Laurie Woog, our guest-blogging immigration attorney, provides insight into what you need to do to obtain your student visa.
If you are planning on attending a college or university in the United States, you will need to obtain a student visa (F-1). The educational institution in the U.S. should have a staff member whose job it is to send you important information about what to do in order to obtain your visa. However, actually getting the visa can be tricky, and there is no guarantee that the consulate will agree that you are entitled to your visa. Therefore, in order to increase your chances of an approval, it is best to be fully prepared for the visa interview. Note: Canadian citizens do not need to obtain a visa in their passports.
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE PROCESS OF OBTAINING A VISA
Once you obtain an “I-20” from your school in the United States, you can start the process of obtaining your student visa. Make sure you review and understand the following steps to take after you enroll in college and receive your I-20.
- Ask the International Student Services officer or Designated School Official (DSO) at your school in the U.S. for as much advice as possible about applying for your visa. Review your university’s website for international students
- Review the website of the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your country that processes student visas to see if there are any special procedures of which to be aware. The consulates are part of the United States Department of State
- Follow the embassy or consulate’s instructions to schedule an interview for your F-1 student visa. Many consulates recommend that appointments be made no more than 90 days from the intended date of travel, but some can make earlier arrangements for interviews. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing recommends that all students and exchange visitors should make appointments for visa interviews two months before their programs start. The summer months are obviously very busy times for processing prior to the start of the fall semester in the U.S.
- Pay the visa application and SEVIS fees
- Keep all receipts and notifications of payments
- Complete the DS-160 online application form.
BRING PROPER DOCUMENTATION TO YOUR APPOINTMENT
- Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months. Renew your passport far enough in advance so that you have a valid passport at the time of your interview.
- Form I-20
- School admission letter
- Completed visa application (see above) and DS-160 confirmation page
- Two 2″x 2″ photographs that conform to Department of State specifications
- Receipts for the visa application fee and SEVIS fee
- Financial evidence: You must demonstrate that you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses in the U.S., such as bank statements, bank accounts, income tax returns, business registration, etc. It is important to show you can support yourself in the U.S. without working.
- Remember that an F-1 visa means you intend to return to your home country after you conclude your studies in the U.S. Thus, at your interview, you must bring documentation that will help prove that you have many ties to your country, such as:
- Proof that you own property, proof of family ties
- A letter from an employer promising you a job when you return, bank accounts, etc.
- In China and other countries, you may be asked to provide some or all of the following:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions you attended
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as TOEFL, GRE, SAT, etc.
- Research/Study Plan: Detailed information about your planned studies in the U.S. including the name and e-mail address of your advisor or head of your department in the U.S.
- Resume or CV: Detailed information about your academic and professional experience.
HOW TO HANDLE THE VISA INTERVIEW
The visa interview can be stressful even if it is short. Make sure you answer the consular officer’s questions politely and truthfully. Any fraud or dishonesty can result in the denial of a visa at the interview or a later date. Here are some brief tips for the interviewing process.
- You may be asked if you intend to work in the U.S. as a student. You must make sure the consular officer understands that you do not intend to work in the U.S. while you are enrolled in school full-time and that you are aware that students are not allowed to work in the U.S.
- If you are interviewing for a visitor visa instead of a student visa, but think that there is even a small possibility that you will want to change your status to be a full-time student, then you should disclose this intent to the interviewing officer. Otherwise, you may have trouble changing from B-2 to F-1 in the U.S. In addition, if you intend to take a “short term course of English language study,” fewer than 18 hours per week, you can receive a B-2 visa. Again, this intent should be disclosed to the consular officer.
- In China and some other countries, consular officials may ask what you plan to do after receiving your diploma. It may be helpful to explain how your U.S. education will be useful in China in the future. However, again, answers should be truthful. Not every applicant has a specific plan before coming to the U.S.
- The consular official may inquire more deeply into your family’s finances. For example, if a student must borrow a lot of money to pay for his or her U.S. education, the consular officials may question how the applicant is going to pay back the loans upon returning to his or her home country.
Remember that the above information is just a guide, and does not cover every situation or the requirements of every embassy or consulate. Make sure you know what is required for the interview in your particular country.