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SEVIS Fee: Questions and Answers

International Scholars > SEVIS Fee

New international scholars must pay a SEVIS fee and obtain a receipt prior to applying for a J-1 visa to enter the United States. Or, in the case of Canadians, the fee must be paid prior to arriving at the airport or border for admission to the United States.

What is the "SEVIS fee?"

SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is the U.S. government's tracking system that allows various U.S. agencies (overseas U.S. Consulates, border patrol agents at the U.S. borders and airports, the Department of Homeland Security, and others) to see up-to-date information about international students and scholars in F, J, and M visa status, their academic activities, and their accompanying family members. On July 1, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the Final Rule implementing collection of a $100 SEVIS fee to support this program. All F-1 and M-1 students and J-1 exchange visitors with initial documents issued on or after September 1, 2004 are subject to this fee. On October 27, 2008 the fee will increase to $180 for J-1 exchange visitors and to $200 for F-1 and M-1 students.

In addition to the questions and answers on this page, more information about the SEVIS fee is available on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement web site.

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How should international scholars pay this fee?

Each SEVIS fee payment must be acompanied by a completed Form I-901, which is available on the SEVIS fee payment web site. The fee payment must be associated with a Form I-901 so that the payment can be linked to a specific nonimmigrant record in SEVIS.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has created three means by which the SEVIS fee can be paid:

1. Form I-901 may be completed and submitted on-line and the SEVIS fee may be charged to a credit card (Visa, MasterCard, or American Express). A receipt can and should be printed by the payer from the Web and brought by the scholar to the U.S. Consulate at the time of visa application. The receipt should also be carried and shown to immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry. Or;

2. Form I-901 may be submitted by mail with a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank and payable in U.S. currency. Form I-901 should be downloaded from the SEVIS I-901 Fee page of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website and sent with the payment via regular mail to the payment collection site (the post office box listed on the I-901). [Caution: Many express mail and courier companies will not deliver to P.O. boxes.] A receipt will then be mailed to the address indicated by the payer. This alternative payment method can take many weeks and is subject to the reliability of the mail. It is meant to provide a fee payment option for individuals who do not have access to the Internet. The receipt should also be carried and shown to immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry. Or,

3. International scholars in many countries may pay the SEVIS fee in local currency using the Western Union Quick Pay™ service. More information and instructions can be found on the SEVIS I-901 Fee page of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

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Who MUST pay the SEVIS fee?

Students and scholars with Forms I-20 or DS-2019 issued on or after September 1, 2004 to begin a NEW program at a U.S. institution. The fee must be paid before applying for an entry visa, seeking admission to the United States, or seeking a change to F, J, or M status. The fee must also be paid in certain circumstances involving change of category, reinstatement, and other requests, described below.

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Who does NOT have to pay the fee?

  • Nonimmigrant spouses and qualifying children in derivative status. Although they receive a SEVIS identification number and are tracked in SEVIS, spouses and unmarried children (under 21 years of age) of students and scholars who apply for J-2, F-2, or M-2 status do not pay the SEVIS fee.
  • Continuing F, M, or J nonimmigrants who are maintaining that status and whose initial Forms I-20 or DS-2019 were issued prior to September 1, 2004. This provision only applies to a nonimmigrant returning to the United States to resume participation in a program that was previously begun, in which he or she has maintained status, and which has not yet been completed.
  • Students and scholars applying for extension of stay in the same program.
  • Students and scholars transferring from one institution to another while maintaining the same status and in the same category. J-1 scholars who transfer from the Research Scholar program of one institution may transfer to another institution's J-1 program as a Research Scholar without payment of a new fee.
  • Students and scholars coming to the United States in government sponsored exchange programs ("G" programs), such as the Fulbright program.
  • Students and scholars who pay the SEVIS fee, whose visas are denied at the Consulate, and who reapply for that same visa within 12 months of the initial visa denial.

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Can a department, laboratory, or center; a family member; or other parties pay the SEVIS fee on behalf of a scholar?

Yes, a third party may pay the fee by mail or electronically using one of the two payment methods listed above. Research funds cannot be used for this purpose. The third party submits payment, being sure to enter the correct SEVIS ID number, as listed on the scholar's Form DS-2019 (in the upper right corner of the document). The third party must be sure to list the scholar's name exactly as it appears on the Form DS-2019 and in the passport. A reliable address must be listed for mailing the receipt. Or, the receipt should be printed immediately from the Web and sent to the scholar abroad. The International Scholars Office provides instructions to all incoming J-1 scholars regarding SEVIS and visas, in writing, with the Form DS-2019.

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When must the SEVIS fee be paid?

The fee must be paid prior to applying for a visa stamp, but the applicant can schedule an appointment at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before actually paying the fee. Whether paying on-line or by mail, the payment must be received by DHS at least three business days before the date the alien reports to the consulate to submit the visa application and undergo a visa interview. Payment may be made anytime after issuance of the Form DS-2019, and up until three business days before application for a visa or application for admission.

For Canadian nationals, who do not require a visa stamp to enter the United States, payment must be received by DHS at least three business days before the scholar applies at the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) for admission to the United States.

Individuals applying through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services service centers for "change of status" to J-1 status must pay the SEVIS fee before the service center will approve their applications.

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Do scholars get receipts when they pay the fee?

Yes. Scholars who pay the fee by credit card over the Internet are able to print out a receipt at the time of fee payment, and can use that printed fee receipt for immediate verification of payment. Third parties who pay the fee on behalf of incoming visitors can print receipts and send them to scholars.

Scholars or third parties who pay the SEVIS fee by mail receive printed receipts, which are sent to the address provided on the Form I-901.

For scholars who pay the fee via the Western Union Quick Pay™ service, the properly completed Western Union receipt serves as immediate proof of payment.

In some cases, a Consulate or Embassy may not be able to verify fee payment electronically. Paper receipts will serve as secondary means of fee verification until proof of payment can be verified electronically.

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What happens if the fee is paid fewer than three business days before visa application/interview or before application for admission at a border crossing?

If an applicant has not allowed enough time for the fee payment information to be recorded in SEVIS and the connected consular and immigration databases, the individual could be denied a visa stamp or admission unless he/she has a printed receipt to prove payment was made.

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If the visa is denied at the U.S. Consulate, will the scholar be given a refund?

No. Refunds will only be granted when someone who was not supposed to pay the fee has paid the SEVIS fee in error. If a scholar is denied a visa, he/she can reapply for that same visa within a 12-month period and not have to pay the fee again. DHS believes that by virtue of having a document issued through SEVIS, and having been entered into the SEVIS system for processing, scholars have "used" SEVIS and therefore are subject to the fee, even if the application for visa to enter the United States is denied.

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Who else has to pay the fee, in addition to those categories described earlier?

  • Students and scholars in government sponsored exchange programs ("G" programs) who are transferring to non-government programs (such as "P" programs). These include Fulbright students and scholars transferring to non-Fulbright programs.
  • J-1 exchange visitors applying for a change of category. A change from Professor to Research Scholar or vice versa is not a change of category. A change from Specialist to Professor, or Research Scholar to Alien Physician is a change of category.
  • J-2 dependents applying for change to F-1 or J-1* status. Spouses of J-1 exchange visitors who apply for admission or change of status to pursue their own academic programs must pay the SEVIS fee. Children of F-1 or J-1 visa holders who apply for student or exchange visitor status to pursue their own academic programs must pay the SEVIS fee.

    *Please Note: J-2 dependents of J-1 Research Scholars and Professors are subject to a regulatory 24-month bar and must wait at least 24 months after completion of the J program before starting a new J-1 program in the Research Scholar or Professor category.
  • F-1 or J-1 visa holders applying for reinstatement after a substantive violation of status.

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Why is the Department of Homeland Security collecting this fee?

In 1996, the President signed the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) into law. The law required that a system be put in place to track foreign students and exchange visitors. The system was mandated to be self-supporting by collection of a fee from all international students, scholars, alien physicians, specialists, au pairs, camp counselors, flight trainees, and international visitors applying for F, J, or M visa status.

After the events of September 11, 2001, development of the tracking system was expedited. SEVIS became operational in January of 2003. At that time, collection of the fee was postponed until a viable payment system could be developed. On July 1, 2004, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the Final Rule implementing collection of the $100 SEVIS fee. On October 27, 2008 the fee will increase to $180 for J-1 exchange visitors and to $200 for F-1 and M-1 students.

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Additional Information

The academic community has been working tirelessly to mitigate the anticipated effects of the SEVIS fee on international students and scholars. These proposed fee payment methods are the result of compromises between DHS, many academic professional associations, university government relations offices, and the Department of State. The SEVIS payment system is expected to evolve and improve as students, scholars, and program sponsors begin to use the system and provide feedback to the various government agencies involved.

Please contact the International Scholars Office at 617-253-2851 or iso@mit.edu if you have questions about this announcement.

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Last Updated: January 2009

77 Massachusetts Ave, Room E38-219, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 | Telephone: (617) 253-2851 | Fax: (617) 253-6624 | E-mail: iso@mit.edu