International Students

Study in sunny California



The mission of the International Student Office is to enrich international students’ experience by providing counseling, information, and support services and ensuring compliance with all applicable regulations.

FIDM has 5,300 students, which includes 490 international students from 58 countries. Each campus has a staff member dedicated to assisting our International Students with their visa needs, and we offer numerous support services including orientation, student activity meetings, and cultural exchange events. FIDM wants to make your transition to living in California as easy as possible and is here for you every step of the way.

International Student Checklist

The following is an overview of the items that will be needed to complete the application process. Applicants will be assigned an Admissions Advisor who will work with each student individually to assist them throughout the process.

A majority of International Students at FIDM study under F-1 visa student status. In order to apply for an F-1 visa, students will need to be accepted to FIDM and be issued a SEVIS I-20.

Follow the suggested steps below:
  1. Apply to FIDM
  2. Contact an Admissions Advisor
  3. Obtain an SEVIS Form I-20
  4. Obtain an F-1 Student Visa
  5. Maintain Visa Status
  6. Working in the U.S. & OPT Regulations
  7. Obtaining Important Documents (SSN, DL, Insurance)

Frequently Asked Questions

Select a topic below for answers to frequent questions posed by International Students:

If I am already in the US attending another institution on an active I-20, do I need to get an I-20 from FIDM?

If the student is currently attending another college on an F-1 visa then an acceptance letter and FIDM transfer request form MUST be submitted to that school to facilitate a SEVIS transfer of their I-20. An initial FIDM I-20 should NOT be issued to a prospective student who currently has an active I-20 from another. A student can request transfer of their I-20 up to 60 days after their program end date (if they did in fact complete the program at that school rather than just stopped attending). If the student is not going to finish their program of study at their current school then must keep attending class until the transfer is done or they risk having their I-20 terminated for their failure to attend. If the student is on a quarter break in between academic sessions at their current school then they must facilitate the transfer prior to the start of the next session or they risk having their I-20 terminated for their failure to attend.

Even if a prospective student has finished their program and returned to their home country, if their 60 day grace period has not expired then it is still advisable to facilitate a SEVIS transfer.

The format of the I-20 has been recently changed (redesigned), if I have an I-20 in the old format do I need to be reissued a redesigned Form I-20?

Students can use the Form I-20 they were previously issued to travel. The old form will remain valid until July 1, 2016.

I have been awarded funding (a scholarship or financial aid from my country). Can I count the amount of the award as a source of support for my studies?

Yes. Any award you can verify can be counted as a source of support for all years of expected study.

Do I have to submit financial documents in U.S. dollars?

No. Your financial documents do not have to be submitted in U.S. dollars, although it is helpful that any document you submit in foreign currency contains the U.S. dollar equivalency. It is perfectly acceptable to submit documents in foreign currency such as RMB, Rupees, or Euro.

I need to have my original financial documents to apply for the student visa. Can I submit copies of my documents to FIDM and keep the originals?

Yes, provided the original financial documents are scanned and emailed to FIDM. Documents should be scanned as PDF files (not JPEG, RAR, etc.) and all documents should be scanned as one PDF file. Do not send a separate PDF file for each document you are submitting. The name of the student should appear somewhere in the title of the PDF file.

Can my I-20 or DS-2019 be sent by express mail?

Yes. FIDM will federal express your I-20 to you in your home country.

I want to bring my spouse and children to the U.S. with me. What do I need to do?

You need to show an additional $6,000 per year for a spouse and $3,000 for each child. This is in addition to what you need to show to meet your own living and educational expenses. We will also need to know the name, date of birth, city and country of birth and country of citizenship for each dependent.

Do I have to provide Affidavit of Sponsorship (Form I-134) and if so does it have to be notarized?

For students who will be sponsored by a US benefactor who is not an immediate relative and Affidavit of Sponsorship must be submitted to show that visa applicant has sponsorship and will not become public charges while in the United States. The sponsor must file a separate affidavit for each applicant. You must sign Form I-134 in your full name. (Note: Signing Form I-134 is under penalty of perjury under U.S. law,). For this reason, it is not necessary to sign Form I-134 before a notary, nor to have your signature notarize after you sign it.

Can I have a friend pick-up my I-20 or DS-2019 and mail it to me?

Yes. You may designate anyone you want to pick up your I-20 or DS-2019. But you must indicate to us in writing who that person is, and how to contact them. That person must bring a hard copy of an email or other document authorizing them to take your documents from our office.

How long can I remain in the US after my I-20 expires at the completion of my program?

At the conclusion of your studies (OPT expiration date if you completed your program of study) you will have a 60 day grace period to remain in F-1 student status. During that grace period you can either apply to change your visa status (change of status), transfer to another college or another program of study at your current college, or prepare to leave the US by the expiration of your grace period.

If I apply for post-completion OPT after completing my program does the end date of my I-20 need to be extended or do I need to be issued a new I-20?

The program end date listed on an I-20 corresponds with the date the student actually completed their program. When a student files for OPT, the request must be on the I-20, processed by FIDM's International Students Office, which keeps the I-20 valid until 60 days (grace period) after the OPT expires, regardless of the program end date listed on the record. Once you're on OPT you need to be using the I-20 issued to you when you filed for the benefit that will show the OPT listed on the second page of the record.

Where and how do I apply for an F-1 visa?

Once you receive your I-20, you will need to pay the I-901 fees at Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) SEVIS I-901 Fee processing website. Next, complete the DS-160 on-line visa application form and then schedule an appointment at the nearest U.S. consulate which has jurisdiction over your residence abroad.

NOTE: Canadian citizens are not required to obtain actual visas from a U.S. consulate and only need an issued I-20 document from FIDM's International Students Office.

How much are the F-1 visa application fees?

There are two different application fees for F-1 visas. There is a one-time I-901 "SEVIS" fee of $200 (as of 2016); as well as a standard world-wide "Machine Readable Visa" fee (MRV fee) is $160.00 (as of 2016). More information on MRV fees can be found online at U.S. Department of State travel page.

How long will it take to get my visa?

This depends on many factors, among them, what type of visa, which U.S. consulate you are using, and whether your application will be subject to an additional security clearance check. In general, most U.S. visas are approved and issued within seven to ten business days, though some can take a little longer. If you are subjected to an additional background security check, such clearances tend to be approved within approximately four to eight weeks. Visit the U.S. Department of State travel site to get an indication of how long it takes to get an appointment and how long it takes to be issued the visa at the particular consulate you are to apply to.

Can I attend FIDM in a nonimmigrant status?

If a student wishes to study at FIDM in a nonimmigrant status other than F-1 they will need to provide verification of their status (copy of Visa and I-94 card) upon application.

View the list of who can study on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency website.

Can I attend a program of study at FIDM in B1/B2 Status?
p>Individuals in B-1/B-2 status may not attend a degree program at FIDM and would have to either leave the US apply for and receive an F-1 visa and re-enter the US in F-1 status or submit an I-765 application to the USCIS to request a change of status, and can only be permitted to attend once the change of status has been approved (not while pending).

I applied for the visa, and now they tell me that before my visa is issued my application has to go through "administrative processing" What does this mean?

This means that your visa application has been subjected to an additional security clearance procedure. In general, this will add at least between two and four weeks to the visa application process. Unfortunately, there is nothing FIDM or anyone else can do to expedite this process. Please let our office know if your application is delayed due to a security clearance check. We may need to issue you a new I-20 form with a deferred start date if you are delayed significantly.

What documents do I need to take with me to an F-1 visa application appointment?

Each specific U.S. consulate's website will tell you what exactly to bring to the visa appointment (as well as what is not allowed inside the consulate). In general, F-1 visa applicants should bring the following:

  • The completed MRV visa application form(s), downloadable from the appropriate U.S. consulate website
  • FIDM issued I-20 form
  • Printed out confirmation of your DS-160 application and MRV fee
  • Your passport valid for at least six months into the future
  • Proof (receipt) of the $200 SEVIS I-901 fee payment (see additional information above)
  • Financial evidence confirming the financial ability to cover at least the first year of your tuition and living expenses
  • Evidence of sufficient English language ability
  • Evidence of non-immigrant intent (evidence that you have strong ties to your home country, and that you plan to return there after your U.S. program of study
I've heard that I may need to prove that I intend to return to my home country after I finish my F-1 program. What kind of evidence would be acceptable as "proof of non-immigrant intent"?

This is often somewhat intangible evidence that you have strong personal, financial, academic and or professional ties to your home country, and that you plan to return there after your FIDM degree program. This type of evidence can vary widely. Some suggestions include:

  • A simple statement that you plan to leave the U.S. at the end of your program, and return to your home country
  • Evidence of property or real estate or land ownership in your home country
  • Evidence of financial holdings in your home country
  • Ownership of a car or other liquid assets
  • Spouse, children or significant other family relatives in your home country
  • Permanent employment offer in the home country
  • Strong religious or civic ties to your local community
My spouse and/or dependent children are applying for F-2 dependent visas. Do they also need to pay the $200 SEVIS fee?

No - F-2 dependents do not need to pay the $200 SEVIS fee. They will, however each need to pay the standard MRV $160 visa application fee.

My spouse and/or dependent children are applying for F-2 dependent visas. What documents do they need to bring to the visa application appointment?

F-1 applicants who are also having a spouse or children apply for F-2 dependent visas should bring marriage certificates (translated into English in necessary) and birth certificates, as well as their dependents' own I-20 forms, passports and MRV visa application forms.

My F-1 visa was denied because of regulation "214(b)". What does this mean?

A visa denial based on regulation 214(b) generally means that the applicant has failed to prove non-immigrant intent. This means that the presiding U.S. consular officer was not convinced that you intended to leave the U.S. at the end of your degree program. You may reapply for the visa if you have new information relating to your nonimmigrant intent.

My visa was denied. Can I reapply?

Yes, in general, if your visa is denied, you may reapply. However, you should be sure that you have new evidence or information before you reapply. If you are denied a visa please inform your FIDM Admissions Advisor as soon as possible.

Do I need to travel home to get a new visa if my F-1 visa expires while I am in the U.S.?

No, as long as you are maintaining full-time enrollment and satisfactory progress in your degree program, your F-1 status is perfectly fine, despite the fact that their F-1 visa may have expired. You would only need to obtain a new, extended visa if you have plans to depart the U.S. for a visit abroad and re-enter the U.S. You may legally remain in the U.S. if your F-1 visa has expired without any negative consequences as long as your F-1 status is still valid.

Are there exceptions to needing an F-1 visa if I travel outside of the U.S.?

Yes, under a procedure called "Automatic Revalidation" if you have extended or been approved for a change to F-1 status, you may travel only to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean Islands (excluding Cuba) for a period of 30-days or less and then re-enter the U.S. using an expired F-1 visa. To do so, you must have in your possession:

  • A current and valid I-20 form with a valid travel signature less than one year old from your immigration advisor
  • A current and valid passport
  • A current I-94 card (if you entered the U.S. by land) or a current passport Admission stamp (if you entered by air or sea) indicating previous admission to the U.S in F-1 status
What is the difference between an F-1 visa stamp and F-1 status?

The difference between U.S. immigration status and a visa is an important and sometimes confusing concept. F-1 status can be extended, shortened or even changed to a different immigration status (i.e. H-1B) while you are inside the U.S., yet your F-1 visa does not have to match your corresponding immigration status while you are inside the U.S. The visa is only necessary for travel purposes. Initial entry and subsequent re-entry into the U.S. from abroad requires a valid visa corresponding to your particular immigration status (i.e. F-1) at all times. However you do not need to depart the U.S. if your visa expires as long as your F-1 (or other) immigration status is still valid. This is a very different policy than many other countries. For example, some nationalities will only receive a one-year F-1 visa stamp, yet their degree program will last for two, four, even six years in the U.S. As long as they are maintaining full-time enrollment and satisfactory progress in their degree program, their F-1 status is perfectly fine, despite the fact that their F-1 visa may have expired.

What exactly do I need to do to maintain valid F-1 immigration status?

Report to FIDM to have your SEVIS record registered in SEVIS in a timely fashion. You must be registered in SEVIS no later than 30-days after the program start date, and each semester thereafter, no later than 30-days after the next session start date for continuing students.

The following checklist details most of the main aspects of maintaining valid F-1 immigration status while in the U.S.:

  • For the first entry for initial school attendance, the school listed on the visa and on the I-20 must be the same, and that is the school you must intend to attend.
  • Pursue a "full course of study" at the school listed on the currently valid Form I-20 during every academic session or semester except during official school breaks, or unless approved under a specific exception, in advance, by your OVIS advisor.
  • Make normal progress towards completing your course of study, by completing studies on or before the expiration of the program completion date on your I-20 form.
  • Keep your I-20 form valid by following proper procedures for extension of stay, change in educational levels, change in programs of study or transfer of schools.
  • Abide by the F-1 grace period rules (30-day early arrival, 60-days upon completion of studies).
  • Report a change of address to FIDM within 10-days of the change, so that your SEVIS record can be updated.
  • Abide by rules requiring disclosure of information and prohibition on criminal activity.
  • Abide by any special requirements, such as Special Registration.
  • Do not work, either on or off-campus, unless specifically authorized by FIDM under F-1 regulations.
  • Abide by the aggregate unemployment rules while on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • All students should also keep their own passports valid.

Any failure of any the above-referenced rules can result in the loss of your legal F-1 immigration status.

If I fail to maintain F-1 status may I apply to get it back?

You may either leave and re-enter the US with a new initial I-20, unexpired visa and passport to regain your status or file for reinstatement of your F-1 student status. Reinstatement allows you the opportunity to regain valid F-1 status and have the mistakes you made corrected by USCIS. You may be eligible for reinstatement only if you:

  • Are currently enrolled or intend to enroll for a full-time course load
  • Can establish that the violation of status resulted from circumstances beyond your control
  • Have not engaged in unauthorized employment
  • Have not been out of status for more than 5 months
  • Can document sufficient financial resources to pursue a full-time course load
  • Do not have a history of repeated violations.
  • Are not deportable from the US on any other grounds

Note that working in the US without appropriate authorization from FIDM or the USCIS is a violation of your status that cannot be corrected through reinstatement. If you are in violation of your status due to unauthorized employment, you can only regain your status by departing and re-enter the United States with a new initial I-20.

What if my F-1 visa expires before my program or OPT completes, do I have to leave the US?

You can stay in the United States on an expired F-1 visa as long as you maintain your student status. However, if you are returning home or traveling to a country where automatic revalidation does not apply, you must have a valid visa to return to the United States.

You can apply in a third country for a visa, but you will not be able to return to the United States until you are issued your new visa. If you have an expired visa and a terminated record, we strongly advise that you do not travel outside the United States until your SEVIS record shows that you are in active status. If you do travel, you may not be able to renew your visa or return to the United States.

How long of a grace period do I have in F-1 status?

As an F-1 you are allowed to arrive in the U.S. no earlier than 30-days prior to the starting date listed on your I-20 form. Upon completion of studies you have a 60-day grace period from which to depart the U.S., apply for post-completion OPT, or change it to another immigration category. If you wish to extend your F-1 program because you need more time to finish your degree requirements, you must apply to FIDM's International Students Office before the end date on your I-20 form.

If I apply for and receive post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) am I still considered to be in F-1 status?

Yes, for the entire duration that you are authorized for OPT you are still under the same regulations of F-1 status.

Can I renew my VISA while inside the United States?

No. For more information about visa applications, visit the Department of State (DOS) website.

Can I go to Canada or Mexico to file for a new visa?

In some cases, you can. Contact the individual U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Canada or Mexico. However, you cannot return to the United States until DoS issues you a new visa. If DoS denies your visa application, you will not be able to return to the United States as a student. For more information about visa applications, visit the DoS website. You can also visit travel.state.gov, for more information on how to apply for a U.S. visa in Canada and Mexico.

Applying for a new visa is not the same as automatic visa revalidation. You cannot apply for a new visa and take advantage of automatic visa revalidation at the same time.

Upon re-entry into the US in F-1 status after leaving for less than five months, what documents do I need?
  • A Form I-20, endorsed for travel and signed by your DSO (signature valid for one year while studying, six months while on OPT)
  • You have been out of the United States for less than five months (any absence from the US or studies over five months invalidates your I-20)
  • A current passport valid for at least six months after the date of your re-entry.
  • A valid, current visa or you traveled to contiguous country or adjacent island for less than thirty days. (Canadians are VISA exempt).
  • Financial information showing proof of necessary funds to cover tuition and living expenses

If you are from a visa exempt country, you do not need a visa to reenter the United States from the western hemisphere, but make sure that you present your I-20 to be admitted as an F-1 student and not a visitor.

What If I have an expired passport or one that will expire in less than six months?

You must renew your passport before re-entering the United States.

In most cases, to enter the United States, you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after the date you enter or re-enter. Try to keep your passport current at all times. You need to determine your country’s requirements and timelines for renewing passports. Many countries will allow you to renew your passport while in the United States. The other alternative is to renew your passport when you return home for a visit. In some cases, you may want to delay leaving the United States until you have renewed your passport. You will not be able to re-enter the United States without a valid passport. If your expired passport has a valid visa, you can still use that visa if you kept the old passport. Present the old passport, along with the new passport when you re-enter the country.

If I transferred my I-20 from another college to FIDM, or transferred between different programs at FIDM (change in educational level), do I need to pay the I-901 fees again before I travel?

No, the I-901 fees only need to be paid once for the same record (transferred record), however if you are issued an entirely new initial I-20 (different SEVIS number) you will be required to pay the fee again before re-entering the US.

Can I travel and re-enter the US in F-1 student status during my grace period?

No. The 60-day “grace” period is only to prepare to leave the country.

Can I re-enter the US if I traveled while my OPT was pending?

Yes, but traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution. USCIS may send you a request for evidence while you are away, however, so you would want to make sure you have provided a correct U.S. address both to your FIDM DSO and on the application and would be able to send in requested documents. Also, if USCIS approves your OPT application, you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States. Like a request for further information, USCIS can only send the EAD to your U.S. address.

Can I re-enter if I left on OPT?

If USCIS has approved your OPT you will be expected to have your EAD in hand to re-enter the United States, in addition to your Form I-20, valid passport and visa, and a letter of employment if you have one. If you exceed the limits on unemployment while outside the United States, you will not be eligible to re-enter the United States in F-1 status.

Do dependents have to travel with their primary?

No. However, your primary must be maintaining status. Consult with your FIDM DSO to ensure your primary is in status before traveling. You will need a valid passport. If your primary stays in the United States and has a request for optional practical training (OPT) pending or approved, you will need additional documentation. Make a copy of the primary’s Form I-20 with the page 3 annotations and/or employment authorization document (EAD) and be prepared to present it at the port of entry.

What if I forgot my I-20 or DS-2019, or I forgot to get a travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019 before I left?
Need a Signature or a New Form?

If you have left the U.S. and are now realizing that you do not have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019, or you forgot your I-20 / DS-2019 altogether, we can send you a new copy of your current form with an updated travel signature to any location in the world.

Not Enough Time!

If you are traveling back to the U.S. too soon for us to get a new form to you (faxed and scanned forms are not legal documents so we cannot get them to you that way), don't panic. When you reach the port of entry, explain to the port of entry officer that you forgot your I-20 or DS-2019, and can the officer please let you in to the U.S. with an "I-515." The "I-515" will allow you entry in to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status for 30 days. If you get an I-515 at the port, to the International Students Office at FIDM after you arrive and a DSO will help you complete the requirements.

What are the student housing options?

Moving to a new country can be a challenging and exciting experience. The FIDM Housing Office will assist you with finding the plan that best suits your needs. Visit the Housing page for more information.

What about TOEFL & ESL?

Students whose first language is not English and who have not taken AND passed a regular (not ESL) English class at a U.S. accredited college or a US high school must submit a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score - or a TOEFL equivalent - prior to acceptance. Students who have TOEFL scores of 207 computer-based / or 76 Internet-based and above are exempt from FIDM's Development Writing (ESL) classes.

The minimum TOEFL score or a TOEFL equivalent for acceptance to FIDM is a computer-based score of 183 or an Internet-based score of 65.

FIDM offers Developmental Writing (ESL), an advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) course, for students whose scores range from 183-205 computer-based, 65-74 internet-based. FIDM students take the Developmental Writing (ESL) classes in conjunction with courses in their major. The cost for the Developmental Writing (ESL) class is $850 (tuition, books, and supplies).

Is there an International student orientation?

Yes! Each quarter FIDM holds a special International Student Info. Session before school starts. You'll learn important information about your visas and meet the people who can help you during your time at FIDM. All International students with F-1 Visas must attend.

Please bring your:

  1. PASSPORT
  2. VISA
  3. 1-94 CARD
  4. STAMPED I-20
  5. PREVIOUSLY STAMPED I-20's
Can a non-immigrant take courses at FIDM as a non-degree student?

No. FIDM only provides degree programs. F-1 student’s can only be issued I-20 to specifically attend degree granting programs (at the college level) in the event that an F-1 alumni desired to take a course or two as “refreshers” such an arrangement could only be facilitated during the student’s post completion Optional Practical Training benefits or if currently attending another institution, only after concurrent enrollment authorization has been given by the institution they are currently attending.

What is the International Student Financial Verification Form (ISVF)?

An International Student Financial Statement Verification Form is required before an I-20 student visa application can be issued. The information entered on this form must show an ability to finance college and living expenses, in US dollars, for one academic year (living expenses are currently estimated to be approximately $19,000 - $25,000, depending on the length of the program). This financial form may be submitted separately.

Section I – Determines the student's non-immigrant status. Do they hold a current visa, if so what type, when does it expire? Are they on a non-immigrant visa type that allows study but does not require the issuance of an I-20? Are they currently attending another SEVIS approved college and need to facilitate the transfer of their I-20 to FIDM? If the student is currently in the US on a visa type that does not allow study at FIDM (WT/WB, M1, F2, J1 or B1/B2) then they must either apply for a change of status if applicable (most of these visa types do not permit applying for a change of status in the US by submitting an I-539 application to change non-immigrant status submitted to the USCIS) or leave the US apply for the visa at a US consulate and re-enter in proper status. If applying for a change of status in where applicable in a visa type that does not otherwise permit pursuing an academic college level degree in the US the student must be APPROVED for the change of status before they start a program of study in the US.

Section II – Verifying the student's financial abitlity to cover all financial obligations while attending their program. This section clarifies for the student how much they will have to verify, which will be the full cost of the first year of their tuition (for PD students the full tuition amount) plus their living expenses, which are currently calculated to be $18,774 for a 9 months contract and $24,996 for a 12 months contract. The prospective student will have to provide actual financial statements to verify the availability of their funding usually in the form of a bank statement form their parents or other benefactors.

Section III – Student contract. This section of forms requires the prospective student's signature which acknowledged that the student read the section pertaining to minimum F-1 requirements, understood the information contained in the section and agreed to abide by those regulations. (For a non-exclusive list of those requirements refer to the Maintaining F-1 Student status section).