The Easy Guide to the United States Student Visa Application and enrolment

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After being accepted by a university or college in the U.S., all that’s left to do before starting on your exciting journey abroad is to get the U.S. student visa. While the amount of different information to keep in mind may be overwhelming at first, it will all become clearer once you have all the information organised. Don’t worry! Every year over 500,000 international students get their U.S. study visa.

The following guide ensures you’ll have all the essential information you need to be successful. Keep in mind that whenever you have questions the university you have applied to, or the U.S. embassy in your country can provide the answers you need.

Anyone who is not a citizen of the USA will need a student visa to attend a university or college in the States.

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Types of student visa for the U.S.

There are three different student visas that you could be issued for international students coming to the U.S.:

  • F1 Visa - issued to students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program, valid until the completion of your study programme.
  • J1 Visa - students who need to obtain practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic programme (exchange students).
  • M1 Visa – for students who plan to attend a non-academic (technical) or vocational school. This type of visa does not allow employment in the U.S. during your stay.

We will be focusing on the F1 Visa, as this is the most common study visa for the U.S., specifically designed for full-time academic degree studies.

Advantages and restrictions of the USA study visa
  1. The student visa is valid for the duration of your studies. You may stay in the States as long as you are a student.
  2. After students have completed their degree in the U.S. they are allowed to stay in the country for an extra 60 days, to prepare for departure or transfer to another school.
  3. F1-visa students may only get part-time employment on-campus (fewer than 20 hours per week).
  4. You will be allowed to arrive in the U.S. 30 days before the start of your classes.
  5. To keep your student visa you need to remain enrolled and maintain passing grades at your university. If you are unable to complete your programme in the previously set time, your international adviser can help you request a programme extension.
  6. If your passport expires, your country’s consulate or embassy can help you extend it.
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Before applying for visa

To be able to apply for your USA student visa, you will first need to be admitted to a college, university, or English language school in the United States. They will send you the I-20 form (for F-1 visa) or the DS-2019 (for J-1 visa). After receiving the document, make an appointment for the visa interview. Apply early to avoid delays.

Conditions you have to meet to apply
  • Applicants must satisfy several strict criteria in order to receive the visa, including:
  • Students must have a residence in their home country where to return after completing their studies.
  • Students may only study at the accredited academic institution through which the visa was granted.
  • Applicants must demonstrate sufficient financial support. Read the USA Financing Guide.
  • All applicants must demonstrate that they have strong ties to their home country, such as a job offer letter upon completion of studies, personal assets (i.e., house, land, vehicle, etc.), bank accounts, family, etc.
  • Additional documents may be required depending on the country you are applying from.

Speaking English is not a requirement for a student visa, but it will likely be a requirement for your university admission.

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Required application documents

Although the process may vary or require additional steps, depending on your country and embassy or consulate, you will need the following when applying for your student visa:

  • Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status (Form I-20), received from your university (pay 200 USD fee);
  • Receipt of paid application fee of 160 USD for the U.S. Embassy in your country;
  • Submit Online Form DS-160 for a non-immigrant visa;
  • Passport with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States;
  • Old passports;
  • Documents that prove your financial situation (bank statement), or financial support during your studies;
  • Standardised recent digital colour photo.
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Country-specific study details related to student visa application

Here are a few detailed links explaining application procedures in the countries with the most student applicants for visa:

F1-Visa Interview

Your F-1 visa interview will determine whether you are qualified to receive an F-1 student visa for the USA. Digital fingerprint scans will be taken for records. Your passport will be taken so that you can get your visa and you will be informed when you can get it back.

Bring all of the required documents and receipts. You will be required to answer personal questions about your decision to study in the U.S. If you are unable to answer the questions in English, you can ask for an interpreter. The interview will not be longer than 5 minutes.

Interview questions will focus on:

  • Why you chose to study in the U.S.
  • Academic qualifications (test scores) and questions about the university you enrolled in.
  • Ties and obligations that ensure your return to your home country, after graduation.
  • Proof that you have the means to finance your education.

Based on your answers the consular officer will approve or deny your application. You need to convince him or her that you plan to return to your country after your years of study in the United States.

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Improvements of visa work regulations after graduation

The situation for visa students in the USA is in some case better than in other parts of the world, and it's about to get even better. Beginning with May 10th, 2016, the post-study work extension for international students who have graduated a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subject is increasing from 17 to 24 months.

All students also benefit from an additional Optional Practical Training OPT period of one year, on top of the work extension period. This is great news for students who want to work in the States after graduation.

7 tips to pass the U.S. student visa interview
  1. Dress formally for your interview. First impressions can be crucial.
  2. Practice your English before the interview. While this is not a requirement for approval, it can create a good impression and stress the fact that you are serious about studying in America.
  3. Know the programme you are applying for, and how it fits your career plans.
  4. Be to the point, as there are many applicants and visa officers are under a lot of time pressure.
  5. Have the proof documents ready, to make it easy for the visa officer to browse.
  6. Maintain a positive attitude. If you are denied the visa, ask for additional documents you could bring in order to contest the refusal.
  7. If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence, especially if you are the family’s main source of income.

For additional information about the USA student visa, visit the U.S. government website.

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