Every year, thousands of young people and university students want to apply for a student visa to study in the United States. The first thing you should know is the two categories of student visa. These visas are commonly known as F-1 and M-1 visas. However, there are specific criteria that a student must meet to apply for a student visa, as detailed on the United States Immigration and Naturalization Services (USCIS) page.
First, you must be enrolled in an academic program, a language training program, or a vocational program. Your school must have the approval of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) Student and Visitor Exchange Program. Essentially, you must be enrolled as a full-time student of the institution. You must have English language proficiency or be enrolled in courses to gain English proficiency. Lastly, you must have sufficient funds available to cover your expenses throughout the course of study.
Differences of student visas:
F-1 Student Visa
The F-1 Visa category allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student of an institute, university, conference, conservatory, high school, or other institution or language training program. Also, you must be enrolled in a program that culminates in obtaining a diploma or certificate. The school must be authorized by the US government to accept international students.
M-1 Student Visa
The M-1 Visa category includes those students who are in vocational or non-academic programs, other than language training. Students with an M-1 visa are not permitted to work during their studies. The M-1 student visa applicants must have proof that there is a sufficient fund available to pay all tuition fee and living expenses for the whole period of stay.
A J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa given to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that enhance cultural exchange, primarily to obtain medical or business training in the USA.
Sometimes, students want to work or need to work during their stay in the United States. Students with the F-1 visa can only work inside the university or its campus during the first one under certain conditions and restrictions. Any employment outside the university premises must be related to their area of study and must be authorized by the Designated School Officer before they start to work.
What are the requirements in securing a student visa?
When obtaining your student visa, you must meet a series of requirements and submit documents to study in the United States:
- Be admitted to an institute, university or school recognized by the United States government
- Be a full-time student in the USA
- You should have a passport with a validity of at least six months longer than the time you will stay in the United States
- You should have completed the Form I-20 for F-1 and M-1 visas or Form DS-2019 for the J-1 visa
What is the I-20 form?
This is a document that your institute, school or university will send you once you have been admitted. This document is essential to apply for your F-1 and M-1 student visa in the USA.
What is the DS-2019 form?
This is the form that is used for the exchange visitor program.
When can you apply?
You can apply for your American student visa when you meet all the requirements mentioned above and can get it in advance depending on the type of visa you have applied:
- F-1 and M-1 Visa: up to 120 days in advance of the start date of your study program that appears on the I-20 form
- J-1 Visa: at any time before the date on the DS-2019 form
How much does it cost?
Obtaining your American student visa is not free and involves paying two things. The first is $200 for your I-901 SEVIS Fee. The second is an additional charge of $160 for visa applications at the United States Embassy or Consulate in your country.
How to apply and secure a student visa?
After all the previous necessary steps, you are now in the process to get your student visa. The procedure to obtain the visa includes the following five steps:
Submission of the I-20 form
First, once you have been accepted, your institute or university will send you the I-20 form for the F-1 visa or the DS-2019 form for a J-1 visa to confirm that you have been admitted by an institution authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to enroll non immigrant students. You must read and sign this form.
Payment of SEVIS fee
Second, you will have to pay a tax of $200 for the SEVIS fee. Be sure to print a copy of the payment receipt. You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days before the date of your visa interview.
Fill in the Form DS-160
Thirdly, you must fill out a new non-immigrant visa application form. This is the DS-160 form that must be completed online. In this form, you must upload a photograph of yourself. Once this form is completed, you must print the “confirmation sheet” with the bar-code to present it at your embassy appointment.
Make the appointment
Fourth, you must make an appointment with the US embassy of your country. You can also do this online. To find the website of the US embassy in your country, enter your country on the following page: https://www.usembassy.gov/
Preparation of the appointment at the embassy
Fifth and last, once you have the appointment, prepare for your interview to obtain the American student visa. You should take the following things with you to the interview:
- A printed copy of the appointment
- Your passport is valid for at least six months longer than the time you are going to stay in the US and your previously issued passports
- The confirmation sheet of the DS-160 form with the barcode that you filled in step number 3
- Receipts for payment of the student visa application
- Form I20 for the F-1 and M-1 Visa or form DS-2019 for the J-1 Visa
- SEVIS fee receipt
- Multiple photos
In addition, it is also advisable to carry:
- Financial documents that provide evidence that you have sufficient funds available to pay all your expenses for the first year of studies in the United States
- Academic documents that demonstrate your preparation. These may include your institute’s grade certificates and your results on the SAT and TOEFL exams
- If you have obtained a scholarship, it is also advisable to present all the documentation of it
What happens next after applying for a student visa?
There are three situations that may occur:
- It is approved
- Goes into the administrative process
- It is rejected
If you are approved for a student visa, you could legally enter the United States, although there are two things you should always keep in mind:
- You cannot enter the country within 30 days of the program you are going to begin.
- When travelling to the United States, you must present your passport with your student visa and your I-20 or DS-2019 form at the immigration post.
How long is the student visa valid?
The validity of a student Visa varies depending on the type of Visa:
- F-1 Visa: the validity is equal to the estimated time the study program will take
- M-1 Visa: the validity is a maximum of one year
- J-1 Visa: the validity varies between 4 months and 36 months depending on the program
POLY does not offer legal advice. Please click this page for more info about student visas. It is imperative that each student should consult an immigration lawyer where they reside, since laws or procedures may vary in each state.