Find out how to get a student visa to attend college in the US.
You've applied to an American college or university and been accepted. What's the next step?
Before you pack your bags and set your class schedule you must apply for your student visa.
Getting a student visa may seem difficult, but in 2008, 6.6 million people went through the process. Many international students describe the process as organized and systematic.
Obtaining a student visa allows you entry into customs at US airports. The customs inspector will make the final decision on whether to allow you entry into the US.
The biggest piece of advice to remember is to start your student visa application early. You are allowed to apply for a student visa to the US as early as 120 days before your course registration begins.
Student visa requirements:
- Residence abroad
- The intent to leave the US at the end of your studies
- Enough money to cover the cost of tuition and fees as well as living expenses.
Types of Student Visas
It’s likely that you will be applying for the F-1 student visa if you are applying to an undergraduate program. F-1 visas are for students who are pursuing a degree from a US university or attending an English as a Second Language course. Exchange students must complete the J visa application.
Both types of student visas allow you to work on and off campus. You may work on campus only 20 hours per week except during vacation periods in which you may work full time. There are no restrictions on how many hours you work off-campus, though you may have trouble finding an employer who will hire you on a student visa.
If you are married with children, you will need to obtain separate non-immigrant visas for each family member.
Student Visa Application
Before you begin your student visa application, your school needs to send you a receipt enrolling you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This is a database found on the web that allows government agencies and colleges to keep track of foreign students.
Along with your completed application, you must submit:
- Form I-20 A-B, the certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (F-1) Student Status and for Academic and Language Students
- OR Form 1-20 M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students
- One 2x2 photograph
You may also be required to submit transcripts, diplomas, standardized test scores and evidence that you can support yourself financially and pay for the cost of your tuition.
Student Visa Interview
The student visa interview is an important but painless part of the application process. You will need to reserve an appointment with a US embassy or consulate. Visa wait times can be found at most embassy websites.
At your interview, you will be asked basic questions about your future plans. What degree program will you be taking? Why do you want to study in America? These are easy questions that you should be able to answer.
To your interview, you must bring:
- Completed visa form
- Payment receipt of the SEVIS fee
- Visa application processing fee
- Visa-qualifying document
- Financial support documents
This is a basic guide to start you off on your student visa application process. However, some countries have specific requirements in addition to the standards we have discussed here. Contact the closest US embassy or consulate for more information on student visas in your country.
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