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All About the US Student Visa Process

ACAlpina ChariOct 27, 2023

US Student Visa Process

The USA has long been a top destination for international students seeking quality education and diverse cultural experiences. It ranks #2 in Study Abroad Rankings 2023 by the U.S. News. With renowned universities, world-class faculty, and a diverse range of academic programs, no wonder it remains a popular choice for students from around the globe. When planning to study in the USA, one of the most crucial steps is securing a US student visa. Many international students find the US student visa process daunting due to its complexities. In general, there are three types of US student visas: F-1, M-1, and J-exchange. The F-1 visa is the most common type of student visa that most international students apply for. In this comprehensive guide, we will talk about the whole US student visa process. We will discuss the types of student visas for international students, how to prepare visa applications, required documents, visa fees, visa interviews, and more. 

The US Student Visa Process 

Understanding the US Student Visa Types for International Students

Before diving into the intricacies of the application process, it’s essential to understand the different types of US student visas. The primary visa categories for international students are:

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 visa is the most common type for students pursuing academic programs at US colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. It allows international students to study full-time in the country. Eligibility requirements for the F-1 visa include being accepted by a US institution, demonstrating financial capability, and intending to return to your home country upon completion of studies.

M-1 Student Visa

The M-1 visa is designed for students pursuing vocational or non-academic programs other than language training. For example, technical and trade schools, flight schools, and culinary institutes fall under the M-1 student visa category. M-1 visa holders must leave the country upon completion of their program.

J- Exchange Student Visa 

This visa is for students who wish to participate in an exchange program, including high school and university study. 

Get Accepted to a SEVP-Approved School

The first step in applying for a US student visa is to carefully research U.S. schools and programs to find the best fit for your academic and personal goals. The college or university the student selects must be an SEVP-approved school. You can check out the SEVP status of an institute by visiting the U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases list. Once the school accepts your application, you will be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). It is a web-based system used to track and monitor international students in the country. You are required to pay SEVIS I-901 fee ($350 for F-1 and M-1 visa applicants and $220 for J visa applicants). Upon payment, the student will receive a Form I-20 from the SEVP-approved school they have been accepted to. They must use Form I-20 to apply for the respective visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Form I-20 is also required to attend the visa interview at the consular office. 

How to Apply?

International students can apply for a US student visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The step and their order differ depending on the country from which they are applying. They need to fill out an online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160, and print the application form confirmation page to bring to the visa interview. While completing the application form, students must also upload their colored passport photographs ranging in size from 22 mm and 35 mm. They must be taken within the last 6 months on a plain white or off-white background. Applicants are asked to pay the visa application fee of $185. It is a non-refundable fee and must be paid before the visa interview. In most cases, the consular officers will require an interview of any visa applicant. 

Required Documents

Before attending the interview, visa applicants are required to submit a set of documents as a part of the US student visa application process. These documents include 

  • A valid passport: It must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US. 
  • Form DS-160 confirmation page 
  • Visa application fee payment receipt
  • Photo 
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
  • Form I-20 (signed by the applicant and the school official)
  • Academic transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools attended previously 
  • Standardized test scores (English proficiency test, GRE, or any other standardized test)
  • Proof of funding or scholarships covering tuition fees and living expenses in the US

Depending on the qualification and other circumstances, students might be requested additional documents. You must carry all your documents in the original and photocopy format while going to attend the visa interview. 

Visa Interview 

For applicants below 13 years old, visa interviews are waived. Students must schedule an appointment for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where they live. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early to avoid missing deadlines. A consular officer will interview you to determine whether you are qualified to receive a student visa. You must establish that you meet the requirements under US law to receive a visa. At the time of the interview, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans of the applicant are taken as part of the application process. The interviewer will determine if your application requires further processing and will inform you accordingly. If your visa is approved, you may be required to pay a visa issuance fee, depending on your home country. If your visa application is rejected, you can reapply if you believe your circumstances have changed. Or if you believe you have additional evidence of your qualifications for a student visa. 

Visa Issuance Duration  

Visa for new students (F-1 and M-1) can be issued up to 365 days in advance of the start of their course of study.  However, they will not be allowed to enter the US on a student visa more than 30 days before the start date. Continuing students are issued a visa anytime as long as they are currently enrolled at a SEVP-approved school. They may enter the country at any time before classes start.

Post-Visa Approval

A student visa does not guarantee entry into the US; it only allows the student to travel to a US port of entry (airport) where they can request permission to enter the States. Students must note that the State Department is only responsible for the visa application process and issuing the visa. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the other hand is responsible for granting entry into the country, as well as issuing and enforcing international student regulations. At the airport, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials will ask students for their passport, visa, and Form I-20. Once they are allowed to enter the country, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94. 

Ensure that you maintain full-time enrollment except during semester breaks. F-1 and M-1 visas are typically issued for the duration of the program. To renew your visa, you will need to follow a similar application process. If you need more time to complete your academic program, you can apply for a program extension through your university’s Designated School Official (DSO). In case of any changes in your address or academic program, you must immediately notify DSO. Foreign students with F-1 visas must depart the US within 60 days after the completion of the program as listed on Form I-20, including any authorized practical training. Your visa will also include information on whether or not you are allowed to work while studying in the US

Conclusion 

In summary, the US student visa process for international students can be a bit challenging, but with careful planning and preparation, it is manageable. The key steps to remember are choosing the right institution (SEVP-approved school), preparing for the application, attending the visa interview, and complying with the guidelines and regulations.

Studying in the US can be a life-changing experience, with world-class education and exposure to diverse cultures. The US student visa is your ticket to this incredible journey, and by understanding the process thoroughly, you can maximize your chances of success.

By following the steps outlined in this guide and staying committed to your educational goals, you can navigate the US student visa process with confidence and embark on a rewarding academic journey. If you need assistance with the visa application process or admission process, then contact Gyanberry. Our platform OneApply is designed to help you navigate the visa process smoothly. We also offer admission guidance starting from choosing the right university and course to post-admission processes. Book a video call today with our expert counselors! 

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Frequently Asked Questions

The SEVP-approved school in the US where you have been enrolled issues Form I-20.

There are three types of US student visas: F-1, M-1, and J-exchange. The F-1 visa is the most common type of student visa for international students.

The SEVIS I-901 fee differs from the visa type. It costs $350 for F-1 and M-1 visa applicants and $220 for J visa applicants.

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