have been reviewed, the Conservatory will email you information about using a shipping service, eShipGlobal, to have your I-20 sent to you.  

What is a student visa?
A student visa is a document placed in your passport issued by the U.S. visa officer at your local embassy that officially allows you to enter the U.S. as a student. Except for Canadian citizens, all international students are required to have a student visa to enter the U.S. Note that your SEVIS I-20 form is not a visa.

How do I get a student visa?
All visa applicants are required to have a visa interview. Please allow yourself adequate time (minimum 4 weeks) to apply for the visa. Visa appointments are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is vital that you arrange an appointment with a U.S. visa office at your earliest convenience.

Note: Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not require visas to enter the United States as students, although they must present a valid Form I-20 at the time of admission.

When applying for a visa, you will need to present following documents. (Review this page for the most up-to-date requirements and details):

  1. SEVIS Form I-20
  2. San Francisco Conservatory of Music Acceptance Letter
  3. Financial Documentation: This includes the supporting documents (such as bank statements, income tax return, SFCM Financial Aid Award letter) that you sent for your I-20.
  4. A passport valid for at least 6 months after the expiration date of your student visa
  5. Visa application form
  6. Visa application fee
  7. Two visa photos
  8. Additional documents required by the U.S. visa  office in your country

What happens when my student visa expires?
A visa simply allows you to enter the U.S.; it does not determine how long you may stay. Unless you plan to travel abroad again, you do not need to worry about its expiration once you are in the U.S. The length of time you may stay in the U.S. is indicated in Section 5 of your I-20 form, plus a 60-day grace period for F-1 students.

When must I renew my student visa?
First, it is important to know that you cannot renew your student visa while in the U.S. The Department of State requires that you apply for a visa and a visa renewal in your home country. In some cases, you can visit a U.S. embassy in either Canada or Mexico to renew your visa, but issuance is not guaranteed. In these cases it is best to call the embassy before traveling, because if the visa is not issued, you will not be able to reenter the U.S. as a student. You should also have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months into the future.

May I travel outside of the United States while I am enrolled as a student?

You may travel outside of the United States if the International Student Advisor grants permission for you to do so and signs the second page of your I-20. In order to maintain a valid visa and I-20, you may not travel outside of the U.S. for longer than 5 months. The International Student Advisor reserves the right to deny travel if the student is in poor standing.

The Department of Homeland Security will require the following upon your return:

  1. A SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel and signed by your DSO
  2. A current passport valid for at least six months after the date of your reentry
  3. A valid, current visa
  4. Financial information showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living expenses

What happens if my visa, passport, or Form I-94 is lost or stolen?

  1. File a police report. Go to the local police station and report your document(s) lost or stolen. Provide copies of the original documents, if available. You will be issued a police report detailing the incident. Do not forget to make an extra copy of the report for your own records.
  2. Replace your lost or stolen Form I-94. To file for a replacement Form I-94, you need to file a Form I-102B with U.S.CIS.
  3. Report a lost or stolen passport or visa to your embassy. To report your lost or stolen passport/visa and for information on the procedure to replace a lost or stolen passport/visa, please contact the local embassy or consulate for the country of your citizenship.

Upon Arrival in the United States

You may enter the U.S. as early as 30 days before the report date indicated on the I-20 form. Upon arrival in the United States, present your I-20 to an immigration officer. The officer will stamp your I-20 and your passport, and issue you an I-94 card (also known as “Arrival/Departure Record”). You will be granted F-1 status. Keep your stamped I-20 and I-94 with your passport at all times. Your student status remains valid within the length of time necessary for you to complete your studies.

Special Registration
Some students from certain countries may be required to complete “special registration” at the port of entry. If you are subject to this rule, you will be interviewed, photographed, and fingerprinted. The inspectors will provide you with additional compliance guidelines, which you must follow very carefully. Currently the designated countries include: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. This list may be expanded at any time.

Mandatory Immigration Check-In
Upon arrival at the Conservatory, please report to the International Student Advisor immediately to confirm your visa status. There will also be an opportunity to do this step during the Fall Semester Orientation Program. Important information will be given to you when you meet. Delay or neglect will result in immigration complications that may impact your legal stay in the U.S.. Bring the following documentation when you come:

  • Passport
  • SEVIS Form I-20. Transfer students must also present their I-20 issued by previous school.
  • I-94 card (Arrival/Departure Record)

Maintaining Legal Status & Meeting with the International Student Advisor

The following are some important guidelines for maintaining a legal status in the U.S.:

  • Make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months into the future.
  • Provide the Conservatory with a valid home address and report any address changes as soon as they occur. You must report any change of address within 10 days.
  • Be sure that a customs inspector stamps your SEVIS I-20 form and that you are given an I-94 card (“Arrival/Departure Record”) when you enter the U.S.. 
  • Register for a full-time course load each semester.
  • See the International Student Advisor in advance for a program extension or when you consider changing your academic program.
  • Consult with the International Student Advisor when you plan on traveling outside the U.S.. Always have the original copy of your I-20 with you for reentry.
  • Report loss of your I-20 form immediately to the International Student Advisor.
  • Keep backup copies of all your immigration documents, and always keep your I-20 form, I-94, and passport in a safe place.

In order to maintain a legal status as a student, international students need to meet with the International Student Advisor, or a Designated School Official (DSO), if any of the situations below occur:

  • You intend to drop below a full course of study for any reason.
  • You have changed your address. This needs to be reported within 10 days of the change.
  • You have any change in sources of financial support.
  • You intend to seek employment.
  • You intend on changing your program of study.
  • You have a change in academic status.
  • You intend to travel outside of the United States.
  • You intend to apply for a change of nonimmigrant status.
  • You want to extend your program.
  • You intend to transfer schools.