Instructions and Legal Requirements

Basic Instructions


All international students accepted to a degree program at the University of New Mexico will receive an acceptance letter in the mail.  You will also receive an undergraduate welcome letter and a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 for F-1 or DS-2019 for J-1 status). 

Please check this form carefully to be sure all of your personal information is correct (name, date of birth, etc.) After you read and understand the terms and conditions on page 2 of this form, you must complete the student attestation by signing at the bottom of page 1.

If your Certificate of Eligibility is not enclosed this should be because either:

  • You are coming to UNM from another US institution (called an “immigration transfer”)


  • Your immigration documents will be coming from another J1 program sponsor (for Fulbright and other agency-sponsored students – contact the program sponsor for information about your DS-2019)

If neither of these reasons fit your situation and the immigration document is NOT enclosed with your acceptance letter, email

Visa Requirements


If you are currently outside the US, you should use the I-20 (or DS-2019) form to apply for an F1 (or J1) entry visa at the United States Embassy or Consulate nearest your place of residence after you are sure you will attend UNM.

If you have already applied for a visa using another school's form, and you want to attend UNM, you will need to return to the consulate and apply for a new visa that has UNM listed as the school you will attend. Canadian citizens do not require a visa, but must present this form when entering the US from Canada and must pay the SEVIS fee before arriving in the US (see below). Non-citizen residents of Canada should check with the US Consulate to find out whether or not they need a visa.

For information on the US Embassy or Consulate(s) nearest you, please see:

When to apply for the visa


You cannot apply for the visa more than 120 days prior to the date your US program begins (check your I-20/DS-2019 for the program start date).You will need to bring with you to the US Consulate and to the US:

  • Passport

  • Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee

  • I-20 or DS-2019 form

  • UNM acceptance letter

  • Proof of finances for your studies

  • Any evidence that you intend to return home when you complete your studies (e.g., proof of property, a job or family in your home country).

Please contact the US Consulate before you go to find out how to make an appointment, what the fees are, what additional documents you should bring to the interview, and how long it generally takes to process the visa. A list of US Embassy/Consulate websites can be found at

 Also, check this website for 10 points to remember when applying for your student visa.

Due to recent changes in visa and immigration policy, we expect visa interview and processing times to be longer than in previous years for all students, no matter what country you come from. Be smart and get your visa appointment as early as possible within the 120-day window!

Visa interview


If you will have an interview at a US Consulate, GEO recommends the following:

  • Be ready to articulate in English briefly and clearly your reason for study in the US and your plan to use your education in your home country after program completion.

  • Know how your academic degree and new knowledge will fit into your home country job market.

  • Be prepared with the above information, but don’t memorize a “speech” which sounds rehearsed.

  • Remain calm.

  • Ask the consular officer if s/he will review any documents you brought (even if s/he doesn't ask for them). In case of a denial, ask that the reason be given to you in writing before you leave the consulate. Only in this way can you address the US Consulate’s concern if and when you return for a second interview. For information about reasons for visa denial, visit the website:

  • You may be subject to a security check that will delay the visa application process. Therefore, we highly recommend that you apply for your visa as soon as you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 immigration form (but not sooner than 120 days before your program begins).

  • Once you are issued a visa, you should verify that all information is correct and it does not contain any typographical errors in your name, date of birth, or other biographical information. It is extremely important that your name and biographical information on the visa MATCH your passport and your I-20/DS-2019.  Make sure you are issued the correct type of visa, e.g. F1 or J1, NOT F2 or J2. It is extremely difficult to correct these errors once you have left the consulate and nearly impossible once you have entered the US, so you want to get these errors corrected BEFORE you begin your program.

  • Finally, once you are issued a visa, the consular officer will seal your I-20/DS-2019 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.  DO NOT PACK THE ENVELOPE IN YOUR LUGGAGE!

Required SEVIS fee

  • All students and scholars must pay a mandatory US “SEVIS” fee the first time they are applying for student or scholar status. Please note that this fee is a US government fee. It is not a university fee.

  • If you are in the United States applying for a change of status to F-1 or J-1, you are subject to this fee and must pay it or your application will not be processed.

  • You should include proof of payment with your application. If USCIS cannot verify your payment they will request proof of your payment, which will cause delays in the process of your application.

Three ways to pay the SEVIS fee:

  1. Online at by using a credit card and completing the online Form I-901. You will need to print the computer-generated receipt and include it with your application.

  2. Through Western Union Quick Pay. This option is available in any country where Western Union offers its Quick Pay service. This service allows you to pay the SEVIS fee electronically and directly to the Department of Homeland Security in local currency. The receipt you will obtain at the end of the transaction will be your proof of payment. Information about paying by Western Union can be found at

  3. Through the mail by submitting a completed Form I-901 (please ask an advisor for it) and a check or money order drawn on a US Bank payable in US Currency. You will need to wait until you receive the receipt (Form I-797) to submit it with your change of status application. Because we do not know how much time it takes to obtain this receipt we strongly recommend you try to pay the SEVIS fee through the Internet or Western Union (options 1 and 2 above).

For more detailed information on the fee payment process please go to the SEVIS website at, or refer to our welcome letter which comes in the mail with your new I-20 if you are changing to F-1 status. Payment is not required if the applicant is requesting a change of status to an F-2 or J-2.

How soon can I legally arrive to the US


Regulations prohibit new students from arriving more than 30 days prior to the reporting date listed on the front of the I-20 or DS-2019 form.  Be sure that you do not arrive earlier than that date or you may be sent back to your home country.

Special Information for Canadian citizens


Citizens of Canada do not require entry visas, but must present their I-20 or DS-2019 form, financial proof, and proof of payment of the SEVIS fee when entering the US from Canada. Passports are required for all Canadian citizens arriving by air or who wish to work in the US and will soon be required for all entry to the US.

Students who are receiving assistantships or plan to work on campus must have a passport. For land and sea travel, Canadian citizens will need to present a single document that complies with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI). See for more information.

Because all Canadians will be required to present passports in the near future, we strongly recommend that you enter with a Canadian passport even if you are crossing at a land port. Canadian students crossing at a land port need to be sure that their I-20 or DS-2019 is reviewed by the immigration official AND need to carefully check that they receive an I-94 card that accurately indicates their F1 or J1 status.

If you are currently in F1 or J1 status

  • If you are currently in F1 or J1 student immigration status studying at another University or High School in the US and you are going to begin attending UNM with no break or only a brief break in studies (less than 5 months), you will need to process an “immigration transfer” to attend UNM. Please go through IMMIGRATION TRANSFER FORM.

  • Before coming to UNM, you should visit the international advisor at your current school and let him/her know the date you plan to transfer to UNM.

  • The advisor there MUST set a release date and enter UNM as the school you will transfer to in the SEVIS immigration student tracking system (the “transfer to” school [UNM] and date cannot be changed once the transfer date is reached).

  • Have the advisor complete the UNM transfer form and return it to the Global Education Office at UNM (via email to or fax to 505-277-1867).

  • The UNM I-20 or DS-2019 cannot be sent to you until AFTER the release date you set with your current international advisor so be sure to state clearly on the UNM transfer form where the I-20 should be sent or if you wish to pick it up upon arrival at UNM.

Within 15 days


  • Within 15 days of the start date on the new I-20 or DS-2019, report to the Global Education Office (GEO), 2120 Mesa Vista Hall to complete the transfer. You must bring your passport, visa, I-94, and all previously issued I-20s/DS-2019s with you.

  • If there are any complications that will cause you to arrive late, you must contact GEO to discuss your situation. Failure to report to GEO with the completed documents within 15 days of the start date may result in immigration problems.

  • If you have not been a full-time student at the last school you were authorized to attend, you should contact the International Advisor at that school to discuss how to apply for a reinstatement to status.

  • If a reinstatement is not possible at your former school, you can contact our office to discuss the possibility of transferring your SEVIS record and having UNM request the reinstatement. Otherwise, you may need to leave the US and enter in a new period of F1 or J1 status.

If you plan to travel out of the US


If you plan to travel out of the US briefly between attending a previous institution and attending UNM and you do not have a valid student visa, you should present the UNM I-20 or DS-2019 form, along with financial proof and proof of your intent to return home, to a consular officer at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad to obtain a student entry visa (please see above for more information about applying for a visa - Canadian citizens do not require entry visas). You will also need to show the I-20/DS-2019 form to the inspecting immigration officer upon entry to the US.

Please be advised: Due to recent changes to visa and immigration policy, we expect visa interview and processing times to be longer than in previous years for all students, no matter what country you come from or whether you have had a previous US visa. Think carefully before you make a "quick trip" - it might not be so quick!

If you plan to apply for the new visa in Canada or Mexico, speak to an international advisor about your situation BEFORE you schedule the appointment. Applying in these countries may present significant problems or be impossible for some individuals. If you do have a valid student visa, you do not need to apply for a new one. You will present the UNM I-20 or DS-2019 to the immigration officer with your current visa upon reentry to the US.

If you are in the US on a different status (NOT F1 or J1)


If you are currently in the US in an immigration status other than F1 or J1 student status and you plan to switch to student status, materials describing change of status procedures should have been sent to you (you can also find this information at: If you are currently in the US in B1, B2 or F2 status, you may not be able to begin your program at UNM until the change of status is approved by immigration or you have left the US and reentered with an F1 or J1 visa. Ask to speak to a GEO advisor for more information.