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Once a student has obtained an F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in the passport, he or she may apply for entry to the U.S. at a port of entry up to 30 days prior to the Program Start Date on the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.  For students with a Form I-20, the “Earliest Admission Date” located in the “Program of Study” box indicates the first day you may enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

When traveling to the U.S., students should have the following documents available and with them in their carry-on luggage:

  • Form I-20 (for F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 students). Dependents (spouse and/or children) require separate forms I-20 or DS-2019 for entry in F-2 or J-2 dependent status.
  • Confirmation of payment of the SEVIS fee
  • Passport valid at least 6 months beyond date of entry to the U.S.
  • Other Supporting Documentation:
    • letter of admission to UNC-CH
    • financial documents including departmental award letter, scholarship notification, bank statements and letters of financial support
    • school transcripts
    • marriage certificate and birth certificates (for children) if applicable

Please review to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your documents before presenting them to an immigration inspector. Thorough scrutiny of documentation can be expected.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may require additional information before admitting non-immigrants to the U.S.  Typically, additional questioning happens in “secondary inspections.”  Once the officer is satisfied that the applicant meets the requirements for entry into the U.S. in the requested immigration status, the individual may be admitted to the U.S.  Please allow sufficient time for clearing customs when arranging connecting flights to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) from the U.S. port of entry.  If sufficient documentation is not provided a student may be denied entry and have to travel back home, or may be granted temporary entry and given 30 days to supply required additional documentation. In those cases Form I-515A “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor” will be issued by CBP upon entry. Students issued Form I-515A should contact ISSS immediately for assistance.

At the port of entry, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will enter the student’s information into a database to electronically record his or her arrival to the U.S.  Additionally, the CBP officer will stamp the student’s passport with the date of arrival and write F-1 or J-1 and D/S in the student’s passport. This entry will create the student’s Form I-94 (arrival record). Individuals who arrive by air or sea will need to access their Form I-94 online on the CBP website and print the I-94 to keep with their other important immigration documents. Those who arrive through land ports receive a paper Form I-94A, which may be stapled into the passport. The I-94 (or I-94A) includes biographical information, date and class of admission, and the expiration date of the authorized stay in the U.S. The I-94 is an essential document used in the verification of employment authorization, application for a social security number, and application for a North Carolina driver’s license, in addition to other purposes. The I-94 is also needed for check-in at ISSS.