Ready to apply for a U.S. 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 an achievement. 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. So, pat yourself on the back before you dive into this post!
Before applying for your student visa, you should know every step. Prepare yourself well, and don’t falter at any stage. 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 U.S. student visas:
The F-1 is the most common type of visa for students going to the U.S. 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 Ph.D. 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 getting your degree (under the Optional Practical Training program). However, people with STEM courses can extend it 24 months after graduation.
An M-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa for individuals who want to pursue an entire course of study at a non-academic institution or vocational school in the U.S. 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 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You cannot work on-campus or off-campus under an M-1 visa during your studies.
The J-1 is for any student, visiting scholar, or lecturer who will pursue a work and study-based exchange visitor program in the U.S. There are multiple categories of the J-1 visa. Still, some of the common ones are short-term scholarships (up to six months), internships, 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 U.S. until 30 days before 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 entirely on the individual case. Reach out to your nearest consular service to find out the details of 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 to a U.S. university
You should apply to SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) approved U.S. 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 after January.
STEP 2: Get the I-20 or D-2019 Form
After getting an admission (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. Refer to the DHS page here to know more details about this fee.
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 out Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) here. Before filling out the form, find out the nearest U.S. embassy at which you will be interviewed. Once you have figured this out (and mentioned it in the application form), certain documents 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 U.S. (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 indicated in the DS-160 form.
- Check the wait time for appointment availability for your embassy.
- Please book an appointment by either calling the call center or doing 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 visas, 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 following section lists all the documents you need to carry for the interview.
Documents Required for U.S. Visa Interview
- Passport (should be valid for at least six months beyond your planned stay in the U.S.)
- 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, and certificates from the colleges and schools you attended
- Standardized test scores which are required/accepted by your U.S. university
- Proof of intent to leave the U.S. after your program has ended
- Proof of funds to manage 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 U.S. 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 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?
Of course, there is an odd chance 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 U.S. 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 you will not get your application fee back if your application is rejected.
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, it can be smooth. This is just the final hurdle before flying out to your university and beginning 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 U.S.