In order to study in the USA, an international student must get a US student visa. The USA is home to most of the top universities in the world to which a number of international students apply every year. The whole procedure of getting admission to a US university may be daunting but once the success is attained, the extensive experience offered by the US education system pushes students towards achieving heights. This process also includes obtaining a US student visa, for which an international student should first get their Letter of Acceptance from the university. Once accepted, the university will provide the applicant with the required documents.
Student visas to new students can be granted up to 120 days before the start date of the program. After approval of the visa, students can travel to the US within 30 days from the start date mentioned on Form I-20.
Anyone looking forward to studying in the US should also have a clear understanding of which student visa they need to apply for. Here are the three US non-immigrant visas for students:
F-1 Visa (Academic Studies) - One of the most common US student visas or the academic visa is the F-1 Visa. International students applying for an academic program o English language program in the US should apply for an F-1 visa.
F-1 visa is issued to the students or researchers who have applied to US universities, private elementary schools, high schools, etc. Rules pertaining to an F-1 visa include:
Maintaining the minimum courseload for full-time student status.
May work on Optional Practical Training (OPT) before and after completion of their degree.
May take up part-time or full-time employment with work hours limited to 20 hours a week when school is in session and up to 40 hours per week during breaks.
Students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date mentioned on their I-20 form.
J-1 Visa (Practical Training) - The J-1 visa is issued to international students for study and work-based exchange visitor programmes. A DS-2019 form by either the US government agency or the sponsoring organisation of the participant is required to apply for this visa.
Meant for students who require practical training that is not available in their home country.
These programs are sponsored by an educational or non-profit institution accredited through the Exchange Visitor Program designated by the U.S. State Department.
J-1 visa has a number of programs under it including Au Pair, College and University Student Program, Physician Program, International Visitor Program, camp Counselor, Porfessor and Research Scholar Program, Secondary School Student Program, etc. Each of these have different requirements and regulations.
M-1 Visa (Non-Academic/Vocational Studies) - This non-immigrant student visa is issued to the students who wish to study at a vocational school in the US and in order to apply for the M-1 visa, one must have an I-20 form from a US embassy in India.
Are not permitted to work during the course of their study program.
Your M-1 visa should be for a full course of study which means studying for at least 12 semester or quarter hours. Only exception to this will be if your course of study requires smaller course load.
Also Read: USA F-1 Student Visa Guide
In order to get a US student visa from India, students will have to complete the following steps carefully. It is important that students apply for the US student visa well in advance to avoid any last-minute hassle.
Step 1 - Get Accepted at a US University
In order to apply for the US student visa, one must have been accepted to a SEVP-approved school.
SEVP stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Program that administers the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).
The SEVP-accreditation is important to ensure that the pursued degree is recognised by other government ministries and universities worldwide.
Step 2 - Pay SEVIS Fee
Once a student has been accepted by a university, she/he will be enrolled in the SEVIS system by the institution itself.
To make sure the enrollment in the SEVIS system, the students will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee.
Upon the enrollment in the SEVIS system, the student will be sent an I-20 Form (often miscalled as I-20 student visa) which is a SEVIS-generated document.
If one is eligible to get F-1 or M-1 visa, she/he is sent I-20 Form whereas, in case of J-1 visa, candidates are sent DS-2019 Form by the university.
Students must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days prior to the US student visa application submission.
The SEVIS fee for F1 is 200 USD and 180 USD for the J-1 visa.
It is advised to students that they print the payment confirmation after paying the SEVIS fee as this will be needed during the US visa interview.
Step 3 - Complete the US Visa Application
As soon as the SEVIS Fee is paid, the students must complete their US visa application process.
It is advisable that an applicant starts the process as soon as possible irrespective of the time of batch commencement as the process might take from 30 - 120 days.
In order to do so, students will have to complete the DS-160 form which is an online visa application form.
Candidates will be required to pay a visa application fee, also called the MRV fee (Machine Readable Visa), which is non-refundable. The US student visa application fee for the common nonimmigrant visa types is 160 USD.
Step 4 - Schedule a US Visa Interview
The next step will be scheduling an interview at a US Embassy or consulate in the candidate’s country.
The contact details of the US Embassy or consulate in one’s country can be found on the official portal of the US Embassy.
The US visa application process will not be completed until the candidate appears for an interview with a consular officer.
During the US student visa interview, students must have the following documents that are required to further the process. In the absence of these documents, the interview will stand cancelled. The documents are:
A Valid Passport: The passport must be valid for a minimum of six months beyond the student’s period of stay in the country.
SEVIS Forms: Self-attested I-20 Form and DS-2019 Form (whichever applicable) is required at the time of the interview. If the candidate's spouse or children are also included in the passport, an individual form must be submitted for each of them.
SEVIS Fee Receipt: A printed SEVIS Fee payment confirmation receipt must be brought along with the candidate at the time of the interview.
DS-160 Form: The application confirmation page of DS-160 is required along with barcode and application ID number.
MRV Fee Receipt: Student must present proof of the payment of the visa application fee, which is also known as MRV Fee. The receipt can be downloaded after the successful payment of the fee.
Photographs: A minimum of 2 passport size photographs must be brought in the interview by the candidate. The photograph should have been printed on a photo quality paper. The candidate must not be wearing spectacles in the photograph and 80% are of the picture must be occupied by student’s face. Pictures with a white background are preferred.
Appointment Letter: Students must submit a printed copy of their visa interview appointment letter.
DS-7002: The applicants of J-1 visa Intern and Trainee must bring DS-7002 form.
Other documents that may be asked for in the interview are:
Standardized test scores
Financial evidence to prove sufficient funds
Transcripts from the previously attended university or school
A copy of the birth certificate
A copy of marriage certificate (if applicable)
Once students have been issued their visas, they can then proceed with their travel plans. It is advisable for candidates to make final plans after the issuance of the US student visa. In some cases, the visa is denied for certain reasons. Applicants are later given the reason that caused their ineligibility to access the US student visa.
While applying for a US student visa, one would need to pay a SEVIS fee and the F, J or M application fee or the MRV fee before applying for a nonimmigrant visa. The MRV fee is both non-refundable and non-transferable. The amount to be paid as the visa application fee would be based on the type of visa for which you are applying.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) tracks F, M or J visa holders during their time in the US, from their initial documentation until they graduate.
The SEVIS fee that a visa applicant must pay is $50 or INR 25,113 approximately.
SEVIS Fee Exception
Only those applicants who would be participating in a US-government sponsored programme would be exempted from the SEVIS fee.
Visa Application Fee
Type of Visa
$160/ INR 11,520
$160/ INR 11,520
$160/ INR 11,520
Note: The visa application fee is non-refundable and non-transferable.
Also Read: COVID-19 Impact on Study Abroad Aspirants
U.S. Embassy in India
U.S. Consulate General Chennai
U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad
U.S. Consulate General Kolkata
38A, J.L.Nehru Road,
U.S. Consulate General Mumbai
C-49, G-Block, Bandra Kurla Complex
Q. If I have a two-year US visa, do I need to get it extended before it expires?
A. In the US, you may stay for as long as you are enrolled in your program. So, if you have a two-year visa, you do not need to return to your home country and the length of your visa means how much time you have left to cross the US border. However, international students in the US holding F visas should leave the country within 60 days of the end date mentioned on Form I-20. They may request an extension through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Q. Can I go back to my country during the summer and then return to school for fall quarter?
A. It is totally upon you. You can either stay back in the US or return to your home country during a school break. US Universities allow vacation from studies only after you have completed two full-time consecutive semesters which means 9 months and 18 credit hours. However, some universities might not have summer breaks in their curriculum. This would require you to contact your university as the availability of summer breaks may vary from one university to another.
Q. May I apply for a U.S. visa from a third country?
A. Applying for a visa from a country which is not your home country or the US is known as a third country. You can certainly apply for a US visa from a third country provided you meet the following guidelines:
You should have a valid reason for not applying for a visa in your home country.
You should be able to prove that you have enough funding to cover your living and study expenses in the US.
You should be able to prove that you plan on returning to your home country after completing your studies.
You should be enrolled at a US university.
You must be maintaining lawful non-immigrant status during your stay in the US.
In order to apply, you must first contact the consulate or embassy to learn about their procedures and timelines for visa applications. For a successful application, you must carry the following documents:
Expired visa (if available)
A valid passport
A valid I-20 or DS-2019 from the US university
A valid signature on your I-20 or DS-2019
Verification of enrollment letter
Letter of invitation from the US university
Q. What is SEVIS and how do I pay the SEVIS fee?
A. SEVIS or the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System is an online system to maintain information on Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified schools and M-1 and F-1 students enrolled at these universities. The SEVIS fee should be paid before you go to a US embassy or your visa interview. You do not need to make the I-901 SEVIS fee payment until you appear for the interview. For students (F-1, F-3, M-1 or M-3), the I-901 SEVIS fee is $350. Allow at least three business days for the payment to be received and verified. The fastest and easiest way to pay your SEVIS fee is by visiting www.fmjfee.com, wherein you can file your Form I-901, pay by credit or debit card and print a receipt.
Q. What do I do if my US visa gets stolen or lost?
A. In case your US visa gets stolen or lost while in the US, a student must report it at the nearest police station. If you have the original documents, you can bring them to the police station. You will also be required to contact your home country’s embassy or consulate in the US to report the missing US visa. In case your US visa goes missing while abroad, report it to the consulate or embassy and ask them for the next steps.
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