Foreign students who want to enter the United States in the pursuit of higher education must obtain a student visa. The process isn’t as lengthy as other types of visas, but there is still an issue of planning out the timing between starting school and the processing schedule for obtaining your visa through a U.S. consulate. As of 2018, there were a total of 1,095,299 international students studying in the United States, which may explain why student visas are a popular choice. Foreign individuals who are interested in studying in the U.S. should plan ahead to ensure they have plenty of time to complete the visa application and processing steps before the school semester begins.
There are some basic requirements that an individual who wants to pursue an F-1 Student Visa must meet, including:
- Fluency in English
- Qualified to attend a course of study at an SEVP-certified institution
- Financially capable of attending the program and living expenses
- Studying at an academic institution or language-training program that’s approved by the Attorney General of the U.S.
- Demonstration of “bona fide” student status, meaning there is no intent to stay in the U.S. and the student possesses strong ties to their home country.
Find an SEVP-Approved School
The first step to obtaining your student visa is to find and apply to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) school. Once you have been accepted by the school for enrollment, you will be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). To complete this registration, you must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.
You will be issued a Form I-20 by the school. Once you have this along with your registration on SEVIS, you can apply for a student visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The student visa can be either a F or M visa. Important to note is that if you have a spouse or children that will be living with you in the U.S. during your study, they must also apply for a visa. Your spouse or children must enroll in the SEVIS, receive an individual Form I-20 that is provided by the SEVP-approved school and apply for a visa.
Planning Your Timeline
The most important part of the student visa process is to manage the timing between applying to schools and the U.S. Consulate, since they are on different timelines. Most school years begin in August or September, so it’s best to begin contacting schools that you are interested in a year in advance of when you wish to start. Apply to at least 5-10 different schools that you are interested in, and be sure to include a few that you believe you have a good chance of being accepted to.
Timing the application to the U.S. Consulate can be tricky, because if you apply too late you might not get a decision in time to start your studies. Applications that need further administrative processing can take 60 days or more to be resolved after the consular interview date. Most recommendations for applying to the U.S. Consulate are for 3 to 6 weeks before you leave. Contact your local U.S. Consulate for more specific recommendations on the timing and application.
Gather All Required Documentation
Before your visa interview, you will need to gather and prepare the following documents:
- Passport – Your passport must be valid for travel to the U.S. and be valid for at least six months longer than your intended period of stay.
- Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, confirmation page
- Passport-style photo – This should be uploaded when you complete your online Form DS-160. Bring one printed photo that meets the photo requirements in case the upload failed.
- Receipt confirming payment of the application fee
- F-1, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Students Status – For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20, or M-1, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status for Vocational Students.
Your consular office may ask for additional documentation as well. Ensure that you bring these requested documents with you for the interview.
Contact the Local U.S. Embassy or Consulate
Schedule an appointment at your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country. The wait times may vary, so apply early to avoid delays.
Attend the Interview
Your interview will determine whether you are qualified to receive a student visa. The interviewer will verify that you meet the requirements to obtain a visa. During the interview, you will generally also be required to get your digital fingerprints taken. Once approved, you might have to pay a visa issuance fee.
Traveling to the U.S. and Arriving at Port of Entry
Keep in mind that you are not guaranteed entry to the U.S. with a visa. The purpose of the visa is to enable a foreigner to travel to a U.S. port of entry where they can ask for permission to enter. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security can permit or deny admission.
Present your Form I-20, visa and passport to an official who will then make this determination. You will receive an admission stamp or Form I-94 if you are approved for entry.
Using an F visa, you are required to leave the U.S. within 60 days of the program end date that’s listed on your Form I-20. To request an extension, you must follow the guidelines on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
Get Help from an Immigration Attorney
If you need assistance with your student visa or another immigration matter, talk to the attorneys at Pride Immigration. Contact us to get your questions answered about studying in the U.S. today or to discuss what visa and permanent residence options are for your specific situation. We can walk you through the proper steps you must follow to ensure you are able to gain entry into the United States as easily as possible.
Beeraj Patel, Esq.
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