This blog post is about how to get a US student visa. Many international students apply to US universities each year in order to pursue full-time studies there. But you need more than just outstanding grades to go to school in the US; you also need a US student visa. Unfortunately, getting a visa can be a difficult procedure, which is why we’re here to assist.
The fundamentals of visas and how to obtain a US student visa for the United States will be covered in this article.
We’ll also provide you with some advice and tools you can use to make sure your visa application process goes as smoothly as possible.
A US Student Visa: What Is It? Have You Got One?
All international applicants, that is, those without US citizenship or permanent residency, must first acquire a US student visa in order to lawfully attend school in the US.
This international student visa enables you to temporarily remain in the US while participating in an authorized academic exchange program, language program, or school.
After you finish your program, your student visa expires. You must leave the US at that point. (However, you may later visit the US on a different visa, such a work visa, as a tourist.)
US student visa come in three different categories:
- F-1 visa: Both undergraduate and graduate students are eligible to apply for this visa, which is for high school or college/university study in the US (including language programs).
- M-1 visa: For non-academic or vocational study in the US, you’ll need this visa. These courses are often brief and career-focused. You may, for instance, enroll in a culinary or medical training program..
- J-1 visa: This visa is intended for exchange travelers, such as au pairs and study abroad students.
International students often require an F-1 visa in order to enroll full-time in undergraduate or graduate programs. In contrast, you will need to apply for a J-1 visa if you intend to study abroad for just one or two semesters at a US college (and wish to earn credits that transfer back to your home institution).
When should a US student visa application be made?
Only after you’ve applied to and been accepted by a school that has SEVP approval can you submit an application for a student visa. The Student Exchange and Visitor Program is known as SEVP. This program must certify any US institution that accepts F-1 or M-1 students.) You can start the visa application procedure as soon as you’ve been admitted to the college or university you want to attend.
Keep in mind that you must obtain your visa prior to the start of your program.
Although you can obtain a US student visa up to 120 days before to the commencement of your program, you cannot enter the country on this visa until 30 days have passed since the start date.
US Student Visa Application Checklist
Let’s quickly go through the exact elements you should have in order before we explain how to apply for a student visa.
Every international student is required to have a current passport that was issued by their home nation. Additionally, this passport must be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of your program in the US. Therefore, you cannot use a passport that will expire during your time in the US or soon after your program is over. You must instead apply for a new passport and utilize that one.
#2: Passport-Style Photograph
You must provide a current (within the last six months) passport-style photo with your application. You will later upload and submit this with your online visa application as your visa photo.
Specific instructions on how to take and upload a visa photo are provided on the US visas website, along with examples of acceptable and prohibited photos. Be warned that since November 2016, sunglasses cannot be worn in visa photos.
Last but not least, you’ll need to have enough cash on hand to cover the numerous visa-related expenses. Later, we’ll go into greater detail about these fees and how to pay them. The costs for a US student visa are listed here, however, as a quick summary:
How to Get a Student Visa: 10-Step Guide
Now that you are aware of the essential items you must have on hand, let’s take a step-by-step look at how to apply for a student visa.
NOTICE: The procedure for requesting an F-1 visa is the same as one for an M-1 visa and resembles one for a J-1 visa. As a result, all three of the US student visa categories are compatible with the application procedure mentioned below. Consult the US visas website if you have any inquiries concerning your visa type or the application process.
Step 1: Apply and Get Accepted to a US School
The first step is to apply to (and ultimately be admitted to) a US university. Application deadlines for the majority of US full-time undergraduate and graduate programs are in December or January of each year. Around March and April is when schools normally send out their admission announcements.
The colleges you apply to must receive SEVP approval, as I already stated.
Use the SEVP school search tool to identify a SEVP-approved school or to verify that the schools you’ve selected are, in fact, SEVP-certified.
Most likely, J-1 students will submit exchange program applications through their home institutions. At the official J-1 visa website, you may also check for designated sponsor organizations there.
Step 2: Receive Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your School
After being accepted into a program, you will either receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), which is given to F-1 and M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status), which is given to J-1 students.
The appropriate form will be mailed to you by your school. Your SEVIS ID, the address of your institution, and other vital details about your program will all be on your document. This form is required for your visa interview (we go into more detail about the interview process in step 8) and to pay specific expenses (which we discuss next in step 3)
Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee
Go online and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee as soon as your school sends you your I-20 or DS-2019 form. Again, the cost is 220 USD for J-1 students and 350 USD for F-1/M-1 students. (Those applying for a short-term J-1 visa will just need to pay USD 35.)
Most students can pay this charge online with a credit card, with the exception of those from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, or Nigeria. Keep in mind that your visa application fee is separate from the I-901 SEVIS fee (which we explain more in step 7).
Print off your confirmation page after paying the money since you must bring it to your visa interview.
Step 4: Find Your Nearest US Embassy or Consulate
Your nearest US embassy or consulate is where you must submit an application for an international student visa (ideally, in the city or region in which you live). Through the US Department of State, you can conduct an online search for US embassies and consulates.
Be advised that depending on the embassy you apply through, the procedures for obtaining a US student visa may vary slightly.
This indicates that you might have to submit additional paperwork with your visa application at some embassies. Consult your embassy’s website or get in touch with them personally for more information on what you must provide.
Step 5: Complete Form DS-160 Online
The Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160, should then be finished. The following items must be on hand in order to complete this form:
- Your passport
- A visa photograph
- Form I-20 or DS-2019 (remember, which form you receive depends on whether you are an F-1/M-1 or J-1 student)
In addition, you may need to supply:
- A travel itinerary (if you’ve already made travel plans to the US)
- The dates of your most recent five US visits, if any, and/or documentation of your recent international travel.
- A resume or CV
- Additional information depending on your purpose for travel
You can choose the US embassy where you want to have your visa interview on this application.
Except for the field asking you to provide your complete name in your native alphabet, the entire form must be filled out in English. If you have trouble understanding the English instructions, translations are provided on the form. Visit the DS-160 FAQ page if you have any additional queries regarding how to complete this form.
Print off your confirmation document after completing this form and submitting it online to bring to your visa interview.
Step 6: Schedule Your Visa Interview
Contact the closest US embassy or consulate (preferably the one you listed on your online application) after submitting Form DS-160 to set up your visa interview.
The length of the interview wait varies by embassy. To find out how long the waits are at your embassy, visit the US visas website.
Step 7: Pay Your Visa Application Fee
The 160 USD application fee must then be paid. No matter where you apply or where you are from, this charge is the same.
Keep in mind that the exact timing of your payment will depend on your embassy. Not all embassies demand payment of the application fee prior to interviews, despite the fact that many do. You should get instructions from your embassy on how and when to submit your visa application fee. Bring your receipt as proof of payment to your interview if your embassy requests that you pay this cost ahead of time.
Step 8: Attend Your Visa Interview
The interview is the last significant stage in obtaining a visa. Whether or not you are granted a student visa for the United States will depend on the results of this interview.
assemble the following materials and data before going to your interview:
- Your passport
- One copy of your visa photograph (this may be required by certain embassies, particularly if you were unable to upload your visa photograph to your online visa application)
- Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
- Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
- Your visa application fee payment receipt (this is only required if you paid the application fee before your interview)
- Form I-20 for F-1/M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (make sure to bring the original form — not a copy!)
Your particular embassy may require additional forms and documentation, such as:
- Official transcripts from colleges/universities you’ve attended
- Diplomas/degrees from high schools/colleges/universities you’ve attended
- Standardized test scores (if required by your US school)
- Proof of sufficient funds
- Proof of your intent to depart the US at the end of your program
Usually as soon as you arrive at your interview, you will go through a security check and provide digital, ink-free fingerprints.
You will be questioned in English throughout the interview. These inquiries will primarily center on your motivations for choosing the school you have and your post-program plans. It is crucial to make it obvious that once your program is over, you do not intend to stay in the US. Several websites, including International Student and Happy Schools, provide extensive lists of possible interview questions and their possible answers.
If your interview goes well, your embassy will let you know when and how it will send your passport back to you together with your new visa. (You must leave your passport with your embassy in order to obtain your visa.)
Step 9: Pay the Visa Issuance Fee (If Required)
After receiving approval for a US student visa, some students are required to pay a visa issuance fee. Depending on your nationality and the reciprocity agreement between the US and your country, you may or may not be obliged to pay this charge. You can use a chart on the US visas website to determine whether you need to pay a visa issuance fee.
Step 10: Receive Your Visa
Your embassy will return your passport to you together with your new visa once you have finished all of the aforementioned stages and been granted an international student visa to the US. Keep in mind that certain embassies will demand you to pick it up in person, while others will ship it back to you.
The length of time it takes to process a visa depends on your embassy. Visit the website to obtain a rough idea of how long it will take to process your visa to the US visas website.