Study in USA: Complete Visa Guide for International Students

student visa guide

One of the requisites for the international students who wish to study abroad in the USA is a student visa. Getting a US student visa can be a tough nut to crack, but if your application and documentation is on the mark, this process is easy and smooth. Needless to say, applying for it in advance – at least three to five months before the study programme is due to start – is a must. Here’s a quick guide to help put things in gear.

Types of US Student Visa

There are different types of US student visa and applying for the right visa is the key.

F1- Visa: International students eager to gain a full-time high school or university qualification from the USA, the F1-Visa will be your gateway to do so. This visa will allow the international students to seek admission into the private elementary school, high school, accredited university/college, intensive English language institute, language training programme or any other academic institution in the US. The application process is straightforward, but the processing takes time. So, it is advisable to apply for the same as soon as you receive admission confirmation from the respective academic organization. If you’ve unmarried children under the age of 21 or spouse accompanying you to the USA, you can apply under the F2-Visa category.

Note: F1-Visa holders are allowed to work on-campus for up to 20 hours a week. Those of you, who wish to work for longer hours or off-campus need to gain authorization in advance from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

M1-Visa: International students who wish to pursue vocational or non-academic study or training in the States must apply for M1-Visa. It is basically a temporary visa, which is granted only for a specific time period, i.e. for the duration of your study or training period. Also, this visa allows to stay in the US for a period of one year, or as long as you are enrolled in the training program. The M1-visa holders are not allowed to work on or off-campus while studying in the US.

J1-Visa: If you’re eager to spend a semester or two studying abroad as a part of cultural exchange program, or business or medical training in the US, then J1-Visa is the one for you. It is a non-immigrant visa reserved for exchange visitors, professors, trainees, post-doctoral fellows or research scholars who take part in the programs in the States that promote cultural exchange.

How to apply for US Student Visa?

Once you’re accepted as a student in a US college/university, a ‘Confirmation of Acceptance’ is issued, referred to as the I-20.  This form is needed for an F1 student visa. It is actually a paper record of your details in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database.

Step 1: Fill DS-160 form online

You can apply for US student visa online by filling out DS-160 form. Before you get started, you need to choose the visa type you want to apply for, read the specific guidelines for it, and get all your supporting documents that prove the accuracy of the information you have entered in the form.  If you’re coming from a place where English is not the native language, you need to undertake an English language proficiency test and provide the score for the same.

Step 2: Pay the fee: Visa Application and SEVIS

After you’ve filled out the application form, pay the required visa application fee, which is INR 10442 (US$160) andis non-refundable. After the fee payment, you’ll receive a receipt of the same.

** The visa fee is determined by the type of visa you’re applying for!

You also have to pay a separate visa fee, called SEVIS fee. It can be paid online via form I-901 . For non-immigrant students with I-20 form, the SEVIS fee is US$200.

Point to note: You’re required to complete the I 20 form in order to pay the SEVIS fee!

Step 3: Fix an appointment with the US Embassy/Consulate for the visa interview

Using the same login details as used while paying the application fee, you need to create a profile. On the dashboard, you’ll get an option ‘Schedule Appointment’. You have to schedule two appointments –

One appointment for the Visa Application Centre (VAC). This appointment must be made at least one day prior to your visa interview appointment at the US Embassy. At the VAC, your photo and fingerprints would be added to their system. You are required to carry some documents at the VAC appointment, such as a valid passport, visa application fee payment receipt, DS-160 confirmation page and your appointment confirmation page.

Second appointment for interview at the US Embassy. You need to carry a printed copy of your appointment confirmation letter, a valid passport (both current and old), your DS-160 confirmation page stamped at the VAC and supporting documents according to your visa type.

What are the supporting documents?

The things your US student visa application ask for include-

A valid passport: Should be valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the States.

Financial documents showing that you have enough funds to get by during your study in the USA

Document demonstrating strong social, financial and family ties to your home country (this is to assure that you’ll be returning to your home country after the completion of studies in the USA)

Original bank statements along with photocopies

Educational documents: Marksheets and certificates along with relevant standardized test scores

Work experience letter (if any)

General medical reports

Visa application fee receipt

Form I-20 and admission letter: The I-20 obtained by the US university/college should be signed by you and the university official.

Visa Status

You can check the visa application status online. If your visa is approved, you can collect it along with your passport from the location you’d chosen at the time of scheduling your interview. If it’s ready at the location, you’ll get an SMS and email that ‘Your Passport is Ready for Pick Up’.

We hope this guide helps you in understanding the student visa process for USA.If you have any queries, leave your questions in the comments!

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