Studying in the United States is an exciting opportunity as there is much to see and do. Before your arrival in the U.S.A., you must come with an approved visa if you plan to study at an ESL school. Although there is paperwork involved, you will find that it was well worth the effort! Your local embassy or consulate, along with your ESL school, will be helpful resources as your navigate and complete all the paperwork. Since this process can be quite daunting and confusing at first, we have put together an outline of what you should expect when you apply for your student visa in the United States. This should be a helpful step-by-step process so that you get everything done in the most efficient manner.
To begin, there are two primary types of visas students come to the United States on when they enroll in a language course either as a student (without the ability to work) or as a recreational activity as a tourist– here’s a brief examination of each type:
If you plan on studying more than 18 hours a week, chances are you will need to apply for an F-1 student visa. Here’s how:
What is the I-20 Form?
Before applying for an F-1 student visa, you will need to have your school complete an I-20 Form. This I-20 form is an official US Government document that is completed by a certified Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Once you have your I-20, you are now eligible to go to your embassy, set up an appointment, and apply for your F-1 student visa.
Where do I get the I-20 Form?
The I-20 form will be given to you by the ESL school or other educational institution you will attend. Your school should be very familiar with this process as each international student goes through this process. Because the school is an involved participant in this process, the procedure may vary school to school. We recommend that you contact your ESL school to make sure that you are aware of what you are responsible for and what your school will take care of. During these early stages, it is important that you and your ESL school have a good dialogue so that everything is completed on time.
Generally speaking, many ESL schools will require that you fill out their registration form first. If you plan on traveling with family members, you will need to notify your school of their full names (as specified on their passport), dates of birth, and relationship to you. This is an important step since family members would need to be indicated on the I-20 Form that the school submits. Some schools will also require that you pay a deposit while other schools may request that you pay in-full for the entire ESL program.
In order for the school to apply for the I-20 on your behalf, they will also request a copy of your passport including the first page with your photo. They will also need to show that you have adequate funding to cover your tuition and living costs. Because of this, they will request a current bank statement or letter from your bank to show that you have enough funds to cover your expenses. You can also have a person or institution sponsor you. If you will be doing this, they will need to provide a bank statement or letter from their bank along with a notarized affidavit of support.
How long does it take before I receive the I-20 Form?
This process will typically depend on the school; however it can range from one business day up to two weeks.
What do I do after I have received my I-20 Form?
Once you have received your I-20 Form, you are now ready to apply for the F-1 student visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
What is the SEVIS?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, is an internet based system that logs information on non-immigrant students, exchange visitors, and dependents. The SEVIS system is highly integrated to allow mandatory information to be transmitted to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State. Your information will be entered into the system by the school you applied to.
What do I need to do to satisfy the SEVIS requirement?
The SEVIS I-901 fee is currently $200. This payment is non-refundable (yes, non-refundable even if your visa is denied!) and paid to the Department of Homeland Security. You will need to go to the Department of Homeland Security website in order to pay the fee which can be done by check, money order, western union, as well as with a credit or debit card (they accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express). Other schools may collect the SEVIS payment and pay it to the US government on your behalf. If this is the case, you should receive a written receipt on a Form I-797 or other confirmation of fee payment to show the fee has been paid. You are responsible for this fee if you are on a F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa and:
Dependents are exempt from paying the SEVIS fee.
When does this SEVIS fee need to be paid?
Once your I-20 has been received, you can then pay the $200 to the Department of Homeland Security. You will want to make this payment 3 days before applying for your visa or before arriving to the US border if you are visa exempt (Canadian citizens). Be sure that once you have a receipt, multiple copies are made just in case!
What is the F-1 Student Visa?
The F-1 student visa is an official US governmental document that allows foreign citizens to study in the United States for a certain period of time. These visas are issued by the US State Department at a consulate or embassy.
What do I need to do to apply for a F-1 visa?
Once you have your I-20 and have paid your SEVIS fee, now it is time to begin the F-1 visa process. Your first step will be to schedule your visa interview at a local embassy or consulate. If you are between the ages of 14 to 79, it is required for you to come to the embassy or consulate for an interview. If you are in a different age bracket you are not required to sit for an interview unless otherwise requested. You will want to schedule your appointment right away as the waiting time can vary from days to months.
Do I need to do any preliminary work before my interview?
After you schedule an appointment, your next step is to complete the DS-160 Non Immigrant Visa Application Form which will ask about your contact information, work/education/training (if applicable), travel companions, personal contact in the United States, security questions, as well as a photograph of travelers.
You have the option of going to the Department of State’s website or at your local embassy or consulate. You will also need to pay your visa application fee which is currently $140 for F, B, M, or J visas. Make sure to bring your receipt when you come to your appointment at the embassy/consulate. You may also have to pay a reciprocity fee depending on your country of origin. This fee is separate from your visa application fee and you can view this on the Department of States Reciprocity by Country.
What should I expect when I go for my interview?
You will be required to do an ink-free finger print which is usually done when you go for your interview. You will be asked a series of questions, lasting only a few minutes, in which you will be asked about your background and education. Questions will differ person to person so it is important to come prepared ready to answer all the questions asked at the interview. The main objective of the interview is to determine that you have full intentions to return to your home country after you complete your studies. To arrive properly prepared, you will want to make sure you bring with you the following:
If you will be bringing your family with you, you may also want to provide the following documents:
If you have not finalized your living arrangements, you will be asked to provide the name and address of a contact person your ESL school.
At this visa appointment, you will be given a final answer as to whether your visa has been approved or denied.
What happens if your visa is approved?
If your visa is approved, your passport will be stamped with your visa. The visa will have important information, so be sure to read it through thoroughly. Not only will it show the expiration date, but it will also tell you how many times you can enter the United States. At the end of your visit, you will get both the I-20 and passport returned so you can enter the United States. Important – once you receive the F-1 student visa, you can only come to the United States a maximum of 30 days in advance of when your program begins as stated on your I-20.
What happens if your visa is denied?
If you are denied your student visa, the consular officer will tell you the reason and you may be able to return if you have additional documents to support your case.
The Department of State has said that those individuals coming to the US primarily for tourism but who want to take a short course (less than 6 months) of less than 18 hours per week is eligible for a B-2 Visitor Visa as long as the program is recreational and not for credit. Students may apply for the B-2 Visitor Visa at the US Embassy or Consulate with a visa application (if required by your country) as well as a Letter of Acceptance from your school. Medical examinations may be required in some countries to obtain a B-2 visa.
What do I need to do in order to apply for my B-2 Visitor Visa?
The first step to apply for your Visitor Visa is to contact your US Embassy or Consulate and set up an interview appointment. Interviews are required for individuals between 14 and 79, unless otherwise requested by the consulate/embassy. You should do contact the US Embassy or Consulate early since waiting times can vary depending on the country. Once your appointment is set, you will also need to pay your visa application fee which is currently $140. Make sure to bring your receipt when you come to your appointment at the embassy/consulate. You may also have to pay a reciprocity fee depending on your country of origin. This fee is separate from your visa application fee and you can view this on the Department of States Reciprocity by Country. Like with a student visa, you will also need to complete the DS-160 Non Immigrant Visa Application Form online before arrival for your appointment at the embassy/consulate.
What to bring on the day of your interview?
What to expect when you go to your interview?
Similar to an F-1 visa, when you come for your interview you will be asked to do an ink-free finger print. Either before or after, you will sit with a Consulate Officer and be asked about your background and education. Again, the main objective of the interview is to determine that you have full intentions to return to your home country. You will want to be sure to effectively communicate this as interviews generally last only a few minutes before the final determination on approval is made.