So you've selected your college, university or English language school and are ready to study full time. What's the next step? Apply for a student visa.
You will probably need an F-1 student visa. An F-1 visa status will allow you to participate in a full-time course of study, and is most commonly required for international students. F-1 visas will be the main focus of this section.
Vocational students will require a M-1 visa. Exchange visitors require a J-1 visa.
Although the visa process can be confusing, it's very important that you prepare yourself carefully before applying for a student visa. This extra preparation time will greatly increase your chances of success.
To obtain a student visa, you must demonstrate that:
- Your sole purpose of travel is to study full-time in the United States;
- You will return home upon graduation and you have no intention of immigrating to the United States;
- You have adequate funds to cover all tuition, living and anticipated incidental expenses
without taking unauthorized employment;
- You have been unconditionally accepted into an accredited academic program.
Step 1: Get an I-20
To apply for a student visa, you must first be accepted for admission by an accredited school in the United States.
When a school accepts you, it will send you a completed I-20A-B form and an acceptance letter.
Step 2: Apply for a Visa
You must apply for a visa in person at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country. Remember that you can apply for a student visa no earlier than 90 days before you report to school in the United States. Visa regulations prohibit your application from being processed any earlier.
Interested parties (such as school representatives, parents and friends) are welcomed to provide written information to the applicant for the interview, but they may not accompany the applicant into the interview.
To apply, you will need to bring:
- A receipt for the nonrefundable application fee, which is the equivalent of US
$131.00 paid in local currency at the current exchange rate. This fee cannot be paid at the US visa office, and each country has a different set of payment regulations. For payment instructions, please contact your local US Embassy or Consulate.
- Please bring the printed DS-160 application form
- Your I-20 form (or your DS-2019, if you're an exchange visitor)
- An Affidavit of Support form, which is provided free at all US Embassies and Consulates. You must demonstrate on this form that you have enough financial support to live and study for the entire program duration. Be prepared to provide evidence of income sources. If you have borrowed money to finance your education, you must show how you will pay this money back.
- A passport with validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay.
One or more passport photographs showing your complete face, without head covering, against a light background.
- Proof of permanent residence outside the US
- School records.
- Evidence of English proficiency.
- Information about the educational program and academic institution, as well as any correspondence (including emails) from the admissions officer.
Step 3: Maintain Visa Status
Once you receive your F-1 visa, it's critical that you maintain your status while studying in the United States. Always remember to:
- Keep a valid passport at all times.
- Attend only the college or university that the INS has authorized you to attend. This is indicated in section 2 on your I-20, or "Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status."
- Complete an official transfer form within 45 days of the beginning of classes, if you transfer schools.
- Take a full course of study during normal enrollment periods, which are usually 12 credits (4 classes) for undergraduate students and 9 credits (3 classes) for graduate students.
- Apply for an extension if you cannot complete your degree by the date listed in item five of your I-20. Be sure to apply for an extension at least 30 days before the expiration date.
- Obtain a new I-20 whenever you make a change in degree levels.
- Have a Designated School Official (DSO) endorse the back of your I-20, if you are traveling outside the US with the intention of re-entering.
Unless you have received authorization first from the BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security), don't work off-campus. You may work 20 hours or less per week on campus during normal enrollment periods. However, you must maintain your full-time student status or your employment will become illegal.