Carnegie Mellon University

FAQs: Pre-Arrival & New Students

The following frequently asked questions address common inquiries regarding coming to Carnegie Mellon, how to apply for and receive an immigration document (I-20/DS-2019), how to apply for a visa, and arriving on campus.

OIE recommends that all newly admitted and new students pay close attention to their Andrew email for important information, updates and instructions. 

Applying for an Immigration Document (I-20 or DS-2019)

As a non-immigrant student you will need a Certificate of Eligibility from CMU to apply for a student visa. In most cases, the Office of International Education (OIE) is responsible for generating your document. 

Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate students admitted for the fall semester will gain access to the MyOIE Portal in mid-spring. Students will complete the New Student Initial Document Request E-Form through the MyOIE Portal, including an Affidavit of Support from a financial sponsor (if applicable), or any other financial documentation. These materials will be attached to the online form and submitted electronically. OIE reserves the right to request original documentation if needed.  

Graduate Students

Graduate students admitted for the fall semester will receive information regarding OIE's e-Form document submission process. Once the admitting department submits a request to OIE, students will receive an email with details on how to log-in to the MyOIE Portal to complete the required forms. Students will complete the information form and ask their financial sponsor (if applicable) to complete the affidavit and provide verification of available finances. These materials will be attached to the online form and submitted electronically. OIE reserves the right to request original documentation if needed. 

Please note that for all students, incorrect electronic submissions may result in processing delays.

View a listing of estimated expenses on the Initial Steps & Document Requests webpage. 

Examples of acceptable and unacceptable proof of financial support may be found on the Initial Steps & Document Requests webpage.

Undergraduate students will receive their admission ID number on their application receipt letter. It is important that you do not lose this number. Instructions will be sent to each student detailing the steps for retrieving your Andrew email and setting your password, as well as your student ID number. 

Graduate students will receive communication from their academic department administrator informing them of the Andrew email account, password and student ID number.

On the 'personal information' section of the e-form, you are asked to confirm if your name is listed correctly. If your name is incorrect, there is a text box where you can explain what needs to be corrected. We will then make the corrections to update your name.

Receiving the Immigration Document (I-20 or DS-2019)

There are several steps involved in processing the I-20. Once OIE receives the completed New Student Initial Document Request E-Form, Affidavit of Support for Financial Sponsor, original financial supporting documents, and a copy of the passport from the student, along with data from the academic department, the I-20 will be processed. OIE's goal is to process the I-20 within 6 weeks of receiving all necessary information from the student, the Office of Admission, and/or the admitting academic department. 

We appreciate your patience, as our team works as quickly as possible to prepare thousands of immigration documents for new students. To ease processing, once your packet has been received at OIE, if there are any questions or problems, OIE staff will contact you directly if there are any questions or problems. It is not necessary to call the OIE office.

You should follow all instructions sent with your I-20 from OIE. You'll start by paying the SEVIS fee (if applicable). Then you will make an appointment for your visa application. Be sure to check the website of the U.S. Embassy/Consulate for information about what you should bring to the interview and prepare your documentation carefully prior to the appointment.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires that the name on the I-20 match the name on the passport. Therefore, OIE will issue the I-20 to match the name exactly as it is noted on the passport. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security requires that names on immigration documents do not contain hyphens or other diacritical marks. Also, first and middle name are both required to appear in the "first name" field.  

Most Americans have (and U.S. databases assume) a first name (given) and a last name (family name). Because of naming traditions in the U.S., it is convenient for foreign students to have names which follow this same pattern (i.e., John Smith, where John is the first/given name and the last name/family name is Smith). We understand that naming traditions vary around the world, though.

Some students decide to update the passport name to a more American/Western format (i.e., first/given name and last/family name). This decision belongs with the student and their family. This would alleviate potential complications after arriving in the U.S. when applying for a social security number or Pennsylvania driver’s license because these government agencies prefer a surname and given name.  If the passport name is updated, a copy should be sent to OIE to support the I-20 issuance or re-issuance.  

In all cases, all official documents and records in the U.S. should be the same, specifically passport, I-20, name in Carnegie Mellon records, social security card, and driver’s license.  

The Admission Number is not a required field on the I-20 and is not entered into the SEVIS database.

This is not an error. Page 2 of your I-20 will be signed after you have arrived in the U.S. and complete all orientation and check-in requirements.

The name of your major at CMU will not, in most cases, match the major name on your I-20. Major codes on the I-20 are linked to U.S. Department of Education codes that are linked to CMU major names in the immigration database. If the major names are not an exact match, there is no need to be concerned; it will not cause problems with the visa process or entry into the U.S. Please be assured that your immigration document is correct.

New international students who have received approval from their academic department to defer their program start will receive a new I-20 reflecting their future program start date. Depending on your future program start date, OIE will issue you an updated I-20 at a later time (for example, for students who have approval to defer their admission until fall 2022, OIE will begin the process of issuing updated I-20s in spring 2022).

If OIE has already issued you an I-20 document, your SEVIS ID will remain the same when we reissue your I-20 with the updated start date. You can apply for a visa 120 days prior to your program start.

Applying for a Visa

New international students who have questions regarding how to complete the DS-160 should reference the U.S. Department of State’s robust collection of frequently asked questions.

The contact and address information needs to be:
  • A personal contact, or
  • Your academic department, usually found on the letter of admission. 
You should write the actual name of your major or program of study.

It is important to know that administrative processing is not a visa denial - it is a delay and cannot be expedited as the U.S. Department of State considers it a matter of U.S. national security.  If the consular officer wants any additional information from you, you should provide it as soon as possible. If the delay is for more than 4 weeks, you can email OIE with the date you applied, the U.S. Consulate/Embassy at which you applied, and your passport number. View more information about visa delays.

State Department officials refer to information in SEVIS and on I-20s/DS-2019s for determining who might be eligible for an emergency student visa appointment, and have confirmed that they are prioritizing student visa appointments. Thus, a letter is not needed or required to schedule an emergency visa appointment. OIE issues I-20s to students, which indicate the date CMU classes begin and the date by which students are expected to arrive.

Understanding the ongoing challenges of a global pandemic, it is our sincere hope that, whenever possible, State Department officials will grant access to emergency visa appointments to enable our students to obtain their visas and travel to the U.S. to join us in time for the start of classes. We encourage students to monitor visa appointment availability closely and regularly to maximize chances for successfully obtaining a visa appointment.

Arrival in the U.S. & CMU

Immigration expects you to arrive on campus by the first day of classes (see Academic Calendar). 

If you experience delays as we get closer to the start of classes,  please email OIE at that time, and we can provide guidance on what is possible.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic, it is our understanding that student appointments are being prioritized at embassies/consulates. 

If you have your immigration document and are having difficulty finding an appointment, we encourage you to keep monitoring availability as it may improve. We also recommend searching for information on the Embassy/Consulate website about requesting an expedited appointment. Our hope is that students will be able to secure their visa appointments in time to arrive for orientation (for new students) and the beginning of classes.

If you still encounter difficulties as we get closer to the start of classes, we encourage you to keep your department aware as they will be able to discuss with you various options for your program.

All new and continuing international undergraduate students making their initial entry to the U.S. for their studies at Carnegie Mellon must complete a mandatory immigration check-in and orientation with the Office of International Education. Students will receive an email with details about the date and time of the check-in and orientation. The mandatory immigration check-in with OIE is required in order to maintain legal immigration status. OIE continues to encourage all new students to arrive early to get settled, acclimate to campus, and adjust to the time zone by the start of classes.

Students can find their program start date listed on the front page of their I-20/DS-2019 and may enter the U.S. 30 days before their program start date. The earliest entry date is also listed directly on the I-20/DS-2019.

Depending on current COVID-19 conditions and where you are traveling from, additional travel restrictions may apply. Students should review U.S. entry requirements related to COVID-19 before traveling. For these reasons, we encourage all students to stay informed of evolving travel conditions and regularly review OIE’s News & Updates

Orientation 

CMU holds orientations for different purposes. We encourage you to attend all orientation sessions to help you be prepared, get the most out of your CMU experience, learn all that the university and OIE have to offer.

OIE holds a mandatory check-in and orientation for all new students each semester. OIE will send an email to students with details and instructions for attending. 

Your academic department may hold orientation to inform you about their policies and to give you important department-specific information.  

First-year undergraduate student orientation is a week-long program designed to help new undergraduate students acclimate to university life. For undergraduate international students, the mandatory immigration orientation session is typically held during the university-wide orientation's Welcome Day. There is a session for international family members held that day, as well.

Graduate university-wide orientation is for all new graduate students. Many interesting and helpful topics will be covered, so OIE recommends attending.