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Student VISA - All you need to know

What is a Student Visa?

A student visa is a special visa that is stamped on to a passport that governments issue to students who are enrolled to study at qualified educational institutions. These are non-immigrant visas that do not require the holder to obtain citizenship of that country. Any person seeking further education in a foreign country must apply for a student visa for that country.

The US grants student visas to permit international students to attend school within their borders. However, in most cases, the student must be enrolled for undergraduate, graduate or higher learning programs. This is a time-bound visa with a clear start and end date corresponding to the requirements of the course being undertaken.

Why do you need a student visa to study in abroad/USA?

An education visa, also known as a foreign student visa, is a mandatory endorsement by the US government that allows all foreign students to enter the USA specifically to study a particular program. It is legally required to be stamped on your passport for you to be able to stay, enter and exit the country multiple times during the undertaken study program.

Types of US Student Visas:

Student visa categories depending on the course of study and the type of institution that the student will enroll in. Additionally, there are three major types of Visas on which international students can study in the US.

They are:

  1. F1 VISA
  2. J1 VISA
  3. M1 VISA

The student VISA conditions for F1 and J1 VISAs allow for the possibility of employment in the US during your stay, while the M1 VISA does not. You need to be familiar with the types of visas being offered based on the course of study being undertaken and how they impact your funding while in the USA.

  • F1 Student VISA - For Academic Studies
  • The "F" category student visa is for academic studies. An F1 visa application is for students who are attending an academic program or the English Language Program. F1 student visas are by far the most common form of international student visa in the U.S. F1 visa applicants must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. F-1 student visa permits only part-time, on-campus employment under 20 hours per week. An added benefit for students is the ability to work for up to one year after completion of their academic program under this visa. It is required that students complete their program on or before the expiration date on the I-20 form.

  • J1 Student Visa - Practical Training
  • A J-1 student visa is issued to students who need to obtain practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic program. J-1 student visa is similar in the benefits when compared to the F-1 visa, with similar restrictions.

  • M1 Student Visa - Non-Academic/Vocational Studies
  • An M1 student visa is issued to a student who is going to attend a non-academic or vocational school. M-1 student visa holders are for those students applying to technical and vocational programs. They are not allowed to work during the duration of their studies. The M-1 student visa applicants must show proof of sufficient funds that are readily available to pay all of their tuition and living expenses for the entire program.

Applying for a Student Visa:

This part of the process is undoubtedly the most critical part of the student visa application process. Getting your documentation right and complete will increase your chances to get a student visa. As per the U.S. Department of State website, the first step to receive admission to attend school in the United States is to apply to a Student and Exchange Visitor- (SEVP) - approved school in the United States. After the SEVP - approved University accepts your application, you will be automatically registered for the student exchange and visitor information system (SEVIS) and must proceed to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.

After the fee is paid, the SEVP - approved school will issue you a Form I-20. Post receiving the Form I-20 and registering in SEVIS, you may apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your state for a student (F, J or M) foreign student visa. It is a must to present the Form I-20 to the consular officer when you attend the mandatory visa interview.

Documents required for a US Student Visa:

To apply for an F, J or M student visa, you must submit the following:

  • A Non-immigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date of at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the US.
  • One (1) 2"x 2" (5cm x 5cm) photograph.
  • Payment proof of the US$160 fee which is non-refundable visa application processing fee, to be paid in your local currency. Once the visa is granted, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality. The best source is the Department of State website which can determine if you must pay the fee and the amount that needs to be paid.
  • An approved Form I-20 from your U.S. school or program.
  • A fee receipt indicating the SEVIS fee has been paid.
  • In addition to these items, you must present an interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through SEVIS. It is advisable to carry any other supporting documents you think might be important to provide more information to the consular officer.

Supporting documents for your student Visa:

Supporting documents are just a part of what the consular officer will consider in your interview. Consular officers look at each application individually and evaluate the professional, cultural, social factors before coming to a decision. They may look at your specific study program, family situation, and your long term plans and opportunities in your country of residence.

If your documents are deemed confidential, you can bring your them to the embassy in a sealed envelope. Confidentiality will be maintained and respected.

You should bring the following documents to your student visa interview:
  • Documents that indicate strong financial, social, and family bonds to your home country that will compel you to return to your country after your program of study in the U.S. ends.
  • Bank statements, property ownership documents and any other relevant information you believe that can support your student visa application and which give credible evidence that you have sufficient funds that are available to meet all expenses for the primary year at college in the US. Foreign student visa applicants under the M1 category must demonstrate the ability to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of their intended stay. Original bank statements must be provided.
  • If you are supported financially by someone else, you must bring proof of relationship to your sponsor. The sponsor's most recent original tax returns and bank statements and/or fixed deposit certificates.
  • Academic documents that show educational preparation. Important documents include original school transcripts with grades, public exam certificates (Eg: A-levels), standardized test scores (Eg: SAT, TOEFL®) and any diplomas.

Preparing for your student visa interview:

This is conducted as a personal interview, which is probably the most stressful and intimidating part of the student visa application process. Furthermore, it can certainly be made harder if English is your second language as the student visa for USA interview will be in English. It is important to take the time to prepare beforehand, so you can anticipate potential questions and answer them confidently. Listed below are some things you must do and some you must not. To achieve success like in any other important interview it is recommended to prepare, stay calm, and be authentic.

Student Visa Interview Do’s:
  1. Do bring all required documentation:
    • Your original and valid passport for travel.
    • Form DS-160 which is for a non-immigrant visa application (confirmation page).
    • Application fee payment receipt, if you had paid before your interview.
    • A recent Photo that will need to be uploaded while completing the online Form DS-160. However, if it did not get uploaded, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the photograph requirements.
    • Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1, J-1 or M-1) Student Status.
    • Conditional acceptance letter from your University.

    • Additional documentation may be presented, such as:

    • Transcripts, degrees, or certificates (originals are preferable).
    • Standardized test scores.
    • Sufficient proof to indicate departure from the US upon completing your program.
    • Financial proof demonstrating affordability for your college expenses (bank statement, sources of income).
  2. Do re-read your visa application before the interview to remember your answers.
  3. It is easy to get nervous during the interview, so taking some time to go through your application beforehand will help you to stay focused when you answer questions.

  4. Do practice mock interviews.
  5. You can expect your interview to be interactive and include questions about what you plan on pursuing educationally, your chosen university, academic capability, personal finances, and post-graduate plans if any. Practicing for mock interviews will help you remain more confident on the actual day of the interview.

  6. Do clarify any doubts you have about your program beforehand.
  7. Be prepared to answer specific questions about your chosen program. If you have any doubts, it is recommended to clarify with your admissions department before you go in for your interview.

  8. Do tell the truth.
  9. One of the top reasons for student visa rejection is presenting false information. Stay away from glossing over or exaggerating details just to make your case more compelling.

  10. Do be prepared to make further payment for your visa if necessary.
  11. There is a chance that you might be charged additional fees for your student visa. Be prepared by carrying a cheque or credit card if you need to make any additional payment.

  12. Do try to stay calm, and take your time answering questions.
  13. Not rushing through your answers will allow you to respond rationally and clearly to the visa officer.

A very few Dont's...
  1. Don't dress too casually.
  2. Wearing proper business attire/formal clothes for your interview will make a good first impression. It will express your seriousness and professionalism.

  3. Don't stress out.
  4. Easier said than done, but it is important to stay calm and centered through the student visa interview. Being Prepared with your documentation in an organized manner and arriving well in time for your interview will allow you to stay relaxed in front of the consular officer.

    The above tips will allow a higher rate of success at obtaining a student visa for your chosen program of study.

    However, do not stress if you are rejected. You can always apply again and if you have all your documents and supporting information in order, and the ability to communicate in English, getting a student visa should not be a concern.

Using your student visa to enter, live in and depart the US on your student visa:
  • F-1,J-1 and M-1 student visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for a course of study.
  • However, you will not be allowed to enter the United States on your student visa more than 30 days before the start date of your program.
  • Upon entry into the US, You will need to fill out a standard Customs Declaration form CF-6059 to disclose any items you’re bringing into the country that must be reported.
  • You will also need to give the address of the place where you would be staying in the United States which may be either on or off campus, your passport and your I-20 Form.
  • An arrival and departure record or a Form I-94 will have your arrival date stamped in it. This I-94 Form is unique to you and keeps track of your entry and exits in and out of the US. It is a very important document that needs to be kept safely with your passport, I-20, proof of permanent residence, and proof of financial resources.
  • Each time you leave the country and come back, you will probably be asked to provide all of these documents. The biometric screening will be captured and used at all points of exit and entry to the US to verify your identity and match it to your student visa.
  • With a student visa, you may exit the US for short breaks to go on holiday, attending international conferences or go home, however, your absences cannot exceed 5 months. If you leave the US for more than 5 months, your student visa becomes invalid, even if it has not expired.
  • You will need a new Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status, a new SEVIS ID, and the I-901 SEVIS Fee will need to be paid again. The only exception is if you have left the country to pursue studies overseas while still enrolled at a U.S. college. In that scenario, you are eligible to leave for longer than 5 months and still have a valid visa.
  • Under an F-1 student visa, once you’ve completed your program at a US college, you have 60 days within which you will need to depart from the U.S. If you have an M-1 student visa, you only have 30 days to leave. Post this period, your student visa will become invalid.

FAQ’s for international students living in the US on a student visa:

Ques. Can I request for a visa extension?

International students who are studying in the US on an F1 student visa may stay in the US until the completion of their academic program. However, students may apply for an F1 visa extension if more time is needed to complete their coursework than what is authorized on their Form I-20.

Ques. Can I work with a student visa?

Foreign students can be employed in the US while studying, however, there are some conditions. International students who have an F-1 and M-1 student visa are allowed to work on-campus and in specified training programs. Foreign students are not permitted to be employed outside the campus during their first academic year. Work hours are limited to not more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, however, you can work full time during holidays and vacation periods. If you choose to work more than one on-campus job, your total combined hours per week cannot exceed 20 hours on as dictated by the US student visa conditions.

Ques. What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training or OPT is temporary employment permit that gives students on F-1 student visa an opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge gained during classroom learning to a hands on work experience off-campus. You may use some or all of a total of 12 months of practical training during your entire course of study or save the full twelve months to use after you complete your program. Permission for Optional practical training is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to obtain. It is therefore important to apply for OPT at the earliest possible date.

Ques. Can I change my university/school once I reach the USA?

Once you arrive in the US, you are governed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services rules. As per the student visa conditions, you cannot change your university/school before completing a year there.

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