A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of entry and request permission from the U.S. immigration officer to enter the United States. It does not guarantee entry into the U.S. To enter the United States as a student, you must apply for a student visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.
In order to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you must first have a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)-generated document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) issued by a U.S. college or university or Department of State-designated sponsor organization. You will be required to submit this form when you apply for a visa. The U.S. academic institution or program sponsor will provide you with the appropriate SEVIS-generated form only when you have been academically admitted to the institution or accepted as a participant in an exchange program. The institution or program sponsor will also send you additional information about applying for the appropriate visa, as well as other guidance about beginning your academic program in the United States.
Once you have all the required documentation, you may apply for the visa, even if you do not intend to begin your program of study for several months. It is best to apply early for the visa to make sure that there is sufficient time for visa processing.
Planning Ahead: One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you will be able to arrive in time for the start of your educational program in the United States is to plan well in advance, not only for the academic portion of your U.S. program, but also for the visa process. This means you will need to request and receive the appropriate visa-qualifying document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) from the U.S. institution or program sponsor well in advance of your planned departure to the United States. You will also need to make an appointment for your visa interview. Please consult the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you to find out how long it may take to get an appointment.
Applying for your Visa: Among the things you’ll need to do is pay the SEVIS fee, pay the visa processing fee, and make an appointment for the visa interview (the procedure will differ on all of these from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so visit the website of the U.S. Embassy. You should also make sure you have all the documentation you will need when you go for the interview, including the visa-qualifying document (I-20 or DS-2019), financial support documents, proof of payment of the SEVIS and visa fees, and a completed visa application form. Ensure that you complete the visa application correctly by following the Department of State website procedures carefully.
Key Information About Visas and Entering the United States:
There are two additional bits of information that are useful to know. The first is that the U.S. Embassy/Consulate cannot issue a visa more than 120 days before the actual start of the program in the United States. However, visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Thus, if the college or university to which you have been admitted states on the I-20 or DS-2019 that the program will start on September 1, a visa cannot be issued before May 1. Second, even if you have been issued a visa to enter the United States, you will not be allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your program, if you are an initial entry student. Returning students do not have this requirement. Using the earlier example, if the program of study starts on September 1, you will not be permitted to enter the United States until August 1 or later.
Most non-U.S. citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorized for those who study in the U.S. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:
- F-1, or Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute. This visa enables students to stay in the US for the full duration of their academic program plus 60 days. They must, however, maintain a full-time course load and complete their studies by the expiration date listed on the I-20 form.
- J-1 or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange visitor program in the U.S. The “J” visa is for educational and cultural exchange programs, is issued for students requiring practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic program. The training must be directly related to the academic program. This visa obligates the student to return to their home country of a minimum of two years after the completion of their studies in the US before being eligible to apply for an immigrant (permanent residence) visa.
- M-1, or Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the U.S.
On your plane to the U.S. or when you arrive in the U.S., you will receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). Please safeguard this form; it contains the official record of your stay in the United States.
Once you arrive on campus, you should report immediately to the office that is responsible for assisting international students and scholars. It may be called the Office of International Services, the Office of International Education, the International Programs Office, or some other similar name. Whatever the name, however, that office can help you with any questions or concerns you may have about immigration rules and regulations. Moreover, that office must report your arrival within the SEVIS system. If this report is not submitted, you may be considered to be in violation of your status in the United States, so be sure to make the international student office one of your first stops on campus.
Since health care is very expensive in the US, most institutes require that all students, including international students be covered by a policy that will protect them against medical and hospitalization while attending college. The Insurance policy is approximately about US $ 600 per year and the International student office of the college will be able to offer assistance and guidance in obtaining such a policy.
for international students are limited since they are only permitted to work on campus part-time, and would therefore not earn sufficient funds to sustain the cost of their education. Students with good academic standing have a better chance of achieving these jobs.
On the other hand, off campus employment may be available with approval from the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. In addition, there may be opportunities for practical training which entails authorized employment for a period of time, designed to allow foreign students to have professional work experience related to their field of study. Contact the foreign student advisor at the university for further details.
We hope that this information has been helpful to you, and we wish you good luck as you prepare your plan to study in the United States.