Visa & Arrival

International students admitted to IIEP will receive a letter of acceptance and a Certificate of Eligibility (Form I-20) so that they may obtain an F-1 student visa at the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy. Once the IIEP receives your complete application, it will take approximately 10 days for you to receive your I-20.

Students already in the U.S. on a J-1, J-2, or H-4 visa may study full-time. (F-1 students must study full-time.) F-2, J-1, J-2, and H-4 students may study part-time. However, the IIEP considers applications for part-time study only after admitting all eligible full-time students. Part-time students will only be admitted if there is space in the program.

Read about the SEVIS fee
Download our Pre-Departure Checklist
Frequently asked questions about visas
What a student can expect upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry
Travel to Iowa City

Frequently Asked Questions about Visas

Q: What documents do I need to take with me to apply for a U.S. visa to attend the IIEP?
A: You need to bring the following documents:

  • An I-20 and acceptance letter from the Iowa Intensive English Program
  • Financial verification (bank statement or scholarship letter)
  • A valid passport
  • $350 visa application fee or proof that it has been paid (read about the SEVIS fee)
  • Form DS-160, Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa. Fill out the form neatly and completely, and use the exact same name and spelling that appears on your passport.
  • For male students between the ages of 16 and 45, a form DS-157, Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application.

Q: What is the visa interview like?
A: There are many different methods of applying for a U.S. visa. In some countries, you can drop your visa application and materials in a drop-box. In others, it is possible to mail in the application. In many countries, an interview is required.

The U.S. consul who interviews you is required to determine that:

  • your documents are genuine
  • you intend to enroll as a full-time student
  • you have enough money to support yourself and will not need to use the U.S. social welfare system
  • you intend to return home after you finish your studies

The consul may ask a variety of questions, such as:

  • Where are you going to study?
  • What are you going to study?
  • How will you use that degree in your home country?
  • Is this the first time you are applying for a student visa?
  • Have you ever traveled to the U.S. before?
  • If yes, what did you do there?
  • Do you plan to remain in the United States after your studies?
  • What qualifies you for the studies you are going to undertake?
  • Does your family (or other financial sponsor) really have enough money to support you?
  • Are any members of your family currently living in the U.S.?
  • If yes, what are they doing there?
  • If you are married, is your spouse going to travel with you?
  • What about your children, if you have children?
  • When do you plan to finish your studies?
  • What will be your first destination in the U.S.?

The consul who interviews you may be overworked and tired, and probably has many people to interview besides you, so the consul may or may not be friendly, and may or may not ask you several questions. Although the actual interview may be brief, it is important to convey a positive impression when you interview with the consul.

To convey a positive impression,

  • Be clean and neat in your appearance. Business attire is appropriate.
  • Look at the consul when talking with him or her.
  • Answer questions directly and honestly.
  • Answer questions quickly and completely.
  • Absolutely, do not make any untrue statements.
  • Answer only the questions asked.
  • Smile.

If you are unable to answer the questions in English, and the visa officer does not speak the language of your country, you have the right to ask for an interpreter. Speaking English is not a requirement for a student visa. Thousands of students come to the U.S. each year to learn how to speak English well.

Q: What else can I do to improve my chances of being approved for a visa?
A: Have a specific academic or professional objective. Be prepared to explain why it is better to study a specific field in the U.S. than to study at home. Be ready to say exactly what you will study and what kind of career it will prepare you for in your home country. If you seem to be unsure about what you will be doing, the visa officer may be less likely to believe that you are really going to the U.S. to study. You should also be able to provide some information about the institution you plan to attend, where you will be housed, and the location of the institution.

Q: Do my grades matter?
A: Yes. If your grades are below average, you need to be ready to explain how you are going to succeed in the U.S. A letter from a school director or teacher in your country can be helpful. If there were special circumstances (such as death or illness in your family) that contributed to bad grades, have the school explain those circumstances.

Q: I'm nervous about applying for a visa. What are the reasons that visas are denied?
A: The two main reasons visas are denied are 1.) inadequate financial support, and 2.) failure to prove "nonimmigrant intent."

1.) If the consul believes you do not have enough money to be a full-time student, the consul will not issue you a visa. It is important to take proof of your ability to pay for your tuition, fees, living expenses, books, and health insurance. It may also be helpful to bring a letter from your parents' employer(s) stating what your parents' jobs are, how long they have worked there, and how much they earn. Large sums of money in bank accounts may not be sufficient proof of financial support. In addition to a bank statement, you should obtain a letter from your bank that states how long the account has existed and what the average balance in the account has been.

2.) Proving "nonimmigrant intent" means that you need to be prepared to convince the consul, if he or she asks you, that you intend to return to your home country after you finish your studies in the U.S. The law requires a consul to deny a student visa to anyone the consul believes intends to remain in the U.S. permanently (that is, get a "green card"). You will be in a good position to prove nonimmigrant intent if you have a job in your country you will return to, if there is a good chance you can get a job in your country with the English language skills you will receive from the IIEP, if you have close family members at home (parents, spouse, children), or if you own property there.

Here are some documents and tips that may help you prove that you plan to return:

  • contracts that prove that you or your family own a home or a business
  • diplomas
  • letters of reference
  • deeds to show land ownership
  • photos of immediate family currently residing at home
  • photos of property or a business you or your family own
  • documents from a bank that prove that you or your family own a business
  • If a brother or sister studied in the U.S. and returned home, bring a copy of their diploma.
  • If the brother or sister is now employed in your home country, bring a statement from their employer stating that they returned and are employed. You can also bring your sibling's passport to show that they returned to your home country.
  • If appropriate, obtain a letter from a company in your country stating that you will be hired for a specific job when you return. If you cannot get a promise of a job, try to get a letter stating that you will be considered for a job when you return and that the company needs employees with the specific education that you will receive in the U.S.
  • If immediate family members have important positions in the government, in education, or with private corporations, mention them, and if possible, bring a document that shows what the position is.
  • If you have traveled outside your country on an old, expired passport, bring the expired passport to prove you have traveled and returned to your country.

Q: When should I apply for my visa?
A: It is important to apply for your visa at least three months before you plan to travel. This gives you extra time if there are delays at the embassy, or if you want to appeal a denial. After the events of September 11, 2001, visa processing time can take much longer. All names have to be submitted for a security clearance. Citizens of some countries have to undergo additional screening that takes several additional weeks of processing.

Remember that each case is different. Do not assume that the visa application experience of your friends will be the same as yours.

Q: What if my visa is denied?
A: Ask the consul to give you a written explanation for the denial. Contact IIEP immediately to explain what happened and, if possible, give us the name of the consular officer who issued it. Sometimes, if it is clear that there has been a simple misunderstanding, or if your documents were not acceptable to the consul, we can provide the additional information needed to help you get the visa. IIEP can also delay your admission to a later semester to give you time to try again to obtain a visa.

Sometimes, IIEP can do nothing to help. The law concerning temporary visas allows consular officers to make their own decisions, and their decisions may seem unfair to you.

Q: What are the different types of visas?
A: The different types of visas are:  

  • F-1: student visa (must be full-time)
  • F-2: spouse of an F-1 student (can study part-time, if study is not the primary reason for being in U.S.)
  • J-1: scholar, postdoctoral researcher (can study full- or part-time)
  • J-2: spouse of a J-1 scholar (can study full- or part-time)
  • H-4: can study full- or part-time  

What a Student Can Expect Upon Arrival at a U.S. Port of Entry

When you receive your non-immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, the consular officer will seal your immigration documents in an envelope and attach it to your passport. You should not open this envelope! The Customs and Border Protection Officer at the U.S. port of entry will open the envelope.

When you travel, you should carry these documents with you. Do not check them in your baggage! If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will not be able to show the documents to the Customs and Border Protection Officer and, as a result, may not be able to enter the United States.

Here are the documents you should carry on your person:

  • Passport (including attached envelope of immigration documents) with visa
  • SEVIS Form I-20
  • Evidence of financial resources

In addition, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) recommends that you also carry the following:

  • Evidence of Student/Exchange Visitor status (recent tuition receipts, transcripts)
  • Name and contact information for Designated School Official or Responsible Officer at your intended school or program (this will be on your I-20 form)
  • A pen

If you are traveling by airplane, the flight attendants will distribute CF-6059 Customs Declaration Forms and I-94 Arrival-Departure Record Forms for immigration before you land at your initial point of entry in the U.S. Complete these forms while you are on the aircraft and submit them to the appropriate Customs and Border Protection Officer upon your arrival. If you do not understand a form, ask a flight attendant for help.

Upon arrival at the port of entry, proceed to the terminal area for arriving passengers for inspection at one of the Department of Homeland Security stations. As you approach the inspection station, have your passport, SEVIS Form I-20, Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record, and CF-6059 Customs Declaration Form available for the Customs and Border Protection Officer.

If you are entering through a land or designated sea port, the Customs and Border Protection Officer will provide the necessary CF-6059 Customs Declaration Forms and I-94 Arrival-Departure Record Forms at the port of entry. If you do not understand a form, ask the Customs and Border Protection Officer for assistance.

Like all entering visitors, you will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States. You will also be asked to provide information about your final destination. It is important that you tell the Customs and Border Protection Officer that you will be a student. Be prepared to include the name and address of the school where you will enroll. View the IIEP's address.

Once your inspection is complete, the inspecting officer will:

  • Stamp your SEVIS Form for duration of status ("D/S") for F and J visa holders
  • Stamp the I-94 and staple it in the passport  

Inspectors will also scan your fingerprints and take your photograph, as part of the US-VISIT program. US-VISIT is an entry-exit registration system that involves the collection of biometrics (digital fingerprints and a photograph) from international travelers. Race, national origin, and religion are not factors in the US-VISIT program. For more information, visit https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/usvisit/usvisit_edu_traveler_brochure_english.pdf

Secondary Inspection Requirements

If your information cannot be automatically verified by the inspector or you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as "secondary inspection." Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information. Verifications are done apart from the primary inspection lines so that an individual case will not cause delays for other arriving passengers.

If your admission/participation needs to be verified, we strongly advise that you have the name and phone number of the international student advisor at your school. Your IIEP advisor is Maureen Burke, and her phone number at the ESL Programs Office is 319-335-5630. In the event you arrive during non-business hours (evenings, weekends, holidays), you should have a phone number where this individual can be reached during non-business hours.

Failure to provide proper documentation and to comply with entry/exit procedures is cause to refuse a student admission into the United States. In limited circumstances, if a student is mostly, but not fully in compliance, he/she may be issued a Form I-515A "Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor." This form authorizes temporary admission into the United States and requires the student or exchange visitor to take immediate action to submit proper documentation. Noncompliance with the directions contained on these forms can result in denied entry.


After you enter the United States, you should report to IIEP as soon as practical to register for courses. If you arrive in Iowa City before your report date, it is a good idea to stop by the ESL Programs Office (1112 University Capitol Centre) to let the Iowa Intensive English Program know that you have arrived.

Travel to Iowa City

Most students come to Iowa City by air.  The airport serving Iowa City is the Eastern Iowa Airport, located near the city of Cedar Rapids, about 20 miles from Iowa City.  Your travel agent or airline office can give you information about the best route to follow to fly to the Eastern Iowa Airport.  For a fee, a shuttle service provides transportation from the Eastern Iowa Airport to Iowa City.  You can guarantee transportation by making an advance reservation.  Please follow this link to make a reservation.   Please note that the Iowa Intensive English Program does NOT provide transportation to or from the airport.