Colleen Keefe Poungsiri
Colleen Keefe Poungsiri, International Affairs Advisor

As students begin receiving their admission offers to UChicago for Fall 2024, we thought it would be helpful to sit down with Colleen Keefe Poungsiri, our International Affairs Advisor at the Office of International Affairs (OIA). Here, Colleen discusses some of the most frequently asked questions she receives from students starting the visa process.

When does the visa process start? 

The I-20 process for Harris incoming students typically starts in May. Once your admitting program is ready to initiate the process, you will receive an official notification with specific instructions from the Office of International Affairs. Please note that OIA will not be able to advise you regarding your I-20 requests until after the process starts.

How do I start the visa process?

Requesting an I-20/DS-2019 is the first step to starting the visa process. It’s the document the university produces that says you are admitted, you have the financial resources to come here, and your full legal name matches the documentation on your passport.

What is a typical wait time for a visa appointment?

Visa and passport requirements vary widely by country and depend on citizenship, reason for travel, length of stay, and other factors. Most countries prioritize F1 or J1 visas over other types of visas.

As embassies have their own rules and regulations, the university is not able to help in expediting the visa process. If the visa wait times appear to be too long to work for the timing of your program, we recommend that you book the earliest available appointment and follow up with the embassy or consulate directly to request an expedited or emergency visa appointment. If you do not see any availability at all (which is rare), keep checking back for any new openings or cancelations. US visa wait times for various countries (organized by city) can be found here.

How long does the I-20/DS-2019 process take?

The university takes about 3 weeks to process your I-20/DS-2019. There are no expediting mechanisms for this process since all requests must be processed in the order they are received.

Why does the program name on my I-20/DS-2019 not say the name of the program I’m accepted into?

The I-20/DS-2019 Program Name (listed under major) may not match the academic program name exactly because CIP codes (Classification of Instructional Programs codes) are named by the US Government and assigned to UChicago programs by the academic department. It is very common for the government code to not match the name of the program exactly, but this does not impact the visa process.

What kind of work opportunities can I pursue when I start my program?

International students are permitted to work on campus for a maximum of 20 hours per week while classes are in session and unlimited hours during school vacation periods (i.e. winter, spring, and summer breaks). 

Students cannot work off campus without applying for and receiving authorization from OIA and/or the U.S. government.

Can I get a social security number the first year I am in my program?

Once you’ve been in the US for 10 days and you have an on campus job offer letter, you can apply for a social security number (SSN).

If you get your SSN, you can also apply for an Illinois Driver’s License or State ID. However, if you don't have an SSN, you can still apply for a Temporary Visitor Driver’s License.

Do I need to file taxes while I’m studying?

Yes, all students are required to file tax documents each year, regardless of having income or a job. To assist students with tax preparation, OIA provides a web-based tax preparation program called Sprintax. Access to Sprintax becomes available by early March of each year.The University will also provide a tax webinar for international students during Winter quarter as well.

Where can I find other resources about the visa process? 

The OIA webpage has detailed information about requesting a visa, financial documentation requirements, and the Visa Application FAQ page provides answers to the most common questions about the application process. For an overview of the entire admitted international student process, you can review OIA's page here: Admitted Students | The Office of International Affairs | The University of Chicago (