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Student Visas for the United States

If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study of less than 18 hours per week, you may do so on a tourist visa. Otherwise, please read this article for general information on how to apply for an F1 or M1 student visa.
In most countries, first time student visa applicants are required to appear for an in-person interview. However, each embassy and consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student visas. Students should consult Embassy web sites or call for specific application instructions.
Keep in mind that June, July, and August are the busiest months in most consular sections, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period. Students need to plan ahead to avoid having to make repeat visits to the Embassy. To the extent possible, students should bring the documents suggested below, as well as any other documents that might help establish their ties to the local community.
To allow time to overcome any unforeseen problems that might arise, students are encouraged to apply for their visas several weeks before they plan to travel. Students should not apply more than 90 days before the registration date noted on the I-20.
It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that the student will receive a visa. Also, because each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. For that reason, the guidelines that follow are general and can be abridged or expanded by consular officers overseas, depending on each student’s situation.

What is Needed to Apply for a Student Visa?

All applicants for a student visa must provide:

  • A Form I-20 obtained from a U.S. college, school or university. Please be sure to give us all four pages of the I-20 form. The form must also be signed by you and by a school official in the appropriate places;
  • A completed nonimmigrant visa application form (OF-156) with photo for each person applying. A separate form is needed for children, even if they are included in a parent’s passport. These forms are available at the Embassy at no charge.
  • A passport valid for at least six months after your proposed date of entry into the United States;
  • A receipt for visa processing fee. A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee for each applicant, including each child listed in a parent’s passport who is also applying for a U.S. visa, is needed;

All applicants should be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
  • Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.;
  • Financial evidence that shows you or your parents who are sponsoring you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your intended study. For example, if you or your sponsor is a salaried employee, please bring income tax documents and original bank books and/or statements. If you or your sponsor own a business, please bring business registration, licenses, etc., and tax documents, as well as original bank books and/or statements.

Applicants with dependents must also provide:

    • Proof of the student’s relationship to his/her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.)
    • It is preferred that families apply for F-1 and F-2 visas at the same time, but if the spouse and children must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder’s passport and visa, along with all other required documents.

What Items Does a Returning Student Need?

All applicants applying for renewals must submit:

  • A passport valid for at least six months;
  • A completed and signed application form (OF-156) with photo for each person applying. A separate form is needed for children, even if they are included in a parent’s passport. These forms are available at the Embassy at no charge;
  • A receipt for visa processing fee. A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee for each applicant, including each child listed in a parent’s passport who is also applying for a U.S. visa, is needed;
  • A new I-20 or an I-20 that has been endorsed on the back by a school official within the past 12 months;

All applicants applying for renewals should be prepared to submit:

  • A certified copy of your grades from the school in which you are enrolled;
  • Financial documents from you or your sponsor, showing your ability to cover the cost of your schooling.

How long may I stay on my F-1 student visa?

When you enter the United States on a student visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in America.
For example, if you have a visa that is valid for five years that will expire on January 1, 2001, and you are admitted into the U.S. for the duration of your studies (often abbreviated in your passport or on your I-94 card as "D/S"), you may stay in the U.S. as long as you are a full time student. Even if January 1, 2001 passes and your visa expires while in America, you will still be in legal student status. However, if you depart the U.S. with an expired visa, you will need to obtain a new one before being able to return to America and resume your studies. A student visa cannot be renewed or re-issued in the United States; it must be done at an Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Public School Restrictions

There are certain restrictions on attending public school in the U.S. Persons who violate these restrictions may not receive another visa for a period of five years.
The restrictions apply only to students holding F-1 visas. They do not apply to students attending public school on derivative visas, such as F-2, J-2 or H-4 visas. The restrictions also do not apply to students attending private schools on F-1 visas.
The restrictions are:

  • Students who attend public high schools in the U.S. are limited to twelve months of study. Public school attendance in the U.S. prior to November 30, 1996 does not count toward this limit.
  • F-1 visas can no longer be issued to attend public elementary or middle schools (Kindergarten - 8th grade) or publicly-funded adult education programs.
  • Before an F-1 visa for a public school can be issued, the student must show that the public school in the U.S. has been reimbursed for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of the education as calculated by the school. Reimbursement may be indicated on the I-20. Consular officers may request copies of canceled checks and/or receipts confirming the payment as needed.

 

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