Getting a Visa

What is a visa?  

This is a stamp that is issued by a U.S. consular post abroad allowing the bearer to enter the U.S. as a student on F-1 or J-1 status. An F-1 and J-1 visa is an entry permit and cannot be extended in the U.S. since F-1 and J-1 visas can only be obtained or renewed at a U.S. consular post abroad. 

How do I apply for a student visa?

As soon as you have been accepted by the College and receive your I-20 or SEVIS DS-2019 Form, you must contact the American Embassy/Consulate to make an appointment to obtain a student visa.  There may be other visa applications that must be submitted to the embassy or consulate before your interview can be scheduled.  For detailed information about the visa process and what to provide for the application and interview process, visit http://travel.state.gov.

Preparing for Your Consular Interview:

In preparation for your visit to the U.S. consulate, carefully look through your materials one last time, checking for completeness. Read over your forms and documents to make sure all the information is clear in your head. (If you spot any mistakes or inconsistencies, fix them fast.) Then engage in a little role-playing: Knowing that the official will approach your case -- and every case -- with a bias against you, put yourself in his or her starched shirt and think of any reason the officer may have to conclude that you won’t return home after your U.S. studies are done. Be sure that you have convincing answers before you head for the consular interview. 

If you’re not entirely comfortable in English, practice it as much as possible in the days before you go to the consulate. The more smoothly you can speak, the less likely the officer is to hold up the application on the grounds that you are not ready to study in the United States. (The exception, of course, would be if you are applying for an F-1 visa for the sole purpose of studying the English language).

What the Consular Officer Will Ask:

Most consular interviews are conducted within a few minutes. Listen carefully to the precise questions you are asked. The officer wants to talk to a responsive human being, not a preprogrammed robot. (Some officers complain that visa applicants come in with memorized speeches.)

The biggest area of discussion will probably be your intention to return to your home country after your travels or studies are through. The officer may ask questions such as:

  • ‘What do you plan to do after you have finished your stay?’
  • ‘Do you have a job here (in your home country) that you will come back to?’ ‘Do you own a home, and where?’ 
  • ‘Where do your closest family members (parents, spouse, and children) live?’

If you have close family who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, the officer will wonder whether your true intention is to have them start the process of applying for a green card for you in the United States. You’ll need to come up with a convincing reason why you aren’t inclined to take advantage of this possibility. 

The officer will probably consider him or herself to be an expert on your country, and you may also get some surprising questions. There’s a story about one consular officer in Eastern Europe who maintained that people from that country would always return if they owned cows, and regularly asked applicants about this. 

If things are going badly; for example, the officer is acting displeased or obsessively focusing on a difficult area of your application; do not just sit quietly waiting for the officer to ask the right question. Speak up and explain what he or she has overlooked.

If the issue is whether you’ll return home after your stay, you might also ask the officer what further evidence the officer will accept; perhaps a nonrefundable airplane ticket or a “maintenance of status and departure bond” (a sum of money that only F-1, not M-1 student visa applicants can submit to the U.S. government, which you will forfeit if you do not leave the U.S. when you say you will) are two possibilities. Or, if you can name a specific item or document that you would like to bring that might change the consular officer’s mind, explain this and ask for time to submit it later. The officer may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”* (*Information taken from www.nolo.com).  

Advising Centers for USA-Bound Students:

EducationUSA, a global network of more than 400 advising centers supported by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, provides useful services and information for students who wish to study in the United States.  A pre-departure orientation is one very useful service the network provides.  For more information, please visit their website at https://www.educationusa.info/students-orientations.php.    

How long does it take to get a student visa?

It is very important to apply as early as possible.  Contact the American Embassy or Consulate to inquire how long it takes to arrange for an appointment and to inquire about the processing time for your application.   It may take 30 days or longer for the appointment if there are special security checks or special registration processes required.