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5-Step Guide To Applying For A US Student Visa
Like other top study destinations across the world, international students planning to study in the US will need to apply for a student visa before they can travel to the US for their study program.
In this article, we explain the 3 types of student visas in the US and highlight a step-by-step guide to the US student visa application.
Types of US Student Visas
The nature of your study program and the type of school you will be attending will determine the type of student visa you’ll be issued. Here are the 3 types of student visas in the US:
- The F-1 Visa is typically issued to students who wish to study in a university or college, private secondary or elementary school or an approved language training program. This is the most popular type of student visa in the US.
- The M-1 Visa is for students who wish to attend a non-academic or vocational study program or training in the US.
- The J-1 Visa is generally issued to exchange visitors who wish to study for only a semester or two at a US institution.
Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for a US Student Visa
The application process for a US Student Visa can be long and stressful, so it’s best to start your application months before the start date of your course program to avoid being overwhelmed by the processes involved.
Although the processes for student visa application will vary with the type of visa being issued, here are the typical steps involved in applying for a US student visa:
Get accepted into a US institution and receive your Form I-20
The first step to applying for your student visa is to get accepted into a SEVP approved institution. Before applying to your preferred institution, check that it is approved by the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Once the institution accepts your application, you will be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and will be issued your Form I-20 (for F-1 and M-1 Visa holders) or Form DS-2019 (for a J-1 Visa). These forms will contain your personal information as well as details regarding your study plans. When you receive your Form I-20 or DS-2019, check to make sure the information on it is accurate before signing.
- Pay the SEVIS fee
After receiving your Form I-20 or DS-2019, you’ll need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. The SEVIS I-901 fee is currently $350 for F-1 and M-1 Visa applicants and $220 for J-1 Visa applicants. While filing the details for fee payment, ensure your details correspond with what’s on your Form I-20 or DS-2019. Print out a payment receipt as you’ll need this at later stages of your application.
- Complete the online non-immigration visa application form (DS-160 Form)
Once you’ve received confirmation of payment for your SEVIS fee, you’ll need to fill out an online visa application form called the DS-160 form. The DS-160 online visa application form is a mandatory step for prospective international students to receive their student visas. When completing the DS-160 form, you will be required to upload:
- A recent passport photograph
- Your personal information
- Passport details
- Travel itinerary and history (if any)
- SEVIS ID
- Work and education history
- Medical history and criminal records
- Details of your study program as it appears on your Form I-20 or DS-2019.
You will also be required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee of $160. Some embassies allow the application fee to be paid after the visa interview. If you have to pay the application fee before your interview, ensure you bring a printed copy of the receipt with you to your visa interview.
You can apply for your visa up to 120 days before the start date of your course program. However, you can’t travel to the US on a student visa any more than 30 days before your course program starts.
- Schedule your Visa Interview
After submitting your DS-160 form, you can then schedule an appointment for your visa interview with the US embassy or consulate in your country. You should schedule an appointment for your visa interview as early as possible because the wait time for visa interviews can take a while.
After scheduling an appointment for your visa interview, you will receive an interview appointment letter. Ensure you prepare for your interview and gather all the documents required for your visa interview. These documents include but are not limited to:
- A passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the duration of your study program (You may need to bring older passports if you have any)
- Signed copy of your Form I-20 or DS-2019
- Form DS-160 confirmation page with barcode and application ID
- Receipts of SEVIS fee and visa application fee payment
- A copy of your visa interview appointment letter
- At least 2 photographs in the format stated in the US Visa Photograph Requirement
- Official transcripts and diplomas from schools attended.
- Standardized test scores required by the university such as IELTS, GRE and GMAT.
- Proof of sufficient funds to cover tuition, living and travel expenses.
- Original copies of scholarship award letters or any other form of financial aid.
- Proof of your intent to depart the US upon completion of your study program.
- Attend your Visa Interview
Your visa interview is an important part of your visa application process as it determines whether you will receive a US Student Visa. Practising ahead of your visa interview helps you manage any feeling of nervousness.
At your interview, you will go through ink-free digital scans as well as security checks. The interviewer will ask you questions relating to your study program, choice of institution and your ability to fund your study and living expenses. The interviewer will determine from your responses (and the documents you present) whether you qualify for a US student visa and your plans at the end of your study program. During your interview, you must express your intention to return to your home country at the end of your program.
At the end of your interview, you will be informed if your visa application has been approved, if it needs further processing or if it has been denied. Depending on your nationality, you may be required to pay a visa issuance fee. You will also be informed when your visa will be ready for pickup or delivery. Visa processing time will vary depending on the embassy in charge.
US Student Visa Denials
There’s also the possibility that your visa application will be denied. If this happens, the embassy will detail the reason for your ineligibility.
If your application for a US Student Visa is denied, you can still reapply (You’re allowed to reapply 3 times in a year). This, however, means you will need to start your application from the beginning and pay all the required fees again (except the SEVIS fee).
Here are 3 tips to help you through your application process and increase your chances of getting your application approved:
- Start your visa application early, preferably once you receive your Form I-20 or DS-2019 from your university.
- Ensure you have all the necessary and supporting documents to help with your application. Do not present incorrect or falsified documents as this could lead to your application being denied.
- Don’t make final travel plans like booking a flight ticket until your visa application has been approved, as you may not get a refund if your visa application is not approved.
Your student visa is valid for the period stated on your Form I-20 or DS-2019. If your student visa doesn’t cover the duration of your study program, you will have to apply for an extension of your student visa. Once your visa expires, you have a 60-day grace period to prepare for your departure from the US. M-1 and J-1 Visas have only 30 days after their program ends. According to the US immigration laws, failure to depart the US on time may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future.
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