Student Visa Chats: Introduction and the Student Visa Application Process
Since many of you will be facing the student visa application process soon, we thought it would be a good idea for some of my first blog posts to provide you with information about the immigration-related issues that will affect you while studying in the U.S. I’ve spent much of my career advising students on these matters and have served as a certified United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Designated School Official. I’m also a member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the San Francisco Bay Area Professional International Educators Roundtable (BA-PIER) that meets once a month to talk about any changes to policy or regulations. These are not the most exciting meetings but thankfully the coffee is usually strong and there are free snacks.
I’m calling this a “chat” because my aim is to simplify what can be very confusing information and also because I’m hoping to make this a two-way conversation: I’d love to hear from you with any immigration-related questions about being a student in the U.S. Please email me at email@example.com and I’ll post your questions and my answers each week.
Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve been admitted to the academic degree program of your dreams--congratulations! The next step is for you to apply for your F-1 or J-1 student visa.
Before I outline the process, let’s get the rumors out of the way. I’ve heard several times over the last 20 years that there’s one mean-spirited visa officer who denies visas to all students and just keeps transferring to different posts around Asia. There’s no truth to this story and no truth to the rumor that there is a daily quota of visas issued and that students are just randomly denied visas once the quota is met. OK. That's done.
The U.S. Government wants to see three things when they review your student visa application and speak to you in your interview:
- That you have a permanent residence in your home country that you plan on keeping
- That you will leave the U.S. after finishing your program
- That you can pay all the costs of your program
There are three main steps required before the interview stage:
PRE-INTERVIEW STEP 1: OBTAIN FORM I-20 or DS-2019 FROM YOUR SCHOOL
The Forms I-20 and DS-2019 are certificates of eligibility that are issued through the USCIS’ SEVIS system and that are used to apply for a student visa. When your new school sends you the offer of admission, they will likely include what is called an “I-20 or DS-2019 Request Form” or direct you to a website where you can request the form online. Be sure to fill out this form very carefully as even small errors can hold up the application process.
To complete the application process you will need:
- original and current bank statement(s) and/or sponsor support letter, all provided in English or translated into English in USD figures
- photocopies of the first two pages of your passport (make sure it is current and will not expire before departure)
After reviewing the completed form and documentation, your school should send you your official Form I-20 or DS-2019. When you have received the form, you can go on to step two.
PRE-INTERVIEW STEP 2:
FILL OUT THE DS-160 ONLINE NON-IMMIGRANT VISA APPLICATION, PAY YOUR VISA APPLICATION FEE AND MAKE YOUR INTERVIEW APPOINTMENT
- Your passport
- Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States if you have previously traveled to the United States.
- Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
- Your SEVIS ID This ID number is printed in the top right hand corner of your Form I-20 or DS-2019. You also will be asked to provide the address of your school and this is also listed on the Forms.
When you are finished, be sure to print out the confirmation page with your application ID number on it, as you will need the 10-digit barcode to both pay the application fee and schedule your appointment. You will also need to bring this piece of paper with you to your visa interview appointment.
After filling out the DS-160 Application, you can pay your visa application fee (currently USD $140) and make your interview appointment online. Please check the website of the Consular Office/Embassy that you plan to visit for specific payment and interview scheduling procedures. For a full listing of offices, visit http://www.usembassy.gov/.
You usually will be asked to bring a copy of your Appointment Confirmation to your interview in order to enter the building. The system will not send a confirmation email so be sure to print this out after making the appointment.
PRE-INTERVIEW STEP 3: PAY THE SEVIS I-901 FEE
The current fee is USD $200 for F-1 visa applicants and USD $180 for J-1 applicants. You can pay this fee online by credit card or you can pay by mail by sending the form and a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank and payable in U.S. currency. The address: I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee, P.O. Box 970020, St. Louis, MO 63197-0020, U.S.A.
The fee must be processed at least three business days prior to the date of the visa interview and you must print out and bring a copy of the receipt of payment with you to the interview.
Visit the Visa Process tab under the Application Resources section for a more detailed outline of the application process as well as helpful links and a glossary of terms.
Next week: The Visa Interview