Ready to apply for the US study visa? Here, we list out the different types of visas, the required documents, when you should apply during the admissions process, and more.
To reach the stage of applying for a visa is in itself an achievement. So, give yourself a pat on the back before you dive into this post! You have crossed the hurdles of giving tests, choosing colleges, writing your SOPs, applying to colleges, getting an admit, finalizing the college, and arranging for the finances of your higher education. Each step has been nerve-wracking and now, having crossed those steps, you’re at one of the most defining moments in your journey to achieve your dream: The visa application process.
Before applying for your student visa, you should be aware of every step. Prepare yourself well, and don’t falter at any stage of the process. One step at a time is the way to go, and this post will help you get there. Here, we lay down the complete visa application process, so that you don’t feel lost while going through it. Let’s get started.
What Are the Different Types of Visas for Students?
There are three types of US student visas:
The F-1 is the most common type of visa for students going to the US. F1 visas are intended for students in the United States looking to study a full-time course (or 18+ hours a week). With this visa, you can pursue a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or a PhD. Additionally, as an F-1 visa holder, you can work part-time on campus for 20 hours a week. On an F-1, you can also work for at least 12 months after you get your degree (under the Optional Practical Training program), although people with STEM courses are allowed to extend it for 24 months after graduation.
An M-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa for individuals who want to pursue a full course of study at a non-academic institution or vocational school in the US. Courses may be related to the culinary arts, media production, medical assistance, cosmetology, and other technical courses. You can stay for 12 months or the course duration as a full-time student on the M-1 visa. An additional stay of 30 days is allowed after the course, and if you have to stay longer, you will have to apply for a status change with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You cannot work on-campus or off-campus during your studies under an M-1 visa.
The J-1 is for any student, visiting scholar or lecturer who is going to pursue a work and study-based exchange visitor program in the US. There are multiple categories of J-1 visa, but some of the common ones are a short-term scholar (up to six months), internship, an international visitor program, and many other such categories. Your stay on a J-1 visa can be up to the end of your exchange program, as mentioned on form DS-2019.
When Should You Apply for a Visa?
It is advised to start the process as soon as you receive your I-20 or DS-2019. The F-1 visa can be issued up to 120 days before the starting date of your course. But you will not be allowed to enter the US until 30 days prior to the starting date of your course. So, plan accordingly. Generally, the visa processing takes 4-6 weeks from start to finish, but the actual time would be based completely on the individual case. Reach out to your nearest consular service to find out the details for your situation.
The 7-Step Visa Application Process
We have summarized the entire visa application journey into a 7-step process to make it easier to follow:
STEP 1: Apply and get admission in a US university
You should apply to SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) approved US universities. You can check the list of SEVP approved universities here. Generally, the application deadlines for a Fall student close in the preceding December/January (For instance, if you plan to start your program in Fall 2021, your application should be submitted by December 2020/January 2021). You will receive an admission notification from the applied universities at any time after January.
STEP 2: Get the I-20 or D-2019 Form
After getting an admit (congrats!), your school will mail you one of two forms:
- F-1 and M-1 applicants will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status)
- J-1 applicants will receive Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status)
On these forms, there will be a SEVIS ID, your school’s address, and other critical information needed during visa processing.
STEP 3: Pay the I-2019 SEVIS Fee
The next step is to pay the I-2019 SEVIS fee. This is a necessary step before you can apply for your visa. The fee for F-1 and M-1 applicants is $200, and for J-1 applicants is $180 (or $35 for a short-term course). It can be paid online using a credit card. To know more details about this fee, refer to the DHS page here.
STEP 4: Fill out the Visa Application Form (DS-160) Online
Once you have a confirmation for the payment of the SEVIS fee, you can fill Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) here. Before you begin to fill the form, find out the nearest US embassy at which you will be interviewed. Once you have figured this out (and mentioned it in the application form), there are certain documents that are required for the application at this stage:
- I-20 or DS-2019 form (SEVIS ID, school-related details and some other info are required)
- VISA Photograph with specific guidelines
- Travel Itinerary, if you have made travel plans already
- Dates and travel history of your last five visits to the US (if you have traveled)
- Resume or CV
Once you have all the documents mentioned above, fill out the application form. This is a crucial step, and all the guidelines need to be followed strictly. Do not forget to take a printout of the confirmation page.
For any queries during the application process, refer to these guidelines.
STEP 5: Schedule and Prepare for Your Interview
- Schedule your visa interview at the same embassy that you have indicated in the DS-160 form.
- Check the wait time for appointment availability for your embassy.
- Book an appointment by either calling the call center or do it online.
STEP 6: Pay the Visa Application Fee
- You are charged this fee, depending on the type of VISA. For all three types of visa, it is $160.
- Contact your embassy to know when and how you should pay this fee.
- Find extensive details about the visa fee payment here.
STEP 7: Attend Your Visa Interview
The interview is the most significant deciding factor for getting a visa. So, prepare well for it by talking to experienced folks around you who have gone through the process themselves. You can also look at a few sample interviews that are available online. The next section lists out all the documents that you need to carry with you for the interview.
Documents Required for US Visa Interview
- Passport (should be valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay in the US)
- Copy of your photograph, which is required if you were unable to upload during the application, but to be on the safer side, do carry it.
- Printout of SEVIS fee payment confirmation page.
- Printout of Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- Application fee payment receipt if you have already paid the fee.
- Original Form I-20 or DS-2019, depending on your visa type
There are a few additional documents that may be required during your interview:
- Transcripts, degrees, certificates from the colleges and schools you attended
- Standardized test scores which are required/accepted by your US university
- Proof of intent to leave the US after your program has ended
- Proof of funds to manage for education, living, and travel costs. You will have to show funds higher than your I-20 to be on the safer side. Your parents and blood relatives can also fund your studies. (If you need help opening a US bank account, contact us) Some of the funding options are:
- Savings account statements
- Loan sanction letter
- Salary slips (yours/parents) showing enough inflow
- Fixed Deposits receipt- attested by the bank
- Provident Funds - passbook or statement
- Scholarship Letter
The consular officer interviewing you will inform you if your visa requires any further processing. If your visa is approved, the officer will keep your passport for inserting the visa sticker, and will inform you when and where to collect your passport with the visa back.
After all this hard work, allow yourself some celebration: you will finally get your student visa!
What Happens if Your Visa Gets Rejected?
There is the odd chance, of course, that your application may be rejected. Do not despair. There are multiple reasons why your visa may have been denied, and the embassy will provide you with the reason for the rejection. Here are some of the common reasons a student visa gets rejected:
- Inability to provide sufficient proof of funds to fund your education
- Inability to prove the intent of leaving the US after your studies
- You did not bring all the required documents for the interview or you provided false documentation
- You do not pass the security check
- If you are late for the visa interview or you miss the interview
- If you are very hesitant about the answers and do not answer reasonably
Some of these reasons can be avoided altogether. Show up on time, bring all the required documents (along with copies), and stay calm while speaking to the consular officer. If you are nervous about an upcoming interview, talk to experienced folks, read multiple articles, and interview experiences to know about the process in detail and be better prepared. Do even more of this if you happen to be denied a visa and have to apply again. Learn from any mistakes you may have made.
Please note that if your application is rejected, you will not get your application fee back.
Always Be Prepared
We understand that this is a long process, but if you are calm and well prepared with your documents, finances, and interview answers, then it can be a smooth one for you. This is just the final hurdle before you fly out to your university and begin your next chapter. So buckle up, stay calm, and work hard to make your dream come true.
Follow this space for more posts like this. We hope they will help make your life more comfortable in the US.