The Office of International Student Services (OISS) provides support for international students seeking admission to our institution, maintaining federal compliance and promoting a better understanding of the regulations that pertain to a student’s immigration status.

How to Use This Page

We hope that you find this site to be an informative and useful resource during your stay at SUA. We encourage you to explore the following sections for valuable information on many topics including general non-immigrant status information, services provided through our office, and useful internet resources.

On this page, you will find information for the following:

  • Visa and Immigration Information
  • Applying for an F-1 Student Visa
  • Transferring an F-1 Visa
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee 
  • Obtaining a California Driver’s License
  • Getting a US Social Security Number
  • Curricular Practical Training

Contact Us

Associate Director of International Student Services
Margaret Kasahara

Visa and Immigration Information

SUA is unique in that it provides financial aid to both graduate and undergraduate international students. If you are applying for financial aid, the International Financial Aid Application must be completed by March 1. If you have applied for financial aid and your application is currently incomplete, it is strongly recommended that you complete your application immediately. Delays in completing your financial aid application will prevent timely processing of your Confidential Certification of Finances Form and Form I-20. The Form I-20 is an essential document to apply for a student (F-1) visa at the United States visa-issuing embassy/consular post nearest you.

Please do not complete or send in the Certification of Finances Form to Soka University of America until you receive an admission acceptance letter and a financial aid award letter (if you applied for financial aid) from the university.

All accepted international students must complete a Certification of Finances Form regardless of whether or not the student has applied for financial aid. The Certification of Finances Form must be received by the Office of International Student Services no later than May 1.

Prior to issuing the Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant F-1 Student Status - for Academic and Language Students), the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requires that a US university or college fully assess each international student’s ability to meet all expenses during their first year of study. Compliance with ICE regulations further requires a US university or college to obtain verification from the student that he/she has officially proven financial ability to cover the cost of education and living expenses in the US for at least the first year of study.

Verification of a student’s financial ability to cover the cost of education and living expenses in the US is declared on the Certification of Finances Form. This is a confidential document that remains in the student’s file for both university and ICE purposes. Please read the form carefully and complete the Certification of Finance Form and return it with official documentation to the address listed below by May 1.

Applying for an F-1 Student Visa

To enter this country, you will need a visa from the United States government. Non-immigrant student visas allow a foreigner to pursue education in the United States. F-1 visas are only issued at US embassies and consulates outside the United States. 

Immediately after you receive your I-20 form from Soka University of America, it is important to make an appointment with a US visa-issuing Embassy/Consular post closest to your home in order to apply for your visa. In order to receive your Visa before the program begins, it is important to make your appointment immediately after you receive your I-20 from SUA. 

Before going to the US Embassy/Consulate, you will need to pay a SEVIS fee.

Bring the Following Documents to the Nearest US Consulate

  • Passport (which must be valid for up to six months from the date you apply for a visa) 
  • Form I-20 issued by Soka University 
  • SEVIS fee payment confirmation 
  • Proof of adequate financial support for your studies and living expenses (either your bank statement or Soka University of America’s financial aid award letter) 
  • School transcripts

Procedures for Transferring from One INS Approved School to Another INS Approved School

Transfer Procedures if student will not return home before coming to SUA. What a student needs to do to process a transfer of schools:

Student informs the school that he or she is currently authorized to attend about his or her intention to transfer their F-1 Student Status to SUA. Firstly, the student obtains verification from the Principle Designated School Official at their school that he or she has been maintaining status and is eligible for F-1 transfer. F-1 transfer is done by using the “Authorization to Transfer Form” provided by SUA.

Obtain a new Form I-20 from SUA and complete the student certification section at item 11 on the I-20 form.

Enroll at SUA in the first term after leaving the previous school or the first term after vacation.

Submit the following documents to the Designated School Official at SUA within 15 days of beginning attendance at SUA {8 C.F.R. & 14.2(f)(8)(ii)}: 

  • Original or legible copy (both sides) of current Form(s) I-20 ID 
  • The new “transfer” I-20A-B issued by SUA completed at item 11    
  • Legible copy of Form-I-94 
  • A copy of passport and visa 
  • “Authorization to Transfer Form” completed by the prior school showing proof of having maintained status up to the point of the transfer request.

Transfer procedures and visa application for F-1 Student Status for students reentering the United States from abroad

Student informs the school that he or she is currently authorized to attend about his or her intention to transfer their F-1 Student Status to SUA. Firstly, the student obtains verification from the Principle Designated School Official at their school that he or she has been maintaining status and is eligible for F-1 transfer. F-1 transfer is done by using the “Authorization to Transfer Form” provided by SUA.

Obtain a new Form I-20A-B from SUA and complete the student certification section at item 11 on both the I-20 School Copy and the I-20 ID.

Make an appointment to meet with a visa-issuing officer at the US Embassy or Consulate General nearest to your home residence. Obtain Form OF-156, application for Nonimmigrant Visa. The student is required to pay a processing fee (The Form OF-156 is available through the US Embassy or Consulate General).

Have one or more photographs taken according to the required specifications.

Complete Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - For Academic and Language Students issued by Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo.

Provide evidence of adequate means of financial support for the first year of study (Certificate of Finances form and SUA Financial Award Letter, if aid has been granted. Include official bank statement/s and/or bank letters).

Be prepared to present transcripts or high school diploma, as well as a student copy of your official TOEFL score.

Present SUA’s Form I-20 to the visa-issuing officer at the US Port of Entry. If you show the Form I-20 from your old school, the INS will then require that you attend your old school. Please keep this in mind when making application for your F-1 visa.

Enroll at SUA in the first term after leaving the previous school or the first term after vacation.

Submit the following to the Designated School Official at SUA within 15 days of beginning attendance at the new school  {8 C.F.R. & 214.2(f)(8)(ii)}: 

  • The new “transfer” I-20A-B issued by SUA completed at item 11 
  • Legible copy of Form-I-94 
  • Copy of passport and visa 
  • SUA’s transfer form completed by the prior school showing proof of having maintained status up to the point of the transfer request.

I-901 SEVIS Fee

The US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal I-901 SEVIS Fee took effect on September 1, 2004. The fee for most students is $350.00. It is generally a one-time fee and is required of those who are applying for an F-1 visa based on an I-20 issued for “initial attendance” or, in some cases when a new F-1 visa is not required, using an “initial attendance” I-20 for entry. Proof of fee payment must be presented at the visa interview and at the port of entry.

  • You are seeking an initial F-1 visa from a US Embassy or Consulate abroad for initial attendance. 
  • You have previously been enrolled at a US school, but you are no longer enrolled and you have been outside the United States for more than five months, even if you have an unexpired F-1 visa in your passport. 
  • You are a Canadian citizen, and are therefore exempt from the US visa requirement, before you can enter the United States to begin studies at a US school. 
  • You are already in the United States prior to submitting a change of non-immigrant status application to F-1. 
  • You have violated your visa status and have been issued an “initial attendance” I-20 for re-entry to regain your F-1 status.
  • Item 3 on your Soka University I-20 reads “transfer pending from <name of school>”, even if you will be applying for a new F-1 visa. 
  • Applicants for F-2 dependent visas are NOT required to pay the SEVIS fee.
  • The SEVIS fee must be processed at least three business days before the visa interview, unless you have a printed receipt from an internet payment. Please keep in mind this three-day rule.
  • The SEVIS fee cannot be paid at the embassy or consulate, or at the US Border. 
  • A visa will not be issued unless the visa officer can verify that the SEVIS fee payment has been made. However, you may schedule your visa interview prior to paying the SEVIS fee. If you have a printed receipt after your electronic submission of the fee you should keep this printed receipt and take it with you to the interview and when you enter the US This receipt does not serve as verification that payment has been made but it is important that you keep the receipt. 
  • The SEVIS fee is not refundable. If your visa application is denied, and you decide to re-apply for the same type of visa at a later date, you will not be asked to make a second SEVIS fee payment as long as your visa application is made within 12 months of the initial denial.
  • Obtain form I-20 from Soka University of America 
  • Access form I-901 online.
  • Complete form I-901, answering all questions (you must have an I-20 from Soka University of America in order to complete form I-901). Be sure that you enter your personal information exactly as it appears on the I-20 form
    • *Note: To complete form I-901, you must enter Soka University of America’s school code: LOS214F01953000 which appears under School Information of the I-20 form. You must also enter your SEVIS ID number, which is printed at the top left of the I-20 form and starts with the letter “N.” 
  • Pay the $200 SEVIS fee with a credit or debit card

You must be able to prove that the fee has been paid when you appear for your visa interview and when you enter the United States. This is done by presenting a printed payment receipt, either from the internet if you made an online payment or a mailed receipt if you paid by mail. Visa officers and US port-of entry inspectors should be able to verify SEVIS fee payment electronically three business days after payment is processed, but in case of problems, having a printed receipt is the best evidence of fee payment. If you lose or did not receive a receipt for fee payment, the US government does retain an electronic record that the fee has been paid. A visa will not be issued unless verification of the SEVIS fee payment can be made.

Obtaining a California Driver’s License

If you are a visitor in California over 18 and have a valid driver’s license from your home state or country, you may drive in this state without getting a California driver’s license as long as your home state license remains valid. If you are an international student or scholar and intend to drive, you must get a California driver’s license.

The California driver’s license and identification card have been declared as primary identification documents in this state by the California legislature. State law requires every applicant for an original California identification (ID) card and driver’s license to show verification of birth date and proof of legal presence within the United States to help safeguard the accuracy and integrity of departmental documents.

  • Visit the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website
  • Visit a DMV office (check the website for the closest location and make an appointment for faster service) 
  • Complete application form DL 44. An original DL 44 form must be submitted 
  • Give a thumb print
  • Have your picture taken
  • Provide your social security number, if one is available
  • Verify your birth date and legal presence
  • Pay the $28 application fee (there is a reduced fee for identification card applications) 
  • Pass a vision exam (not necessary for identification card application)
  • Pass a traffic laws and sign test. There are 36 questions on the test. Once you pass the written test you will get an interim driving license that you may use together with your home country driving license to start practicing for the driving test.

If you have a license from another country, you will be required to take a driving test. If you have a license from another state, the driving test can be waived. You have three chances to pass the driving test.

Only the original or a certified copy of one of the following documents is acceptable: 

  • Resident Alien Card
  • Temporary Resident Identification Card
  • Canadian Passport or Birth Certificate
  • Nonresident Alien Canadian Border Crossing Card
  • Valid foreign passport with a valid Record of Arrival/Departure (form I-94 Arrival-Departure Record)

After you pass your driving test you will be issued an interim license valid for 60 days until you receive your new photo license in the mail. If you did not present complete documentation to verify birth date and legal presence, you will be issued a temporary license valid for 60 days until you complete the documentation requirements. Make sure you provide the DMV with your correct mailing address.

A 20/40 visual acuity with or without glasses is the department’s vision guideline. The department has authority for administering the vision exam per the California Vehicle Code. Bring your eyeglasses if you wear them. Applicants who do not pass the eye exam may, depending on the circumstances, be referred to a vision specialist. The vision specialist may prescribe eyeglasses or a stronger prescription for the current eyeglasses worn.

If you are involved in a vehicle accident that occurred in California, you must report it to the DMV if: 

  • There was property damage of more than $500 or 
  • Anyone was injured (no matter how minor) or killed

Each driver must make a report to the DMV within 10 days, whether you caused the accident or not and even if the accident occurred on private property. If you have insurance, notify your insurance company and they will file the report on your behalf.

DMV Traffic Accident Report form SR 1/SR 1A

If you do not submit this report, your driving privilege will be suspended. DMV may ask your insurance company to verify that you had coverage in effect at the time of the accident. If you did not have insurance, your driving privilege will be suspended for 1 year. To get your license back after the suspension, you will need to provide proof of financial responsibility and maintain it on record for 3 years. The accident may count as 1 point on your driving record.

DMV also issues ID cards to persons of any age. The ID card is similar to a driver’s license, but is used for identification purposes only – you may not drive with an ID card. A regular ID card is valid for 6 years.

If you wish to apply for a motorcycle license, the procedure is similar; however, you must complete a motorcycle riding training course given by the California Highway Patrol or the DMV. Obtain the Motorcycle Driver Handbook for more information.

Getting a US Social Security Number

It is a nine-digit identification number issued by the US government to keep a record of your earnings. It is only assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States.

You must first apply for and obtain an on-campus job in order to apply for a Social Security number. Once you obtain a job, you can follow the steps below: 

  1. Obtain a letter from the Human Resources Office that shows evidence that you have secured employment or a promise of employment on-campus. 
  2. Receive a second letter from the International Office’s Designated School Official. 
  3. Go to the local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office (the closest location to the SUA campus is listed below). Fill out an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5). In box 3, check “legal alien allowed to work.” 
  4. Bring with you a valid Passport, F-1 Student Visa and Form I-20.

Yes, be sure to obtain a receipt stating that you applied for a number, so that you may present it to the Human Resources Office and be able to be paid for your on-campus employment.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) must verify your documents and current status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before they can assign a number to you. If verification is not available through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system within 10 days, the SSA will send a manual verification request. This may delay assigning a number by several weeks or months. If verification is available, you should receive the Social Security card in about 2 weeks.

If a business or other enterprise asks you for a Social Security number, you can refuse to give it to them. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service for which your number was requested. For example, a phone company and other services may ask for a Social Security number, but they do not need it. They can do a credit check or identify the person in their records by alternative means.

If requested, you should ask why your number is needed, how your number will be used, what law requires you to give your number, and what the consequences are if you refuse. The decision is yours. Be careful with your number to prevent its misuse and keep your card in a safe place.

Social Security Administration 
26051 Acero Road 
Mission Viejo, CA 92691 
(800) 772-1213

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study. OPT allows F-1 student to work legally for a period of up to one year, full-time. OPT is recommended by a staff member in the Office of International Student Services, but final approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).


  • Valid F-1 status
  • Enrollment in at least two consecutive semesters
  • Pursuing a bachelor’s, master’s, or Ph.D.
  • Employment must be related directly to the major area of study

Types of OPT

  • Pre-Completion OPT
    Work experience that is permitted during the student’s academic program (before graduation from SUA).
  • Post-Completion OPT
    Up to 12 months of employment after the student’s graduation from SUA.

Requesting an OPT-Endorsed I-20 Form

Students interested in applying for the OPT program must consult with an Office of International Student Services staff member for more information. After consulting with OISS, students will apply for the program by completing an OPT I-20 form with the assistance of OISS.

When to submit: For post-completion OPT, students may request an OPT I-20 form from OISS no more than 90 days prior to their program end date and up to approximately 45 days after their program end date.

Processing time: Seven (7) business days*

* Incomplete or incorrect requests will be returned to students for review and correction, and will require resubmission to OISS for processing. The seven business day processing time will restart upon resubmission.

How Completed I-20s Will Be Sent to Students

Processed OPT I-20s for post-completion OPT will be signed and distributed electronically by OISS staff members.

Students will be notified by email to download and print their signed OPT I-20. After printing, students must sign the printed I-20 in ink; USCIS does not allow students to sign the I-20 electronically.

Guide to Filing Form I-765 with USCIS

After receiving the OPT I-20 from OISS, students must submit Form I-765 and supporting application documents to USCIS by airmail or online via a ‘myUSCIS’ account. Refer to the I-765 guide for required documents and submission instructions.

OPT Employment Reporting Requirements

Immigration regulations require F-1 students on post-completion OPT to report their employment, employment relation to their area of study, U.S. address, and telephone information on or after their approved OPT start date. All updates must be reported within 10 days.

As part of the OPT reporting requirements, students must activate and maintain a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Portal account. On or after the student’s OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) start date, SEVP will email the student an account activation link. By default, this link will be sent to the student’s email address that is saved on your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) account.

Students must create their SEVP Portal account within 14 days of receiving the link, regardless of employment status. Failure to comply with reporting requirements will result in termination of the student’s SEVIS record by SEVP and/or USCIS.

Any time there is a change in employment, students must update their employer information on their SEVP portal.

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training directly related to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field. Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (up to a maximum of 12 months) have the option to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

The Department of Homeland Security’s requirements state that a qualifying STEM degree is a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree within a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field.

Based on this criteria and STEM program guidelines, Soka’s Liberal Arts degree currently does not qualify as a STEM designated program. SUA is actively seeking approval for degree recognition via the Department of Homeland Security’s nomination process but cannot guarantee approval at this time.

Curricular Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training is alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education for international students offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with SUA.

For more information visit the Curricular Practical Training resource page


The Office of International Student Services is continuing to monitor the rapidly evolving situation of the COVID-19 situation and how it may impact our international students.

For more information visit the COVID-19: FAQs for International Students page