Applying for your Visa

Congratulations on your admission to Harvard University. The following guide is intended to help students currently outside the U.S. apply for their student visas and enter the U.S. to start their academic degree programs. 

  • If you are currently in the United States on a student visa status, please click here for further instructions on transferring your student immigration record to Harvard.
  • If you are in the United States on any other visa status (i.e. H-1B, J-2, etc.) please contact the HIO for further guidance.
  • Canadian passport holders only need to follow Steps 1, 2, and 7 in this guide

For questions related to international student admissions, financial aid, and degree programs please contact the admissions office of the appropriate school at Harvard. 

Special Note on Impact of COVID-19 on Student Visa Issuance

Applying for your student visa this year may be more time consuming and require more diligence and patience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HIO has prepared this guide for all incoming international students and scholars to understand the operating status of United States (U.S.) Embassies and Consulates worldwide, and the best tips we currently have for monitoring and booking a visa appointment. If you have additional questions that are not addressed in this guide, please reach out to your HIO Advisor.

Many U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide remain closed for routine visa issuance and may only be operating on an emergency appointment basis.

The U.S. Department of State announced that routine visa issuance will start to resume on a country-by-country basis depending on local conditions. At this time, we do not yet have information regarding when individual U.S. Embassies and Consulates will be reopening. In order to determine the operating status of the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in your country, please review the following information and follow the steps outlined to schedule a visa appointment and apply for your student visa.

Up to date guidance on visa issuance, travel to the U.S., and COVID-19 travel bans may be found on the HIO COVID-19 FAQ.

Step 1: Get your I-20 or DS-2019 from Harvard

Admissions and Financial Certification

The first few steps of the visa process for international students coming to Harvard are managed directly by specific schools that you plan to attend. Once you accept an offer of admission into a Harvard program, the admissions or financial aid office at the school requests documentation from you regarding your financial ability to study in the U.S. The financial certification process can be time consuming since you need to compile evidence of guaranteed funding, often from several different sources. The HIO is not directly involved in the admissions and financial certification process.  Any questions regarding this process must be directed to the admissions office at your school.

Visa Documents

Once the financial certification is complete, the school's admissions or financial aid office enters your information into a database shared with the HIO. Until this point the HIO does not have records of new students coming to Harvard. The HIO has been designated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of State to issue F and J student visa documents, i.e. Form I-20 or DS-2019. In most cases once the school requests the HIO to issue an I-20 or DS-2019 it takes the HIO up to 10 days issue the documents.

Students whose visas are sponsored by another agency, such as Fulbright, LASPAU, OAS etc. receive their visa documents directly from the agency.

Step 2: Pay I-901 SEVIS fee

After obtaining your visa documents, all students must pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. The Department of Homeland Security collects this congressionally-mandated fee to cover the costs of updating SEVIS, a system that enables the U.S. Government to maintain updated information on F and J visa holders.

How to Pay the SEVIS Fee

To pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee, go to You will need your SEVIS number from your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019. The SEVIS number is located on the upper right corner of the Form DS-2019 and upper left corner of the Form I-20.

If you have a credit card and access to the internet you may pay the SEVIS fee online.

If you were born in or are a citizen of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria or Gambia you must pay by money order or via Western Union

Evidence of the SEVIS fee payment in the form of a receipt or a payment verification printout must be presented during your visa application interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate and at many U.S. ports of entry. Please have your SEVIS payment receipt ready upon entry and reentry to the U.S.

Although Canadian citizens are not required to have visas, they are required to present the I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt at a U.S. port of entry as they enter the U.S. Please note that it is not possible to pay the SEVIS fee at the U.S. port of entry. Canadians must pay the SEVIS fee prior to getting to the port of entry. Canadian citizens skip to Step 7.

Step 3: Prepare for Visa Appointment (except Canadians)

Check the operating status of each of the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in your country through the Department of State’s Visa Appointment Wait Times database.

Within a given country, different U.S. Embassies or Consulates may have a different operating status, so it is best to check each Embassy or Consulate within your country. You may find a directory of all U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide here

Monitor the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country for updates on their reopening status. You may find this information in the “Non-immigrant Visas” section of a given U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s website.

Some U.S. Embassies and Consulates may also announce visa appointment calendar openings through social media. Follow your local Embassy or Consulate on Twitter for updates.

Step 4: Complete the DS-160 (except Canadians)

The DS-160 is an online visa application form that you (and your dependents, if applicable) must complete before applying for an F-1 or J-1 student visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy outside the U.S.

You may access the DS-160 on the U.S. Department of State website. After you have completed the DS-160, you must take these next steps below:

  • Print and keep the DS-160 barcode page. (You will not need to print the full application.)
  • You must schedule a visa interview appointment. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate does not schedule an appointment for you. Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will be interviewed for country-specific instructions.
  • Pay the visa application processing fee. Review country-specific instructions on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website. Note, the DS-160 visa application fee is nonrefundable and nontransferable. You must pay this fee first before booking a visa appointment. If you need to change the location of your visa interview after paying this fee, you will not be able to transfer your payment and will need to pay a new DS-160 visa application fee before booking an appointment at a new U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The U.S. Department of State has compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions that may be helpful in completing the DS-160, including help for technical issues.

For questions related specifically to your Harvard visa sponsorship, please review the HIO’s DS-160 FAQ.

Note Regarding Visa Appointment Bookings Due to COVID-19

After completing your DS-160 visa application form, you will be able to book your visa interview with your chosen U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

  • In some cases the U.S. Embassy or Consulate may waive the interview requirement if you meet certain qualifications. For more information please see the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate you will be visiting.
  • If there are no visa appointments currently available to book at the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate, you will need to keep checking their calendar for more appointment spots to open.
  • If there are visa appointments available to book, you should book the earliest appointment possible. If the earliest appointments available are after your arrival date or start date in the U.S., then you will need to follow the U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s instructions to request an emergency or expedited appointment, or keep checking back to see if more appointment times open in the coming months. Most Embassies or Consulates have these instructions available on their website.
  • Some Embassies and Consulates may open appointment spots before their post has reopened for routine visa services. In this case, it is possible that the Embassy or Consulate may cancel or reschedule your interview if they have not yet reopened prior to your appointment date. In this case, please work with the Embassy or Consulate to continue to reschedule your appointment, or request an expedited or emergency appointment. 

Step 5: Apply for your F-1 or J-1 Visa (except Canadians)

Receiving a visa document from Harvard (Form I-20 or DS-2019) does not guarantee that you will receive a visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate. In order to schedule an appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate you will need to follow the instructions and required documents on the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate you will visit. While you can apply for a visa at U.S. embassy or consulate in any country outside the U.S., it is always better to apply in your home country.

As an applicant for a temporary, non-immigrant visa to enter the United States, you must bring your Passport, Form I-20 or DS-2019, SEVIS fee receipt, DS-160 confirmation page, proof of funding, and any additional documentation required by the individual U.S. embassy or consulate you visit when you present your application to the consular official.

The U.S. Department of State posts on their website current wait times for booking a visa appointment. Keep in mind that wait times can be quite long, especially over the busy summer months.

Note that your F-2 or J-2 dependents can book their embassy appointments independently from yours, if need be.

Once you have your appointment booked, please update the HIO with your appointment details by completing the Visa Appointment and Approval Reporting Form.

Step 6: The Visa Appointment, Interview Tips, and Visa Processing Times (except Canadians)

The Visa Interview

During your visa appointment, you will have a brief interview. You must be able to prove your eligibility for a non-immigrant visa (F-1 or J-1) by presenting financial information along with the rest of your documents. You should also be prepared to answer questions regarding the length of your intended stay in the U.S. and how you will use your academic experience gained in the U.S. when you return to your home country. Consular officials expect to see evidence of your ties to your home country, such as family, property, employment, bank accounts, etc. If the consular official determines that you are not eligible for a non-immigrant visa because you have not presented satisfactory evidence that you intend to return to your home country, they are likely to deny your visa application. There is usually no recourse to the visa denial unless you are able to present new information. You may also be asked to present evidence that you have maintained legal immigration status if you have worked, studied, or resided in the U.S. previously.

Additional points to consider when applying for a U.S. visa can be found here.

Visa Wait Times, Delays, and Denials

Visa processing times can vary widely. Depending on your field of study and your country of origin, you could be put through administrative processing, a form of security check, which could delay the entire visa application process. Please keep that in mind when applying for a visa.

If you are told during your visa interview that your application will be subject to a security check or administrative processing, you must alert your HIO Advisor as soon as possible. You may find more information about this process in our Administrative Processing FAQ Guide.

Once you have received your passport back from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your approved visa, please update the HIO with your visa approval by completing the Visa Appointment and Approval Reporting Form.

Step 7: Arrival in the U.S. & HIO Registration

If you hold an F or J visa status, the U.S. immigration regulations allow you to enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the program start date listed on your Form I-20 or Item 3 of your Form DS-2019.

You must review our Arrival in the U.S. information for the documents you will need to enter the U.S. with, as well as the details of the required HIO registration.