International students that wish to study in an academic, college or university institution in the U.S are required to obtain an F1 Visa. This also includes programs such as language training courses. Those that are planning on studying in the U.S for a short period of time, such as for a study program, are also required to obtain an F1 visa if they will receive credits or will study for over 18 hours weekly.
According to the U.S government website, studies in the following institutions require an F1 visa: university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, language training program, academic institutions and vocational or nonacademic institutions that do not include language training programs. Students that wish to participate in any of the aforementioned institutes must have an F1 visa in order to arrive in the country legally.
Before applying for the F1 student visa at a local U.S Consulate or Embassy, it is necessary to apply and receive an acceptance letter from the school. The school must be approved by SEVP, otherwise known as the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. Further information regarding SEVP approved schools can be found at The United States Department of State EducationUSA website: http://www.educationusa.info/students.php.
Once the applicant has been accepted by the U.S school that they wish to attend, they will be added to the SEVIS, or the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. There is a SEIS I-901 fee for being approved onto the SEVIS system. The institution will provide the application with a I-20 form, which the applicant will take to the U.S Consulate or Embassy in order to participate in a visa interview. Updated information regarding SEVIS, the SEVIS I-901 fee and more can be found at the U.S ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) SEVP website: http://www.ice.gov/sevis/.
There are a few stages that must be completed in order to apply for a visa. Different U.S Embassies and Consulates, depending on the country, may require the stages to be completed at different times. The best way to ensure that one is following the stages correctly is to visit the consulate or embassy website for ones country of origin. The website will provide detailed instructions for the various stages and the order in which they should occur.
The online visa application is an easy way to begin the application process via the Internet. This form, known as the DS-160 Form, is the online nonimmigrant visa application. Applicants are required to complete the application online and print the confirmation page that appears once the application has successfully been completed. The printed form is required for the interview at the U.S Consulate or Embassy.
A photo is also required, which will be uploaded during the application process for Form DS-160. Photo requirements and formats are further explained on the Photograph Requirements website: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/photos.html.
The next stage is to schedule a visa interview at the U.S Consulate or Embassy in the country of origin of the applicant. While it is possible to schedule an interview at any U.S Consulate or Embassy, it can be much more difficult to obtain a visa outside of one’s country of origin.
It is difficult to say how long it will take until the interview takes place, since it varies from time of year to type of visa to location. It is always advisable to apply for the visa as soon as possible and begin the stages mentioned in order to get a head start on the process. Students that are entering the U.S for the first time, otherwise classified as “new students”, can receive their F1 visa anywhere up to 120 days before the course commences. However, entry into the U.S will not be allowed until 30 days prior to the course commencement.
Continuing or returning students can renew their visa at any given time, if they have kept their SEVIS information and status as “current”. It is possible for these types of students to enter the U.S at any period before the course commencement.
The visa application fee is non-refundable and may be required prior to the interview. After the visa has been approved, the applicant may need to pay a visa insurance fee as well, depending on one’s nationality. More information regarding the fees can be found on any country’s U.S Consulate or Embassy website.
There are several documents that must be brought to the visa interview. These include: a valid passport, non immigrant visa application, form DS-160 confirmation print out, photo, certificate of eligibility for F1 Student Status. The passport has to be valid for a minimum of six months exceeding the applicants intended length of stay in the U.S. Once an applicant’s information has successfully entered the SEVIS system, the institution will send the Form I-20, which must be signed by the school and the applicant.
Other items that may be required include an application fee payment receipt (for those that have to pay prior to the interview), academic transcripts (these include certificates, degrees and diplomas from previous institutions), scores from exams that the U.S institution requires (which can include SAT, TOEFL, GMAT or GRE), financial information that proves how studies will be covered (as well as travel, living and additional costs).
When the applicant attends the visa interview, they will be required to speak with a consular officer. The officer will decide if the applicant is able to receive the visa by making sure that all necessary requirements are fulfilled. Applicants will have to take fingerprint scans digitally during the application process as well, though some countries may do this at another time.
It is common for applicants to have to wait for administrative processing before confirmation of the visa. The consular officer will let the applicant know the status of their situation and if further processing is required.
Once the visa has been approved, applicants may be required to pay the visa issuance fee (depending on ones nationality) and will be given information regarding the return of ones passport, along with the visa. It is typical for applicants to pick up the passport and visa at a later date or receive it by delivery via courier.