Non-US citizens need a student visa to study in the US. Applying for a US student visa can be a long process, so start three to five months before your course begins. A US student visa application has multiple steps. These stages differ per embassy or consulate, so check the website where you plan to apply.
When applying for a US student visa, most would-be students will have to go through five steps:
- Apply to a US school that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and get accepted (six to twelve months before starting school in the US)
- Make a payment to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
- Apply for a student visa to the United States, including providing a recent photograph
- You must pay the visa application fee.
- Arrange and show up for your visa interview.
Keep reading for in-depth explanations of these five measures.
1. Apply to a school that SEVP has approved
As an international student, choose a US government-accredited institution and program (SEVP).
Accreditation guarantees other institutions, professional groups, businesses, and government agencies worldwide accept your degree. SEVP-approved colleges can enroll students in SEVIS and furnish visa paperwork. Find accredited schools for Study in the States.
The US lacks a coordinated university application system, so you must apply to each college separately. You must meet each school’s admissions requirements and present financial documentation.
Once approved, the university will enroll you in SEVIS and send you Form I-20 if you’re eligible for an F or M visa or Form DS-2019 if you’re eligible for a J visa.
The SEVP administers F and M visas, for foreign students, while the DoS manages J visa international students. Both SEVP and DoS monitor universities, exchange visitor programs, and overseas students using SEVIS.
2. Pay the SEVIS
SEVIS must be paid three days before filing a US visa application. You can pay online or by mail. Both are on ICE’s SEVP webpage. Enter the information exactly as it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019.
The I-901 cost is $200 for F/M visa holders and $180 for J students. Camp counselors, au pairs, and summer workers/travelers pay $35. The website explains debit or credit cards, cheques, foreign money orders, and Western Union Quick Pay payment procedures. After paying, you can check your payment status online. Your sponsor can also pay the charge. If someone pays your charge, you should get a receipt.
After processing your purchase, you can print a confirmation from the website. This confirmation is required for your US student visa interview. If you modify your non-immigrant status or seek additional US immigration benefits, you may need to provide the confirmation to the customs officer at your chosen US Port of Entry.
3. Submit an application for a student visa to the United States
After receiving your SEVIS form and paying the SEVIS fee, you can apply for a US student visa at a US consulate or embassy in your country. Visa processing times can vary, so apply as early as feasible. Visas can be issued 120 days before entry.
Most nations have their own website for applying for a US student visa, accessible from this page. If your country isn’t listed, you may be able to discover it on the US embassy’s website.
DS-160 online visa application
In all circumstances, you must submit DS-160 online. You’ll need to choose a place to apply from and gather the necessary documents and information. After answering a security question, you’ll see the form. The top is your app ID. If you exit the application and return later, you’ll need this ID to retrieve your form.
DS-160 requires the following personal information:
- 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 the US school/program you intend to enroll in (as printed on the I-20 or DS-2019 form)
You must provide a recent photo of yourself in the required format. If your photo upload fails, bring a printed photo to your visa interview.
If you make mistakes, you may have to reschedule your visa interview. If you’re puzzled about the application form, visit travel.state.gov.
After completing the DS-160, click “Sign Application” to electronically sign it. After uploading your application, you’ll receive a confirmation page with a barcode, barcode number, and application ID number to bring to your visa interview. The whole application is not needed.
4. Make payment for the visa application fee
Visa application fees are also called MRV fees. Check your embassy or consulate’s website for fee payment information, as options differ. The non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee can be paid in 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)
Visa issuance fees based on reciprocity do not apply to F1, F2, M1, M2, J1, and J2 visa applicants.
At your visa interview, you’ll need the MRV fee receipt. Some J visa applicants will not need to pay application processing costs if participating in a USAID or federally supported educational and cultural exchange program beginning with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7.
5. Set up your visa interview and go to it
Arrange and attend a visa interview to receive a US student visa. Call your nearest US embassy or consulate to register online. In either scenario, pay the MRV fee first because you may require the number.
Visa applications must be interviewed by a consular officer. Don’t panic if you need to schedule your visa interview at a different US embassy or consulate. Your DS-160 barcode can be used at any US embassy or consulate. Applying for a visa outside your permanent residence may be complicated. Location, season, and visa category affect visa interview wait times.
Things to bring to the visa interview
Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you intend to apply to ensure that you have all of the necessary documents for your interview. These documents may contain:
- A passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your stay in the United States. If your passport includes more than one person, each person who requires a visa must submit a separate application. You may also be required to bring all of your current and previous passports.
- Signed SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 (including individual forms for spouse/children)
- Form DS-7002 (for J-1 Trainee and Intern visa applicants only)
- SEVIS fee receipt
- DS-160 application confirmation page with barcode and application ID number
- MRV 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 have the following papers ready to show:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the 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.
You can also bring a written list of all your past jobs and schools for the interviewer to look over.
Those who want a derivative visa will have to do:
- A copy of the marriage and/or birth certificate for proof of relationship
- A copy of the main applicant’s visa (F-1, M-1, or J-1) or official documentation from the USCIS that confirms the main applicant’s status.
- A copy of the personal data page from the principal applicant’s passports.
Going to the interview for the visa
Late visa applications may be rescheduled. In most circumstances, only applicants having an appointment will be admitted. Exceptions include a parent for children under 18, translators, and disability assistants. Contact your selected embassy or consulate to let them know who will accompany you.
The consular official will assess if you qualify for a US student visa and, if so, which category is best. Prepare to answer questions about your native country, English language abilities, academic history, US program admission, and financial resources. You may be asked about your post-graduation plans.
Your application includes ink-free digital fingerprint scans. Visa interviews frequently involve this.
The consular officer will tell you after your interview if your application needs further administrative processing, which can delay your visa. Country-specific wait times. You’ll be told when your passport with visa will be returned (usually pick-up or delivery by courier). In some countries, the courier will email you a tracking number to track your passport.
F-1 and M-1 visas can be issued 120 days before your study start date, but you can’t enter the US before 30 days. J-1 visas are perpetual. To enter the US before 30 days, you must get a visiting visa. Returning students can enter the US at any time with a valid visa.