Applying for a US student visa can be a long process, so make sure you start preparing well in advance – at least two to four months before your course is due to start. Before you can apply for your F1 Student Visa, you need to be officially accepted into a university.
Once accepted, the admissions office will issue you with an I-20 document. This document will contain all of your university admissions information as well as a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number. You can only apply for an F1 Student Visa once you have obtained this document and number.
Prospective students will go through four stages when applying for a US student visa:
- Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee;
- Complete a US student visa application (DS 160 Form)
- Pay the visa application fee;
- Schedule and attend a visa interview.
Pay the SEVIS Fee
The first step entails having to pay for the SEVIS fee. In order to pay the fee, you’ll need to complete an online form. Be sure that the required details are entered exactly as they appear on your I-20 form.
At the time of writing, the I-901 (SEVIS) fee is US$350 for F1 visa applications. Having paid the fee, you can return to the website to check on your payment status if desired. You can obtain and print a payment confirmation from the website at any time after processing your payment. You’ll need this payment confirmation as proof for your US student visa interview.
Complete a US Student Visa application
Once you have received your SEVIS form and paid the SEVIS fee, you can then begin your US Student Visa Application. It’s best to apply as early as possible, regardless of when your program is due to start, as visa processing times can vary. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before you’re due to enter the US.
In all cases, you’ll need to complete the online visa application form DS-160. You’ll need to select the location from which you wish to apply and ensure you have all the documents and information you need to fill in the application. After selecting and answering a security question, you’ll be taken to the pages of the form. At the top, you’ll find your application ID. You’ll need this ID to retrieve your form if you need to exit the application and return to it later. Please take careful note of your application ID!
Personal details required to complete the DS-160 form include:
- Full name and date of birth
- Address and phone number
- Passport details
- Details of travel plans, and travel companions
- Details of previous US travel
- Your point of contact in the US
- Family, work and education details
- Security, background and medical health information
- SEVIS ID and address of US school/program you intend to enrol in (as printed on I-20 or DS-2019 form)
After your application is uploaded, you’ll be sent a confirmation page with a barcode, barcode number, and your application ID number which you’ll need to print out and take to your visa interview appointment.
Pay the visa application fee
The visa application fee is non-refundable, and can be paid in one of three ways:
- In-person at an approved bank
- By phone (you’ll receive a fee confirmation number)
- Online (you’ll need to print your receipt)
Schedule and attend a US Student Visa interview
The final step in obtaining a US student visa is to schedule and attend a visa interview. You can do this either online or using the phone. At Aspire Atlantic, we always recommend the online route, as it is simple and proves to be time-efficient.
The visa application process cannot be completed until you appear for an interview with a consular officer. Be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa if you apply outside your place of permanent residence. Wait times for visa interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category.
Documents for the visa interview
Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to make sure you have all the required documents needed for your interview. These documents may include:
- Passport valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US. You may also need to bring all your old passports.
- Signed SEVIS Form and I-20
- SEVIS fee receipt
- DS-160 application confirmation page with barcode and application ID number
- Visa fee payment confirmation receipt
- A printed copy of the visa interview appointment letter
- 1-2 photographs in the format explained in the photograph requirements. Should be printed on photo quality paper.
You should also be prepared to provide the following documents:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the SAT, TOEFL, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
- Financial evidence showing you or your sponsor (i.e. parents or a government sponsor) has sufficient funds to cover your tuition, travel, and living expenses during your stay in the US.
Attending the visa interview
It’s important to be on time for your visa interview – late applicants may be asked to reschedule for another day. In most cases, only applicants with a scheduled appointment will be admitted inside the US embassy or consulate.
The purpose of the visa interview is for the consular officer to determine whether you are qualified to receive a US student visa and, if so, which visa category is appropriate for you. Be prepared to answer questions regarding ties to your home country, your English language skills, your academic background, the program in the US to which you have been admitted, and proof of your financial resources. You may also be asked to explain your plans for when your studies are finished. Always mention your plan is to return back to your country of origin upon completion of your degree. Keep the consular officer happy!
F-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days in advance of your study start date, but you will not be allowed to enter the US earlier than 30 days before your start date. If you want to enter the US before these 30 days, you must qualify for and obtain a visitor visa. The 30-day limitation does not apply to students returning to resume studies – they may enter the US at any time, provided they have a valid visa. While your college and university career awaits you, this is only the beginning of a new and exciting venture in the USA. Your future is now in your hands.