What is a student visa to study in the U.S?
As an International student or person born in another country other than the United States of America, you are required to obtain a student visa in order to begin your studies in the U.S.A. There are three (3) types of student visa types to study in the U.S.A, and they will vary depending on the institution and program you wish to study. The most common type is the F-1 Student Visa, there is also the J-1 Student Visa, and lastly the M-1 Student visa.
In order for your for you as an International student to apply for a student visa, you first need to be accepted to study in an accredited U.S. university, college, or institution. There are thousands of institutions approved to issue a student visa in the U.S.A, and if you are not sure which program or institution is right for you, we recommend you book a free online appointment with one of our international student advisors to help you with the entire application and immigration process.
What are the different student visas to study in the U.S.?
F-1 Student Visa
The most popular of the student visa types, the F-1 student visa allows International students to attend and study in an accredited college, English school, high school, or university. International students that apply for this type of visa will be required more than 18 hours a week, and this type of visa is designed for international students looking to study full time while they are attending the institution they have been accepted into. Only institutions that have been approved by the Student and Exchange and Visitor Program or SEVP can issue a document called the I-20 form which will allow you to petition for your F-1 student visa in the U.S embassy in your home country. It is important to understand that the student visa allows you to enter the United States of America as an international student, but your I-20 form is the one that determines how long you can remain in the country studying. This means that even if your student visa is valid for 5 years, but your I-20 form says your program is only 6 months, you will only be able to study for 6 months in the U.S.A, and upon completion of your 6-month program you have 60 days to leave the U.S.A and return to your home country. Any period of time that you stay beyond the 60 days upon completion of your program, you will be a violating immigration law, and you will be considered to have an illegal immigration status in the U.S.A.
The I-20 form that is issued by the institution usually has a validity period, so there is an issued date as well as an expiration date. International students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date; however, keep in mind that the I-20 form can be extended by the institution where you are studying and you can also transfer your SEVIS record and I-20 form from one institution to another. The I-20 form is one of the most important documents you have as an international student since it is the dates on the I-20 form that determine when you will need to leave the country, or when you are supposed to leave the U.S.A. Another thing you should understand, is that your legal immigration status inside the U.S.A is determined by your I-20 form; this means that even if you have an expired student visa but your I-20 form is still valid, you are in complete compliance with immigration law and you can continue studying in the country legally.
J-1 Student Visa
The J-1 student visa, also known as Exchange Visitor, is a type of student visa usually for those students that want to attend work or study exchange visitor programs; such as work and travel programs which are very popular in the summer, or winter when hotels need extra workers. Other international students that use the J-1 visa are those attending a public high school in the U.S.A under an exchange program, which is designated by the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The J-1 visa has several restrictions and in most cases, your stay can not be extended.
M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 student visa, is designed for international students that want to travel to the U.S.A for non-academic purposes; or most commonly used for vocational studies such as: pilot training, culinary schools, or technical schools. This type of visa is usually valid for only one or two years.
How to apply for your student visa to study in the USA?
Once you have been accepted into an approved SEVP institution, you will be issued the I-20 form. This I-20 form will be sent to you either via email or postal mail depending on the university. Once you receive the I-20 form, please make sure you print it and sign it. If you receive it via postal mail, please sign it. Now with your I-20 form in your hands you will need the following documents to begin your student visa application:
- I-20 form
- SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt
- DS-160 form ( Online Application)
- The academic transcripts you sued to apply to the university as well as any English Exam or knowledge exams.
- Bank Statements and financial information
With all these documents ready, you can now begin your online application for a non-immigrant visa that is required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa. The first thing you need to do is pay your SEVIS Fee or Student Exchange and Visitor Information System, by going to this website https://www.fmjfee.com/. Then click on Pay I-901 Fee and enter the information located on your I-20 form. Once you have paid the SEVIS Fee, you can begin your DS-160 application form which will require you to submit information from your passport, and I-20 form and pay a non-refundable fee. You can see a sample of the DS-160 form here. You will also need these documents to complete your DS-160 form:
- I-20 form
- Travel Information and Flight Information
- Dates of your last five visits to the USA (if applicable) as well as your international travel history
- Basic information
- SEVIS Fee receipt of payment
Completing the DS-160 form is mandatory, as consular officers will use the information provided to process your student visa request and determine your eligibility for an F-1 student visa. Once your complete all the information on the form, you will submit the form and payment online and this will be sent directly to the U.S embassy in your home country closest to your home address.
Visa Interview and Preparation
Now that you have completed DS-160 form, is now time to schedule your visa interview. You will need to contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and schedule your visa interview. The waiting time for you to attend your visa interview will vary depending on your country, so it is always important to schedule the student visa interview as soon as possible.
Attending your visa interview
On the day of your visa interview make sure you bring with you all your supporting documents such as your DS-160, I901 SEVIS receipt payment confirmation, and I-20 form as well as all other supporting documentation you believe relevant and you should arrive one to two hours early for your appointment, it is always good practice to arrive early on the day of your interview for any unforeseen events or issues. During your interview, you must prove to the interviewing officer that you are traveling to the U.S.A with the sole intention of studying and that upon the completion of your studies, you will return back to your home country. During your interview you will need to provide the immigration officer with the following documents:
- A valid passport that will not expire within 6 months
- Passport Photo
- Your valid visa application DS-160
- Application Fee receipts
- I-20 form
- Your acceptance letter from the U.S institution
You may also be asked to provide additional documents such as your academic transcripts, degrees or diplomas, and English scores as well as other financial support documentation from your family or financial sponsor.
During your visa interview, you will be asked several questions, many of those questions will be basic such as your date of birth or home address; however, you must be prepared to answer the officer a variety of questions about why you want to enter the USA. It is important to give the officer concise answers and be clear on your answers. Additionally, you should be prepared to answer some of the following questions:
- Why did you pick this institution?
- Why do you want to pursue this degree in the USA?
- What will be your major?
- Which other US universities did you apply to?
- Do you have relatives or family members in the USA?
- Do you plan to work while you are in the USA?
- How will you pay for your education?
- What is your plan after you graduate or complete your program?
It is important that you have a clear and concise answer to all of these questions above and that you are relaxed during your interview. Anxiety can sometimes be misinterpreted as you hiding information or lying to the immigration officer.
Entering the United States of America
Upon completion of your visa interview, the immigration officer will inform you if your visa has been approved or denied. If your visa is approved you are now ready to travel to the U.S.A. It is important that you bring with you and have access to your passport, I-20 form, and SEVIS receipt fee; as these documents will be requested from you upon entry to the U.S port of entry, or the first airport you arrive in the U.S.A. Upon arrival, you will need to pass through immigration and meet with a U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, who will ask you some basic questions. During this short meeting, the officer has the authority to permit or deny your entry to the United States of America. In most cases, your entry should be approved and you will now need to comply with all the rules and regulations under the F-1 visa designation.
Maintaining Your Student Visa Status
Upon arrival at the university or institution, you will likely go through an orientation that will cover all the rules and regulations on how to maintain your student visa status in good standing. It is super important to ask any questions you might have during the orientation regarding maintaining your student visa status in good standing. It is important to know the things you are allowed to do, as well as the things you are not allowed to do, and if you feel like you still have several questions after your orientation. You should request a meeting with the Designated School Officer or DSO. The DSO is usually the person that issued your I-20 form, so you can always find their name on your I-20 form, and the DSO should be able to answer all the questions you have regarding your student visa status and the rules and regulations you must abide by.