How to Get a Student Visa And Study in USA
What is a U.S. Visa?
A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the United States generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler’s passport, a travel document issued by the traveler’s country of citizenship.
Certain international travelers may be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa if they meet the requirements for visa-free travel. The Visa section of this website is all about U.S. visas for foreign citizens to travel to the United States.
A student visa allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited educational institution. This ranges from 4 year universities and seminaries, to elementary schools and language training programs.
Anyone in the U.S. on a student visa must be enrolled in an academic program that will present them with a degree, diploma, or certificate. They cannot necessarily work without a work visa, apart from the student visa. Any school must also be eligible by the U.S. government to take international students.
Types of Student Visa
There are 3 different categories and 3 different types of visas for which a student can apply. However, before the application process can even begin, you must be officially accepted to an educational institution in the U.S.
1. F Visa
More commonly referred to as a F-1 Visa, this visa allows a foreign national to live in the U.S. for a set period of time as a student. Only as long as he or she is enrolled in an educational institution. This visa comes with an implied understanding that you are staying in the United States temporarily. This is in no way a precursor to an immigrant visa.
Most F-1 students are allowed to travel while on their visas, as long as the trip is less than 30 days. You will be permitted reentry to the United States on a valid F-1 visa. Sometimes, even a recently expired F-1 visa. As long as you have not applied for a new visa during your travel.
2. M Visa
An M-1 visa also allows student entry into the United States, however this visa applies to nonacademic studies, or what is more commonly referred to as vocational studies. M-1 student visas do not allow a student to simply study generally, or take a variety of classes.
There must be a program with a full course of study, at a community or junior college. Here, 12 hours a semester is considered a full semester. M-1 students must also be ready to show proof that all living costs and expenses can be covered during the student’s stay.
3. J Visa
J-1 visas are non-immigrant visas wherein the recipient is coming to the United States as part of a study or work based exchange program. However, in certain cases this can also apply to cultural exchange programs as well. For example, nurses, doctors, au pairs, teachers, professors, and even scholars.
These individuals frequently avail themselves of such visas. Mainly, in order to train in new techniques or gain access to new information. Such information may not be available to them in their home country.
In general, prospective students will go through five stages when applying for a US student visa:
1. 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);
2. Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee;
3. Complete a US student visa application along with recent photo(s);
4. Pay the visa application fee;
5. Schedule and attend a visa interview.
When Should You Apply for a US Student Visa?
You may only apply for a student visa after you’ve applied for and been accepted to an SEVP-approved school. (SEVP stands for the Student Exchange and Visitor Program. All US schools that enroll F-1 and/or M-1 students must be certified by this program.) Once you’ve secured admission to the school you wish to attend, you can begin the visa application process.
Note that you must receive your visa before your program start date. While you can receive your US student visa up to 120 days before your program start date, you may not travel to the US on this visa until 30 days before your start date.
How to Get a Student Visa And Study in USA
Now you understand the basic items you’ll need to have ready, let’s walk through how to apply for a student visa, one step at a time.
1: Apply and Get Accepted to a US School
The first step is to apply (and eventually gain admission) to a US school. Most full-time undergraduate and graduate programs in the US require applications to be submitted by December or January each year. Schools typically send out admission notifications around March and April.
2: Receive Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your School
Once admitted to a school, you’ll receive one of two forms: F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and J-1 students will receive Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).
3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee
Once you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, go online and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Once again, this fee is 350 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 220 USD for J-1 students. (Those participating in short-term J-1 visa programs will pay only 35 USD.)
4: Find Your Nearest US Embassy or Consulate
You must apply for your international student visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, in the city or region in which you live). You can search for US embassies and consulates online through the US Department of State.
5: Complete Form DS-160 Online
Next, complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160. To successfully fill out this form, be sure you have the following items on hand:
<> Your passport
<> A visa photograph (to upload)
<> Form I-20 or DS-2019 (remember, which form you receive depends on whether you are an F-1/M-1 or J-1 student)
In addition, you may need to supply:
<> A travel itinerary (if you’ve already made travel plans to the US)
<> The dates of your last five visits to the US (if applicable) and/or evidence of your international travel history within the past five years
<> A resume or CV
<> Additional information depending on your purpose for travel
6: Schedule Your Visa Interview
After you’ve submitted Form DS-160, contact your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, the one you input on your online application) to schedule your visa interview.
7. Pay Your Visa Application Fee
Next, pay the 160 USD application fee. This fee is the same price regardless of your country of origin and where you apply.
8: Attend Your Visa Interview
The last big step in the visa process is the interview. This interview will be the deciding factor as to whether you will receive a US student visa or not.
Before attending your interview, gather the following items and information:
<> Your passport
<> One copy of your visa photograph (this may be required by certain embassies, particularly if you were unable to upload your visa photograph to your online visa application)
<> Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
<> Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
<> Your visa application fee payment receipt (this is only required if you paid the application fee before your interview)
<> Form I-20 for F-1/M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (make sure to bring the original form — not a copy!)
9: Pay the Visa Issuance Fee (If Required)
Some students must pay a visa issuance fee once they have been approved for a US student visa. Whether this fee is required or not depends on your nationality and your country’s reciprocity agreement with the US. The US visas website offers a chart you can use to see whether you must pay a visa issuance fee.
10: Receive Your Visa
Once you’ve completed all of the steps above and have received approval for an international student visa to the US, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa in it. Note that some embassies will require you to come in person to pick it up, whereas others will mail it directly back to you.
PROBLEMS LIKELY TO MAKE YOU INELIGIBLE FOR A US STUDENT VISA
Here are some examples of problems likely to make you ineligible for a US student visa:
1. You do not provide proof of sufficient funds. This is said to be one of the main reasons students are often denied student visas to the US. Although you aren’t necessarily expected to have enough money to last you the entire duration of your program, you should possess proof of sufficient funds (in liquid assets) for at least one academic year.
2. You do not provide proof of your intent to leave the US once your program ends. The US government needs to ensure that you will not (intentionally or accidentally) overstay your visa. Therefore, you must provide adequate proof of your intent to return to your home country once you finish your program.
3. You do not pass the security check. Though this may be obvious, committing certain crimes can make you ineligible for a US visa.
4. You do not bring all required items to your interview. Failure to bring all required items, such as your passport, receipts, and official visa-related documents, may result in a visa rejection.
5. You fail to show up to your interview. If you are late to your interview or simply fail to show up, your application for a visa may be rejected.
6. You apply for a US student visa too late. Applying for your visa with too little time before your program starts will most likely make you ineligible for a student visa. This is mainly because your visa won’t become available to you until after your program start date.
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