In the United States of America, student visa is classified as non-immigrant status. This visa does not allow foreign student to become permanent resident of the United States of America.
Applying for a US student visa can be a long process, it is always advisable to prepare well in advance – at least five months before your course is due to start – before you start the process.
Student Visa Application
- Apply to and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school in the US (six to twelve months prior to US study): – As an international student, you should ensure you choose an institution and program accredited by the US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
- Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee: – You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days prior to submitting an application for a US visa. In order to pay the fee, you will need to file either an online or paper form. Both ca be accessed through the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) SEVP website. Make sure to input the required details exactly as they appear on your I-20 or DS2022 form.
- Complete a US student visa application along with recent photo(s): – Once you have received your SEVIS form and paid the SEVIS fee, you can make an appointment with a US consulate or embassy in your country for a US student Visa application. It is best to apply as early as possible, regardless of when your program is due to start, as visa processing times can vary. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before you are due to enter the US.
- Pay the visa application fee: – The visa application fee is also called the Machine Readable Visa Fee, or ‘MRV Fee’. Make sure to review the fee payment instructions on your embassy or consulate website as methods may vary. In general, however, there are three ways to pay the non-refundable, non-transferrable visa application fee:
- In person at an approved bank
- By phone (you’ll receive a fee confirmation number)
- Online (you’ll need to print your receipt)
- Schedule and attend a visa interview: – The final step in getting a Student visa is to arrange and attend a visa interview. You can do this either online or using the phone, by calling your nearest US embassy or consulate. In either case, you should complete the MRV fee payment first, as you may need to give your MRV fee number.
Types of International Student Visa In The USA
The United States government offers three student visa types including F, J and M.
F1 Student Visa – Academic Studies
The “F” visa is for academic studies. An F1 visa is issued to students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program. F1 visas are by far the most common form of international student visa in the U.S.
F1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. F1 status allows for part-time, on-campus employment (fewer than 20 hours per week).
Additionally, students can work on optional practical training (OPT) for up to one year after completion of their academic program. Students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date on the I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status).
In order to qualify, applicants need to satisfy and prove several strict criteria during an F1 visa interview, including the following:
- Foreign Residence: F1 applicants must have been a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon the completion of their studies.
- Sponsoring Institution: While on your F1 visa, you may only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted.
- Financial Support: Applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial support – the Study USA Financing Guide can help you prepare for this aspect of your time abroad.
- Ties to Home Country: All applicants must demonstrate that they have strong ties to their home country.
J1 Student Visa – Practical Training
A J1 visa is issued to students who need to obtain practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic program.
J1 student status allows for similar employment as the F1 visa, with similar restrictions, as long as permission is given by the exchange visitor program sponsor.
The J1 student visa is meant for students who need practical training that is not available in their home country, and the training must be directly related to their academic program.
Each program available under the J1 visa has specific requirements and regulations. You can choose from the following below that you are more interested in learning about:
- Au Pair
- Camp Counselor
- College and University Student Program
- Secondary School Student Program
- Government Visitor Program
- International Visitor Program
- Physician Program
- Professor and Research Scholar Program
- Short-Term Scholar Program
- Specialist Program
- Summer Work Travel Program
- Teacher Program
- Trainee Program
- Intern Program
- Working Outside the Program
- J-2 Visa
M1 Student Visa – Non-Academic/Vocational Studies
An M1 student visa is issued to a student who is going to attend a non-academic or vocational school.
M1 student visa holders for technical and vocational programs are not permitted to work during the course of their studies.
The M1 student visa applicants must have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.
You cannot enter as an M1 to just study “generally”; your program must have a goal and you must be involved in a “full course of study”.
A full course of study means study in a community or junior college, with at least 12 semester or quarter hours.
It must be in a school where anyone attending for at least 12 semester or quarter hours is charged full tuition, or considered full-time.
The only exception is where you need a smaller course-load to complete your course of study. It can also mean study at a post-secondary vocational or business school which grants Associate or other degrees.
Alternatively, if a school can demonstrate that its credits are, or have been, accepted unconditionally by at least 3 institutions of higher learning it can qualify.
If that is not possible, study in a vocational or nonacademic curriculum, certified by a DSO to require at least 18 hours of weekly attendance or at least 22 clock hours a week (if most of your studies are in a shop or lab).
If that is not possible, the last option is study in a vocational or nonacademic high school curriculum which is certified by a DSO to require class attendance for not less than the minimum required for normal progress towards graduation.
Documents For The Student Visa Interview
Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to make sure you have all the required documents needed for your interview. These documents may include:
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US. If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application. You may also need to bring all your current and old passports.
- Signed SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 (including individual forms for spouse/children)
- Form DS-7002 (for J-1 Trainee and Intern visa applicants only)
- SEVIS fee receipt
- DS-160 application confirmation page with barcode and application ID number
- MRV fee payment confirmation receipt
- Printed copy of visa interview appointment letter
- 1-2 photographs in the format explained in the photograph requirements. Should be printed on photo quality paper.
You should also be prepared to provide the following documents:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
- Financial evidence showing you or your sponsor (i.e. parents or a government sponsor) has sufficient funds to cover your tuition, travel and living expenses during your stay in the US.
You can also bring along a separate written list of all your previous employers and schools you have attended for reference.
Any derivative visa applicants will need to take:
- A copy of the marriage and/or birth certificate for proof of relationship
- A copy of the principal applicant’s visa (i.e. F-1, M-1, J-1), or official documentation from the USCIS confirming the principal applicant’s status.
- A copy of the personal data page from the principle applicant’s passports.
Attending The Visa Interview
It’s important to be on time for your visa interview – late applicants may be asked to reschedule for another day.
In most cases only applicants with a scheduled appointment will be admitted inside the US embassy or consulate.
Exceptions include a parent for children under 18, translators, and assistants for the disabled – you’ll need to contact your chosen embassy or consulate to give them the name of the parent, translator or assistant who will accompany you.
The purpose of the visa interview is for the consular officer to determine whether you are qualified to receive a US student visa and, if so, which visa category is appropriate for you.
Be prepared to answer questions regarding ties to your home country, your English language skills, your academic background, the program in the US to which you have been admitted, and proof of your financial resources.
You may also be asked to explain your plans for when your studies are finished.
Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. This usually happens at your visa interview.
After your interview the consular officer will tell you if your application requires further administrative processing – this can mean additional time for you to wait to receive your visa.
Wait times will vary depending on country. You will also be informed how and when your passport with the visa will be returned to you (usually pick-up or delivery by courier).
In some countries the courier company will send you an email with a tracking number which you can use to track the delivery of your passport.
F-1 and M-1 visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your study start date, but you will not be allowed to enter the US earlier than 30 days before your start date.
J-1 visas can be issued at any time. If you want to enter the US before these 30 days, you must qualify for and obtain a visitor visa.
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