Most non-U.S. citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorized for those who study in the U.S. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:
- F-1, or Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute.
- J-1, or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs.
- M-1, or Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the U.S.
Prospective nonimmigrant students who have been accepted by more than one school must use the Form I-20 from the school they intend to attend to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and to apply for a visa.
Should I proceed with my ticket reservations once I have submitted my application to the US embassy?
No one can promise a visa will be issued before the embassy has fully processed the visa application. Therefore, do not make final travel plans or purchase nonrefundable tickets until a visa has been issued.
Once you have all the required documentation, you may apply for the visa, even if you do not intend to begin your program of study for several months. It is best to apply early for the visa to make sure that there is sufficient time for visa processing.
You should bear in mind that the U.S. Embassy/Consulate cannot issue a visa more than 120 days before the actual start of the program in the United States. However, visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Thus, if the college or university to which you have been admitted states on the I-20 or DS-2019 that the program will start on September 1, a visa cannot be issued before May 1.
Even if you have been issued a visa to enter the United States and it is your first entry as a student to the United States you will not be allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your program, Returning students do not have this requirement. Using the earlier example, if the program of study starts on September 1, you will not be permitted to enter the United States until August 1 or later.
An interview at the U.S. consular section is required for almost all visa applicants.
All applicants for an F or M student visa must provide:
- Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1), Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students, or DS-2019 if coming on an exchange program or U.S. government-sponsored program.
- A completed application, Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant, Form DS-160 must be completed and signed .
- A passport valid for at least six months after your proposed date of entry into the United States.
- One (1) 2×2 photograph ( see embassy website for specifications).
- A receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee if applicable.
- SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.
Also all applicant should be prepared to show if asked:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended.
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
- Financial evidence that shows that the student or sponsoring parents have sufficient funds to cover tuition and living expenses during the period of intended study. If the student is receiving a scholarship for his studies a letter to that affect from the sponsoring agency would be required.
- If traveling with dependents (i.e. children, spouse) must also provide: Proof of the student’s relationship to his/her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.)
Because each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. For that reason, the guidelines that follow are general and can be changed by consular officers overseas, depending on each student’s situation.
Usually at the interview, a quick ink-free fingerprint scan will be taken. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.
Firstly, that you are a bona fide student. He or she will look at your educational background and plans in order to assess how likely you are to enroll and remain in college until graduation. Be prepared to discuss the reasons you chose a particular college, your major and career plans.
Secondly, that you are capable of financing your education. Provide solid evidence of your sponsor’s finances and if receiving a government scholarship a document to that affect will be necessary.
Thirdly, that your ties to your home country are so strong that you will not want to remain in the United States, that your reasons for returning home are stronger than those for remaining in the U.S.
According to the current immigration regulations, international students can only work part time – up to 20 hours per week – on campus while school is in session during the required academic year, and up to 40 hours per week during school vacation periods. Students working 10-15 hours a week can earn enough to pay for incidentals such as books, clothing and personal expenses, but cannot pay major expenses such as tuition or room and board.
No. the I-20 only allows you to begin the visa application. The consular officer after the interview decides whether to approve or deny a visa.
It is valid for the duration of your course of study. Keep in mind that your visa stamp in your passport must only be valid when you are entering or re-entering the country.
I recently received my I-20 (or DS-2019) form do I need to make an appointment for the student visa?
You should check the website of the US embassy in your country for student visa application procedures.
This can be different in each country and each student’s situation. Refer to the website of the US embassy in your country for more information.