The USA boasts many of the most illustrious universities on earth, and has a thriving and well-regarded higher education sector. Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. are some of the best best institutions in the world, but there are many more. In total the US has more than 2,000 institutions to choose from. American universities provide fascinating courses, fund ground-breaking research, and have a vibrant social scene. But if you’re applying to one of these universities from outside the USA, you’ll need to apply for a US student visa.
The F-1 US Student Visa
The visa you need to study in the United States is the F-1 US student visa, unless you are studying a vocational course at a recognised, non-academic institution, in which case you need to apply for an M-1 visa instead. This will entitle you to stay for your entire course of study. You can’t study in the USA towards an accredited degree under a visitor (B) visa, or under a visa-waiver programme, although citizens of Canada or Bermuda may study in the USA without a visa.
The stages of your application
There are a number of steps involved in applying to an F-1 student visa:
- Apply to a SEVP registered higher education institution, and register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and pay the required fee. Your university will then provide you with an I-20 form to present at your consular interview. If your spouse or dependents wish to join you in the USA, they require additional individual I-20 forms, at no extra fee.
- Complete Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160, upload a suitable photo as required, then print out the confirmation page and bring it to the consular interview.
- Schedule an appointment at your nearest American consulate for your visa interview. You are required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee (currently at $160) before attending the consular interview. There may also be a visa issuance fee. Be sure to bring along the following documentation:
- Your Passport.
- Form I-20 and the confirmation page of form DS-160.
- A payment receipt for your application fee.
- You may also be required to bring further documentation, including academic certificates, diplomas and transcripts, an intent to depart the USA after concluding your period of study, and evidence of how you will cover your costs during your period of study.
- Attend your consular interview, and answer the questions put to you by the consular official. Fingerprint scans will be taken as part of the application process.
- Once your US student visa is issued (you will not be allowed to enter the USA prior to 30 days before your course of study begins), you will need to bring a copy of your issued visa. This will not guarantee your entry into the United States – the Department of Homeland Security or other US government representatives may deny you entry.
Changes of status and Extending Your Stay in the US
If you wish to stay beyond the period indicated on your I-20 form, or you wish to change your non-immigrant status, then you may get in contact with US State Department to arrange this.
Students on an F-1 US student visa are not permitted to work in the USA, unless their employment is provided on campus, or is directly connected with their degree (usually involving some form of practical training).
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