Incoming Students

Congratulations on your acceptance to Western Washington University!

We look forward to meeting you when you arrive and to welcoming you to our community. We hope that you will find your stay in Bellingham rewarding, both academically and personally.

students pose with Western mascot Buddy the Viking


The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is an internet-based database that allows schools and federal immigration agencies to exchange data on the status of international students. Information is transmitted electronically throughout an F-1 or J-1 student's academic career in the US.

An electronic record is created in SEVIS for you after you are admitted and confirm enrollment at Western Washington University. This allows WWU to issue an I-20 or DS-2019, which you need to gain F-1 or J-1 status. When you apply for a student visa and later arrive at a US port of entry, the consular officer or immigration official may consult SEVIS in addition to your supporting documents to verify eligibility for F-1 or J-1 status. ISSS will continue to provide electronic reports throughout your academic career, noting information such as registration, address changes, academic program changes, degree completion, and immigration status violations.

It is important to understand the F-1 and J-1 student immigration regulations in order to maintain status while you are in the US. For more information, please contact ISSS.

Immigration Documents: I-20 or DS-2019

This document allows you to apply for a student visa if you are outside the US, apply for student status within the US, enter and reenter the US in student status, and prove your eligibility for various immigration benefits. The document indicates the institution in which you are permitted to study, your program of study, and the dates of eligibility. The I-20 or DS-2019 must remain valid at all times. Request an extension prior to its expiration date. Allowing the document to expire before you complete your academic program is a violation of status.

Students who will be in F-1 status will be issued an I-20, while students who will be in J-1 status will be issued a DS-2019. Generally, degree-seeking students will be in F-1 status, and exchange students will be in J-1 status.

F-1 Students

I-20s for incoming F-1 students will be issued by different offices depending on the student's level of study:

J-1 Students

Direct exchange students will be issued DS-2019s by ISSS. ISEP and other exchange program students will receive their DS-2019s from their programs. These students will need to be in contact with their programs, as well as ISSS, regarding immigration issues -- travel signatures, work authorization, changes to the DS-2019.

Visas and Entry into the US

If you are living outside the US you must obtain a passport from your government (if you don't have one already) and then take the I-20 or DS-2019 and supporting documentation to the nearest US embassy or consulate to apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa. Apply for the visa as early as possible. You can check the visa appointment and processing wait times for all US embassies and consulates. Students applying for initial entry F-1 and F-2 visas may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted on the I-20. J-1 and J-2 Exchange Visitors may be issued visas at any time before the beginning of their programs. (Canadian citizens do not need a visa, but simply present the I-20 or DS-2019 to the immigration officer at the US port of entry. A passport may be required depending on your method of travel.)

You may not enter the US earlier than 30 days before the start date noted in Item 5 on the I-20 form or Item 3 on the DS-2019 form. You should make your travel arrangements with this date in mind. Your I-20 or DS-2019 does not require a travel signature for your initial entry into the US. However, you need a travel signature for subsequent trips. The ISSS advisor cannot sign your document until you have registered full-time for your first quarter. Do not plan to travel outside the US after your first entry unless you will be able to register first and obtain a travel signature.

Incoming Transfer Students

School and SEVIS Record Transfer

When transferring from one school to another school within the United States, you must carefully follow certain procedures to maintain lawful F-1 or J-1 status. Please note that in this context the term "transfer" means changing schools, either in the middle of a degree program or between degrees, regardless of academic level. For high school, undergraduate, and graduate students alike, if you are currently attending school in the US and plan to attend a new school, you will likely need to request the transfer of your SEVIS record.

Eligibility for a SEVIS record transfer

F-1 Students

  • The start date at your new school must be within 5 months of your "transfer out" date in SEVIS or your program completion, whichever is earlier. For students authorized for post-completion OPT, the new program start date must be within 5 months of your SEVIS "transfer out" date or the end of the OPT authorization, whichever is earlier. If the period of time between programs is longer than 5 months, your SEVIS record does not need to be transferred. Your new school will issue a new initial I-20 and new SEVIS number.
  • You must currently be maintaining F-1 status.
  • If you have already graduated, you must be within your 60-day grace period.

Transfer procedures (to Western)

To transfer to Western Washington University, you must first apply for admission to the WWU Admissions office. Once admitted, you will receive a transfer form to fill out with the international student advisor at your current school. After you sign this form, your advisor will transfer your SEVIS record to Western. Only your current school has access to your SEVIS record; therefore, WWU cannot issue your I-20 until your SEVIS record is transferred. In most cases, the "transfer out" date will be the last day of your final term at your current school.

Transfer Student - Frequently Asked Questions

You may stay in the US if the SEVIS record transfer procedures are followed. If the period between programs is longer than 5 months, your new school must issue a new initial I-20 with a new SEVIS number. You will need to leave the US within your 60-day grace period and re-enter no earlier than 30 days before your new program start date.

Generally, if you will travel outside of the US between programs, you must use the I-20 from your new school when you re-enter. It is important to discuss your travel plans with your international student advisor at both your current and new school so that an appropriate "transfer out" date can be coordinated.

As long as you have followed the proper transfer procedures, you will be able to use your current, unexpired visa to re-enter the US even though it has your previous school name printed on it.

You may only work on campus at the school that has access to your SEVIS record. Check with the international student advisor at your new school to verify employment eligibility.

You are eligible to request a SEVIS record transfer during the 60-day grace period following your program completion. If you are authorized for OPT you can request a SEVIS record transfer during your OPT period and within the 60-day grace period following your OPT expiration date.

If you are currently authorized for OPT, choose carefully when deciding what date you would like your SEVIS record transferred to your new school. OPT authorization ends on the "transfer out" date, even if the EAD card is not yet expired. If you plan to work between programs while on OPT coordinate with your international student advisor to determine an appropriate "transfer out" date.


Arriving in the U.S. and Traveling to Bellingham

US Immigration Inspection

When you arrive in the US, you will need to have the following items available to present at immigration inspection:

  • a valid passport (passports should be valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • a valid US visa (most Canadians do not require a visa)
  • an immigration document (an I-20 for F-1 status or DS-2019 for J-1 status)
  • a receipt for the SEVIS I-901 fee
  • evidence of funding

In airports, immigration inspection is located before baggage collection -- keep these items in your hand luggage so that you can easily access them.

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will evaluate your documents and may ask you a few questions.   He or she will then issue you with either an admission stamp in your passport or Form I-94, a small white card usually stapled to the passport opposite the visa stamp. In summer of 2013, CBP transitioned to electronic arrival/departure records for air and sea ports of entry. For most travelers arriving by air or sea, a paper I-94 card will not be issued. Instead, the CBP official will issue an admission stamp in the passport. Travelers at land borders will continue to receive paper I-94 cards.

The admission stamp or I-94 card records the date and place you entered the US, your immigration status (for example, J-1 or J-2), and authorized period of stay (indicated by "D/S", meaning "duration of status"). Be sure to check the stamp to make sure it is correct. If you receive a paper I-94 card, keep it stapled in your passport. A $330 fee is required to replace a lost, stolen or damaged paper I-94 card. Consult your ISSS advisor if you lose your I-94 card.

You might need a printout of your I-94 information to apply for various benefits such as a Washington State ID card or a Social Security Number. You can obtain a printout of your I-94 record at the CBP website.

Bringing Food and Agricultural Products into the US

Please be aware that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) places restrictions on the types of food and agricultural products allowed into the United States. This is done to protect US agriculture from pests and disease. Read over the USDA guidelines for international travelers before bringing any food items or agricultural products into the US, as items that are not permitted will be seized. These restrictions also apply to items sent by mail, so it's a good idea to inform family and friends who may be sending you packages containing food products from home.

Traveling to Bellingham

Bellingham is located between Seattle, WA, USA and Vancouver, BC, Canada.  Many students traveling from overseas or from other parts of the US fly into Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport (SEA).  You can then transfer to a flight to Bellingham International Airport (BLI) or take the Airporter Shuttle to Bellingham. It is also possible to fly into Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and travel to Bellingham by bus, but remember that citizens of some countries are required to have a visa to leave the airport in Canada.  It is also possible to travel between Portland (Oregon), Seattle, Bellingham, and Vancouver by rail and bus.

New Student Orientation, Advising & Registration

International Student Orientation

In addition to the WWU New Student Orientations, there will be an International Student Orientation just before the start of Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. As the information presented at this orientation session is very important, attendance is required for all new international students. Important information about academic issues, registration, maintaining visa status, SEVIS, WWU student ID cards, health insurance, etc. will be addressed at the orientation. Information about the date, time, and location of the International Student Orientation will be sent to new students beforehand.

All international students who are not coming on exchange, even transfer students, must also attend an Advising & Registration Session (see below) for academic advising and course registration help. The International Student Orientation will not cover topics such as course registration and academic advising but rather topics more specific to international student status. Your active participation in an advising session will help you feel more comfortable and confident as you begin your academic journey at Western.

Quarterly Advising & Registration Sessions

All new students should refer to the New Student Services/Family Outreach department's "Welcome New Students" page with information about quarterly Advising & Registration Sessions where new students can sign up for a session to receive academic advising and course registration support prior to the start of their first quarter. Students can click on the corresponding quarter they are beginning for specific sign-up information, available session dates, a general schedule-of-the-day, and other instructions to support academic preparation. There is no fee to attend an Advising & Registration Session.

New Student Orientation Checklist

All new students have a series of required and recommended tasks to support your successful entry to Western and preparation for your first quarter. New students should review the New Student Orientation Checklist for prompts on actions to complete. Required actions are marked as such, and the Checklist will have links and other information to support your completing those actions. Most items are recommended actions, some of which may or may not apply to you, but you may find helpful. Recommended actions also have links to campus services and departments so you can connect to resources that are important or of interest to you.  Students may also find the "How do I..." tab on the Orientation website's main menu helpful as it has links to help answer common and frequently asked questions. 

Reporting to International Student & Scholar Services

F-1 and J-1 visa regulations require you to report to campus after you arrive at Western. To meet this requirement, you must digitally submit copies of your immigration documents to International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) through the orientation canvas course.  

These are the documents you must submit, based on your visa type:

F-1 Students

  • I-20
    • Make the copy after you arrive in the US so that the I-20 shows the immigration officer's stamp if there is one. (If you are changing schools within the US and transferring your SEVIS record to WWU, you must wait until you receive your WWU I-20 to submit your document copy.)
  • F-1 visa
  • Passport ID page
  • Passport expiration date page (if different from ID page)

J-1 Students

  • DS-2019
    • Make the copy after you arrive in the U.S. so that the DS-2019 shows the immigration officer's stamp.
  • J-1 visa
  • Passport ID page
  • Passport expiration date page (if different from ID page)

A Note on I-94 Cards

In summer of 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) transitioned to electronic arrival/departure records for air and sea ports of entry. For most travelers arriving by air or sea, a paper I-94 card will not be issued. Instead, the CBP official will issue an admission stamp in the passport.

Travelers at land borders may continue to receive paper I-94 cards. If you did not receive a paper I-94 card, please make a photocopy of the entry stamp.

You can access your digital I-94 and travelers record online at the I-94 website.

Change of Status

When you enter the United States in nonimmigrant status, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work, or travel. You may enter the US with one purpose and later change your purpose. When this happens, you may need to obtain a new status. Different visa/status categories allow different activities.

Contact ISSS as soon as you know you must obtain a new status. The process can be challenging, and we want to discuss your options with you.

Gaining Non-Immigrant Status

There are two ways of gaining a new nonimmigrant status:

Option 1

Leave the US, apply for a new visa at a US consulate, and reenter the US with the new visa and other relevant documents. You will gain your new status when you are admitted into the US.

  • Advantages
    • This process is usually faster than changing status in the US
    • You will obtain the visa and the status
  • Disadvantages
    • Possibility of visa processing delay
    • Expense of travel 

Option 2

Submit an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status. This option allows you to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the US. With this option you may gain the new status but you will not receive a new visa; visas are only issued outside the US.

  • Advantages
    • Ability to stay in the US during processing
    • Avoid the hassle of a visa application process (for now)
  • Disadvantages
    • Processing can be very slow (three to six months), which may jeopardize your ability to begin your new activity, such as studying or accepting a research or teaching assistantship or other campus employment.
    • You must stay in the US during processing; exiting the US cancels the application
    • You must still obtain a visa stamp to match your status the next time you travel outside the US (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
    • The application may be denied, which could require you to quickly depart the US

When deciding which option is best for you, you should consider various factors: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status. The regulations of your future status will help determine if it is best to travel and re-enter or apply to change status in the US. The following general information explains the process for applying to change nonimmigrant status in the US.

Eligibility to Change Status

You may be able to change status if:

  • You are maintaining your current status
  • You are eligible for the new status
  • Your current status does not prohibit change of status in the US

You generally cannot change status if:

  • Your period of authorized stay has already expired
  • You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status


  • Individuals in J status who are subject to the two-year home-country residence requirement can change only to A or G status.
  • Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (marked "W/T" or "W/B" on the I-94) cannot change to nonimmigrant status.
  • Persons who hold C, D, or K status cannot change to nonimmigrant status.
  • A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.

Applying for Change of Status

Contact ISSS regarding your change of status. You may submit your own change of status application or an immigration attorney can handle your application.

  • Processing Timeline: Processing times vary, so be prepared to wait three to six months to learn the outcome of your application. To review current processing times and your pending case status, visit the USCIS Case Status Service Online.
  • Approval or denial: USCIS will notify you of their decision with Form I-797 Notice of Action. The I-797 is an important document and should be kept with your passport and I-94 card. The denial letter or approval notice will be mailed to the address listed on Form I-539 in your application. Note that if you change your address, the postal service will not forward mail sent to you by USCIS.  Please provide ISSS with a copy of your I-797/Notice of Action and approval notice.
  • Remaining in the US during processing:  You may remain in the US while your application is pending, even if your original status expires during the application processing.
  • Travel outside the US while application is pending: Do not travel outside of the US while your change of status case is pending. If you leave the country, USCIS will consider your application abandoned.
  • Travel outside the US after application is approved: In order to re-enter the US after a trip abroad (except for brief trips to Canada or Mexico under 30 days), you must visit a US embassy or consulate to request a new visa to match your new status. Contact ISSS for information about documents and procedures for re-entering the US.
  • Employment eligibility: Do not begin employment, if permitted under the new status, until the change of status is approved.