Students who have been issued an F-1 visa are eligible to enter the United States up to thirty days before the “reporting date” in item #5 on the I-20 form, but not earlier. While the issuance of an F-1 visa gives you permission to request entry to the U.S. during that thirty-day period, the visa itself does not guarantee entry to the United States. The final decision as to whether you will be admitted to the United States is made at your U.S. port of entry by an inspection officer of the USCBP. As with the consular officer who reviews visa applications, the inspection officer at the port of entry must be convinced of your nonimmigrant intent and your financial sufficiency. The inspection officer will examine your I-20AB form, your unexpired passport (which must have at least six months of validity remaining), your valid F-1 visa stamp; your proof of SEVIS I-901 fee payment; and, possibly, your evidence of financial support. In practice, USCBP officials sometimes do not request financial documentation; at other times, however, it can be examined quite closely, so you should be prepared to produce it in order to avoid problems at the port of entry. Requests for such evidence can be made each time you reenter the U.S.
Students are strongly advised to have the appropriate documentation available for presentation to the inspector at the port of entry. In some cases, a student seeking entry to the U.S. without one of the requested documents will be issued a “Form I-515,” granting temporary admission to the United States for a thirty-day period, during which time the student must submit the missing documentation. However, due to heightened security concerns, officers at U.S. ports of entry are less likely to issue such a reprieve to students who present themselves for entry without the proper documents. Furthermore, an inspector at a port of entry has absolute discretion to deny your entry to the U.S. and send you home if your documents are not in order. To avoid the possibility of this onerous consequence, you should be certain to have the appropriate documentation available for presentation to the inspector at the port of entry.
Finally, even if you have some other kind of valid visa in your passport (e.g. B-2 "visitor/tourist" status) or come from a country whose residents are eligible for a “visa waiver” for tourists, you should be certain to enter the U.S. in F-1 student status during the years when you are pursuing an education at Amherst College. Entering in any other classification would be considered fraudulent entry under false pretenses, since it would misrepresent the primary purpose of your entry, which is to be a student at Amherst College, not a tourist. Entering the United States in a status other than the F-1 student status may prohibit your enrollment at Amherst College, render you ineligible for other benefits of F-1 status, and could subject you to serious penalty, including deportation and a ban to reentry for five years. At a minimum, you would be required to leave the U.S. and reenter on a proper F-1 student visa.
If the officer at the port of entry determines that you are admissible to the United States in F-1 status, he or she will:
- return the I-20AB to you
- electronically enter data about your arrival into your SEVIS record.
If you get to the end of processing and have not yet received your copy of the I-20 form --properly stamped and notated with “F-1” and “D/S”--a gentle and polite reminder to the inspection officer is recommended. The I-20AB form is an important document that provide evidence of your having legally been admitted to the United States in F-1 status. You should safeguard this document as carefully as you would your passport.
As a final step in your processing at the port of entry, you will undergo an arrival / departure screening procedure, referred to as “US-VISIT,” requiring an inkless fingerprint of your index fingers and a digital photograph of your face.