What is a visa?

A U.S. visa is an entry document. You can apply for an entry visa only at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States. It is placed on a page in your passport and certifies that the consular officer has found you eligible to apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry in a particular classification, such as F-1 student or J-1 research scholar.

The CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officer makes the final decision on whether you are eligible to enter the U.S. with the visa and determines the length of time you may stay.

Things to know about your U.S. Visa

  1. The visa expiration date doesn't indicate how long you may stay: The visa expiration date is the date until which you can re-enter the U.S. in the same classification with valid, unexpired supporting documents. The period of time you may remain in the U.S. is connected to the end of F or J status. The length of your status is based on an academic program, or an authorized period of research or employment. Your visa may expire while you’re in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. it has no effect whatsoever on your status. However, if your visa is expired when you leave the U.S. to travel abroad, you will need to renew your visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to return in the same status.

In short: a valid visa allows you to enter the U..S. Your status allows you to remain in the US.

  1. The length of a visa's validity is based on reciprocity agreements between your country and the U.S. The reciprocity agreements address both the duration and the number of entries that are allowed. A consular officer, after review of an individual’s visa application, has discretion in the application of the reciprocity agreement.
  2. You can continue to use an unexpired visa in an expired passport when: a)it is in an expired passport and you travel with both your expired and valid passports; b) it was issued for a previous school you attended and you travel with a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from Whitman; or c) it was issued for a previous or concurrent employer and you travel with an approved petition from Whitman College.
  3. If you lose your passport, you cannot replace the visa in a new passport in the U.S. After you have your passport replaced, you can apply for a new visa only at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.
  4. You can have more than one visa in your passport, but you can enter the U.S. on only one status. If you have visited the U.S. for different purposes, you may have more than one visa in your passport. However, you can have only one status while you are in the United States. The visa which is used for your admission to the U.S. becomes the status you will hold. This is very important. CBP agents at the airport are very busy. If you have multiple valid visas in your passport, you may need to remind them that you are seeking F-1 admission.


If you will be traveling to or through countries other than your country of citizenship, please plan well in advance to acquire the necessary visas for the countries you will visit or travel through. If you will be traveling through Canada, you can learn more about obtaining a Canadian visa.

Travel Signatures

F-1 students and J-1 Exchange Visitors should check their Form I-20 or DS-2019 for a recent travel endorsement signature prior to any international travel. Travel signatures are valid for one year from the date of the signature. If you are going to travel outside the United States and are unsure if you need a new travel signature, please make an appointment with the DSO at Whitman.

Important Housing Dates

Due to the logistical concerns of international travel, many international students plan their travel itineraries well in advance of the end of the semester or school year. Consult the important housing dates from the Residence Life Office when planning your travel over academic breaks.

Grace Periods

F-1 students and J-1 Exchange Visitors in "Initial" status may not enter the United States more than 30 days before the Program Start Date listed on the Form I-20/DS-2019.

F-1 students have 60 days (grace period) after their Program End Date listed on the Form I-20 to apply for a period of Optional Practical Training, finalize a transfer of their SEVIS record to another SEVP-certified institution, depart the United States, or otherwise apply for a change of legal status. For J-1 exchange visitor grace period lasts only 30 days.

Students who transfer their SEVIS record to another school must begin their studies at the new institution within five months of the end of their studies at Whitman.

Maintaining Student/Exchange Visitor Status

Once you are approved for your F-1/J-1 visa and have traveled to Whitman, it is very important that you follow the requirements to maintain your status. See the appropriate section below for helpful information.

F-1 students are responsible for understanding the terms of their lawful immigration status and maintaining compliance with those terms. A violation of U.S. federal regulations could jeopardize your immigration status and your continued stay in the U.S.

The following documentation must be current and valid

  • Passport
  • Form I-20
  • Form I-94
  • Class of Admission: F-1
  • Admit Until Date: D/S

SEVIS Registration

Report to the DSO within 30 days of your Program Start Date (see "PROGRAM OF STUDY" on Form I-20). Students with Transfer I-20s must report to the DSO within 15 days. Students in "Initial" status must be registered (check-in process) in SEVIS by the DSO no more than 30 days after the Program Start Date. Students must be registered in SEVIS each semester, no more than 30 days after the start of the academic session.

Initial and Continued Attendance

For "Initial" (first time) entries, the school listed on the F-1 visa and the Form I-20 must be the same, and must be the school you plan to attend. Transfer I-20s may use a valid F-1 visa from a previous institution.

Course of Study

  • Make normal progress toward completing your course of study, by completing your studies before the expiration of the Program End Date on your Form I-20. Normal academic progress requires an average of 15-16 credits per semester. Program extensions are possible under very limited circumstances, such as health-related delays.
  • Leave of absence is much more complex and consequential for international students. Consult with the DSO.
  • For grade policies refer to this link.
  • A minimum of 12 credits per semester is required. Exceptions are possible for initial semester difficulties such as with english language or health-related situations. This is called Reduced Course Load.

Change of Name or Address

Notify the DSO of a change of your address (including on-campus housing) or your legal name within 10 days of the change.

Travel Grace Periods

  • Abide by F-1 visa grace period rules
  • Obtain a travel endorsement from the DSO on your Form I-20 before departing the U.S.

Special Requirements, Information Disclosure and Criminal activity

  • Abide by any special requirements, such as SEVIS Registration requirements - at the start of each semester.
  • Abide by rules requiring disclosure of information and prohibition on criminal activity.


  • Engage in only authorized employment. When class is in session, students may work up to 20 hours weekly on campus. During breaks full time on campus employment is possible.
  • Refrain from off-campus employment unless specifically authorized in advance (see DSO).
  • Off campus employment is restricted. See this page for detailed information.
  • Abide by aggregate unemployment rules during post-completion Optional Practical Training.

Renewing your passport in the U.S.

  • You should maintain valid passport while outside of your home country. Consult with your country's embassy on how to renew your passport while in the U.S.

J-1 Exchange Visitors must understand the terms of their lawful immigration status and maintaining compliance with those terms. A violation of federal regulations could jeopardize your immigration status and your continued stay in the U.S.

The following documentation must be current and valid:

  • Passport
  • DS-2019
  • Form I-94 with Class of Admission: J-1 and Admit Until Date: D/S

SEVIS Validation

  • Report to Intercultural Center Associate Director Greg Lecki within 30 days of your Program Start Date (See "3. Form Covers Period" on the DS-2019).
  • Travel & Duration of Status: J-1 Exchange Visitors may enter the U.S. no more than 30 days before the Program Start Date listed on the DS-2019, and must depart the U.S. or otherwise change their status no later than 30 days after the Program End Date.
  • Obtain a travel signature from the RO before departing the U.S. if you plan to re-enter.
  • Engage in appropriate activities, limited to those on your DS-2019.
  • Each Exchange Visitor category has an expectation for appropriate activities for the Exchange Visitor, which must be fulfilled. Examples: A Research Scholar is here to research, a Professor to teach, and a J-1 Student to maintain a full-time course of study.


Engage only in authorized employment.

Health Insurance

Exchange Visitors are required to carry health insurance that meets the minimum requirements as set forth at 22 CFR 62.14 for the entirety of their program. See your Responsible Officer (RO – currently Greg Lecki) for details.

Reporting Requirements

Report a change of address, telephone number, email address or site of activity to the RO within 10 calendar days.