Student visa requirements for the USA
If you want to study in the US and are not a US citizen, you will need to obtain a student visa. Applying for a US student visa can be a long process, so make sure you start preparing well in advance – at least three to five months before your course is due to start. There are usually several steps to apply for a US student visa. These steps vary at each US embassy or consulate so it’s important to consult the instructions on the website of the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply.
Categories of US student visas available for International students
The United States government offers three student visa types including F, J, and M.
F Student Visa: for study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute
J Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
M Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United State.
In general, prospective students will go through five stages when applying for a US student visa: -
1. Apply to an SEVP-approved institution
As an international student, you should ensure to choose an institution and program accredited by the US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Accreditation is important as it ensures your degree is recognized by other universities, professional associations, employers and government ministries worldwide. Only SEVP-approved institutions can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide you with the documents necessary to apply for a US student visa.
Unlike some countries, the US does not have a centralized university application system, so you will need to apply to each institution you are interested in separately. You’ll need to fulfill each institution’s admission requirements, and usually will also be asked to provide proof of sufficient financial resources.
Once you have been accepted by an institution, the university will enroll you in the SEVIS system and you will be sent a SEVIS-generated document called Form I-20 if you are eligible for an F or M visa, or Form DS-2019 if you are eligible for a J visa.
The SEVP manages international students in the F and M visa classifications, while the Department of State (DoS) manages Exchange Visitor Programs and international students on J visa classifications. Both SEVP and DoS use SEVIS to track and monitor institutions and exchange visitor programs and international students.
2. Pay the SEVIS fee
You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days prior to submitting an application for a US visa. In order to pay the fee you’ll need to file either an online or paper form. Take care to input the required details exactly as they appear on your I-20 or DS-2019 form.
3. Complete a US student visa application
Once you have received your SEVIS form and paid the SEVIS fee, you can make an appointment with a US consulate or embassy in your country for a US student visa application. It’s best to apply as early as possible, regardless of when your program is due to start, as visa processing times can vary. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before you’re due to enter the US.
Most countries have their own dedicated website for everything to do with making a US student visa application, which can be accessed from this main page. If you cannot find your country in the list, you may still be able to find the US embassy or consulate in your country using the US embassy’s website.
Documents required for US Study Visa
Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to make sure you have all the required documents needed for your interview. These documents may include:
Applicant’s passport (at least 6 months validity beyond the period of intended US stay)
Letter of Acceptance from a SEVP-accredited institution with Form I-20 or DS-2019 (including forms for spouse/children)
SEVIS Application fee payment receipt
Non-Immigration Visa application and Form DS-160 confirmation page with barcode and application ID number
Printed copy of Visa interview appointment letter
Applicants’ 1-2 photographs in the right format
Academic documents (certificates, diplomas or degrees)
Financial Proof of sufficient funds for living throughout the stay in the US (Bank statements, Financial undertaking by sponsor, Scholarship offer letter etc.)
Evidence of leaving the country after completion of the study course (Return Air ticket)
4. Pay the visa application fee
The visa application fee is also called the Machine Readable Visa Fee, or ‘MRV fee’. Make sure to review the fee payment instructions available on your embassy or consulate website as methods may vary. In general, however, there are three ways to pay the non-refundable, non-transferrable visa application fee:
In person at an approved bank
By phone (you’ll receive a fee confirmation number)
Online (you’ll need to print your receipt)
During your research, don’t worry if you come across the term ‘visa issuance fee based on reciprocity’ – this does not apply for F1, F2, M1, M2, J1 and J2 visa applicants.
You’ll be asked for the MRV fee receipt when you get to your visa interview appointment. Some J visa applicants will not need to pay application processing fees if participating in a US Agency for International Development (USAID) program or a federally funded educational and cultural exchange program with a program serial number beginning G-1, G-2, G-3 or G-7.
5. Book and Clear your Visa Interview
The final step in getting a US student visa is to arrange and attend a visa interview. The booking can be done either online or by calling your nearest US embassy or consulate. In either case, you should complete the MRV fee payment first, as you may need to give your MRV fee number.
The visa application process cannot be completed until you appear for an interview with a consular officer. Don’t worry if you need to schedule your interview appointment at a different US embassy or consulate than the one you used to apply for your visa. The barcode from your DS-160 can be used to retrieve your information in any US embassy or consulate. However, be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa if you apply outside your place of permanent residence. Wait times for visa interview appointments vary by location, season and visa category.
Visa Preparation guidlines
It’s important to be on time for your visa interview – late applicants may be asked to reschedule for another day. In most cases only applicants with a scheduled appointment will be admitted inside the US embassy or consulate. Exceptions include a parent for children under 18, translators, and assistants for the disabled – you’ll need to contact your chosen embassy or consulate to give them the name of the parent, translator or assistant who will accompany you.
The purpose of the visa interview is for the consular officer to determine whether you are qualified to receive a US student visa and, if so, which visa category is appropriate for you. Be prepared to answer questions regarding ties to your home country, your English language skills, your academic background, the program in the US to which you have been admitted, and proof of your financial resources. You may also be asked to explain your plans for when your studies are finished.
Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. This usually happens at your visa interview.
After your interview the consular officer will tell you if your application requires further administrative processing – this can mean additional time for you to wait to receive your visa. Wait times will vary depending on country. You will also be informed how and when your passport with the visa will be returned to you (usually pick-up or delivery by courier). In some countries the courier company will send you an email with a tracking number which you can use to track the delivery of your passport.
F-1 and M-1 visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your study start date, but you will not be allowed to enter the US earlier than 30 days before your start date. J-1 visas can be issued at any time. If you want to enter the US before these 30 days, you must qualify for and obtain a visitor visa. The 30 day limitation does not apply to students returning to resume studies – they may enter the US at any time, provided they have a valid visa.
* Visa requirements may differ depending on country of application. Our counsellor will guide you through the process.
Reasons for Visa rejections
To make you aware below are the few common reasons for US student visa rejections: -
Lack of financial resources
Inability to prove intent of returning to the home country.
Inconsistencies in data verification.
Inability to create a favourable impression with the Interviewing officer.
Signs of hostility, aggression, racial/ religious discriminatory responses etc.
US visas website posts regular updates regarding the process. Check to follow the approval timeline and make your travel plans accordingly. Inform your university of your itinerary as soon as your visa is granted.