Visa Process Overview
All non-immigrants traveling to the U.S. must request a visa, which reflects their planned activities in the U.S. There are designated requirements for each visa category. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) through various consulates throughout the world issues visas. A visa cannot be requested in the U.S. Visa Basics provides detailed information.
There are exceptions to the visa requirement:
- Citizens for Canada and Bermuda do not require a visa to enter the U.S., but must be able to present the appropriate visa documentation at the port of entry. F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must also pay a SEVIS fee at the port of entry.
- Tourist or business travelers who are citizens of participating countries may be eligible to visit the United States without a visa. Visits must be 90 days or less, and travelers must meet all requirements.
In some cases, we must also file paperwork with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to receive the approval notices required to process visa requests.
Students, scholars and employees accepted or hired by Duke University or Health System, must first receive the appropriate documentation to request the visas that reflect their Duke activities. The designated department administrator will sent an email with a link to the Duke Visa Services Electronic Webform Application System. The completion of this electronic application by the nonimmigrant and the department administrator will give Duke Visa Services the information required to prepare the documentation for the nonimmigrant to request a visa and entry to the U.S. All the visa categories will also require supporting paper documentation, which must be mailed to the designated department.
Like many governments, the U.S. government uses letters and numbers to designate specific documents or forms. In general, the documents will identify you, your relationship to Duke, the duration of your visit, and your source(s) and amount(s) of funding. Here are the ones most often seen on a university campus.
|Visa Type||Primary Activity||Form or Document|
|H-1B||Temporary worker||I-797 Approval Notice|
|O-1||Outstanding professor/researcher||I-797 Approval Notice|
|TN - Canada and Mexico||Employee under North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)||Appointment letter for initial entry or an I-797 approval notice if an extension has been granted.|
|H-1B1 - Free Trade - Chile and Singapore||Employee under the Free Trade Agreement with each country. Note that the H-1B1 is not the same as the H-1B, and not the same as the TN.||Appointment letter. ETA-9037 Labor Condition Attestation. An I-797 approval notice if an extension has been granted.|
|J-1||Physician Trainee||DS-2019 issued by ECFMG|
The management and timeline depends on the kind of visa document requested. Some documents are under Duke's direct control and others are not. Check with your Duke Admissions Office or the Department administrator for processing times. Remember that Duke Visa Services begins counting from the date that we have everything from Duke’s Admissions Office or from the Duke department that we need to issue your document or file it with DHS.
After processing, we will send the I-20s for F-1 students electronically with detailed instructions regarding the visa process and entry to the U.S. We will mail all visa documents by express mail to J-1 students, J-1 scholars, H-1B, O-1, TN and H-1B1 employees with detailed instructions regarding the visa process and entry to the U.S. Before receiving the visa documents, visit the DOS website for general information, details regarding processing times and any fees required for the visa application.
All first time visa applicants must schedule an appointment with the consulate. Effective February 21, 2023, visas for F-1 students can be issued up to 365 days before the start date on the I-20; however, you are not allowed to enter the United States until 30 days before the start date on the I-20. As of this date, J-1 visa appointments are accepted up to 120 days before the start date on the DS-2019. F-1 and J-1 students and scholars must also pay an additional SEVIS Fee
- Consular Affairs: This webpage includes how to check visa processing times and information on specific types of Visas (F,J,H-1B, TN, etc.)
- Visa Application Process
- Basic information about Visas
During the interview, consular officers will determine whether the requested visa is warranted and, if approved, the visa will be placed in your passport. The consulate will provide detailed instructions and processing times.
In some cases, the consulate may decide to perform a security clearance on a visa application. It normally takes a few weeks or a few months for the security clearance. Please notify Duke Visa Services at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss the implications regarding a delayed entry to the U.S.