International students must fully understand and adhere to U.S. immigration regulations and are responsible for maintaining legal status with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

We recommend that each student carefully read through all applicable immigration information, and contact the ELI with any questions or concerns.

Additional details about documentation and maintaining student immigration status may also be located in the ELI Student Handbook.



A student’s passport must be valid and have at least 6 months remaining before it expires. To renew a passport approaching expiry – or to replace a lost or stolen passport – contact your home country’s consulate or embassy.

Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2020 OR I-20)

The ELI will issue a Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2020 for J-1 students or I-20 for F-1 students) once the following steps have been completed:

The Certificate of Eligibility is an immigration document that proves you have been accepted to a U.S. academic institution and details your plans for study at the College of Charleston.

The Certificate of Eligibility is to be taken to a U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a non-immigrant student visa.
Upon arrival to the United States, a student must present the I-20 or DS-2020 to the Port of Entry Official to ensure admission under the correct immigration status.


A student visa is a document issued through a U.S. embassy or consulate in the student’s home country. The visa sticker is placed inside of the passport and permits students to apply for admission into the United States.

Applying for an F-1 or J-1 Visa

F-1 students: Once admitted to the College of Charleston, students will receive a packet containing the certificate of eligibility (I-20).  This form will be required in order to apply for an F-1 Non-Immigrant Student visa at the nearest US consulate.

J-1 students: Once admitted to the College of Charleston, students will receive a packet containing the certificate of eligibility (DS-2020).  This form will be required in order to apply for a J-1 Non-Immigrant Student visa at the nearest US consulate.

Step 1: Pay the Student/Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) Processing Fee

SEVIS is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
Since January 2003, U.S. colleges and universities have used SEVIS to electronically report information about F-1 and J-1 students – and visiting scholars – to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Department of Homeland requires that all F-1 and J-1 non-immigrants seeking initial
 attendance visas from a U.S. Embassy to pay a processing fee of $200 for F-1 students and $180 for J-1 students. For details regarding these fees please visit the I-901 Fee Processing website.

The SEVIS fee must be paid at least three days prior to the student’s visa interview.  The fee is assessed in U.S. dollars, and can be paid by credit card, check or bank draft drawn on a U.S. bank, or Western Union Quick Pay.

To pay the SEVIS fee, go to the I-901 Fee Processing Website  and follow the instructions below:

  • Click on “Proceed to I-901 Form & Payment.”
  • Scroll to the bottom, and select I-20 (F-1 students) or (DS-2020)
  • Click OK.
  • Complete the personal information fields on the following page.
  • Verify that the provided information is accurate.
  • Select first-class mail or expedited delivery.
  • Print at least 2 copies of the receipt

NOTE: The I-901 fee processing form requires a “school code.”  The College of Charleston school code is ATL 214 F 01365 000.

The form also requires the SEVIS Identification Number. For F-1 students, this number is in the upper right-hand corner of the I-20, begins with an N and has 10 digits.

Step 2: Make an Appointment for a Visa Interview

Student visa applicants are required to appear in person at the US Embassy or Consulate in their home country. 
 The local U.S. Embassy or Consulate will be able to provide specific instructions as to how to schedule an appointment.  Wait times for appointments will vary by location but may be several weeks or longer.

Students are encouraged to schedule an appointment as soon as possible after receiving documentation but should bear in mind that the US Embassy or Consulate cannot issue a visa more than 120 days before the program start date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019.
A full list of US Embassies is available here.

Step 3: Visa Interview

Students should bring the following documents to their visa interview:

  • Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Official acceptance letter from the College of Charleston
  • SEVIS I-901 fee receipt
  • Your I-20 or DS-2020
  • Passport valid for at least 6 months in the future
  • Proof of financial support

The visa officer at the embassy or consulate in a student’s home country may request additional application materials.  We recommend that students contact the Embassy or Consulate prior to the interview, to ensure that they bring all of the required documentation.

While documents will be reviewed, this appointment is primarily intended as an interview.
Students should be prepared to answer interview questions, such as:

  • Why do you want to study at the College of Charleston?
  • What you plan to study?
  • How will you use your education when you return to your home country?
  • What are your plans upon completing the Intensive English program?
  • Who is (financially) sponsoring your education?

The questions above are meant to give an idea as to what questions may be asked, and actual interview questions may differ. Students should be able to answer these types of questions, using a few short sentences.

Please be aware that the visa officer is required to consider each applicant as a person who intends to stay permanently in the United States. It is the student’s responsibility to demonstrate that he or she has strong ties to his or her home country, and intends to return upon completing his or her studies.
The officer will only have a few minutes to make a decision regarding a student’s application.

I-94 Arrival Record

Form I-94 is the official government documentation of a visitor’s arrival into the United States: it records the date and port of entry, immigration status (or visa type) and authorized period of stay. The I-94 is currently an electronic report.

Following arrival to the United States, each student is responsible for obtaining and printing their I-94 record. Make sure that the information is correct prior to printing the I-94 form.

If you need assistance in this process or notice any incorrect information, please visit the ELI.