Getting your visa to study in the U.S. takes time but can be a surprisingly easy procedure and well worth the effort. The number of student visas issued by the United States has grown significantly in the last year in many countries.
Once you have been accepted in a U.S. program, you will complete the official paperwork that permits you to apply for a visa to enter and study in the U.S. While the application process for a student visa can be confusing, hundreds of thousands of students are able to meet the requirements for a visa each year.
Step 1: Your University will send you a form confirming that you have been accepted at an institution authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service (USCIS) to enroll non-immigrant students, the I-20 for an F-1 visa. You should carefully read and then sign this form.
Be careful to make sure that the name and spelling on your passport is exactly the same as the name and spelling on your application for acceptance to the school and that the school has entered your name on the I-20 Form as it appears on your passport.
Step 2: You will need to make an appointment for a visa interview and pay some required fees. Under a revision in the visa regulations, student visas can be issued up to 120 days before the program begin date on your I-20 form. You should apply as early as possible for your visa. Each U.S. Embassy has a web site providing instructions on how to make an appointment for a visa interview and other information on the visa application process. The web site for the Embassy in your country can be located at: http://www.usembassy.gov/.
The web site can also tell you the expected wait time for a visa in your country. Student visa applicants should receive priority by the Embassy or Consulate so if your program of study will begin soon be sure to explain this when applying for your visa.
There is a $200 fee which supports the cost of the computer system used to record your stay in the United States (SEVIS). You can pay this fee with a credit card that is valid internationally. Go to https://www.fmjfee.com/index.jhtml to pay the fee and make sure you print a copy of your receipt. You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days before the date of your visa interview.
You will also need to pay an additional $131 for the visa application fee in your country at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate or at a bank that the Embassy designates. Specific information on where to pay the visa application fee can be found at the web site of the U.S. Embassy in your country.
The United States has begun using a new non-immigrant visa application form, DS-160 that should be completed on line. This form replaces all of the other forms. Be sure to check the website for the Embassy where you will apply for your visa to find out if that Embassy is already accepting the on line application form, or if you should continue to use the paper based application forms. Your United States Embassy or Consulate web site can be found at http://www.usembassy.gov, go to the section on Visas, and read about the correct procedure currently in place for Non-immigrant visas.
Step 3: All applicants must then submit the form DS-156, Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa, and DS-158, Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant. These forms are available at http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_1342.html.
Male students between the ages of 16 and 45 also complete the form DS-157, Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application found at: http://travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_1342.html.
Complete these forms neatly and completely. Again, remember to use the exact same order and spelling of your names as they are found in your passport. Then you will print the forms and bring them to the Embassy. If you do not have access to the internet, you can get the forms at the Embassy.
Step 4: Prepare for your visa interview. It is more important than ever to apply for your visa well in advance of the date you will begin your studies. If possible, apply three months before you plan to travel to the U.S.A. This will give you extra time if there are delays at the Embassy, or if you wish to appeal a decision in the event of a denial. All applicants' names have to be submitted for a security clearance. Citizens of some countries have to undergo additional screening that takes several additional weeks of processing.
You may wish to visit or contact the nearest U.S. Department of State-affiliated advising center office in your country, located throughout the world and listed at http://www.educationusa.info/centers.php. The staff at these centers will be able to explain where to pay the visa fees and how to schedule your interview.