The United States is home to some of the best-respected and excellent research institutions and universities in the world. Many of these schools encourage foreign students to come and study at their schools.
What is a Student Visa?
A visa is an immigration document that gives the person a chance to enter a United States port-of-entry. A visa does not necessarily grant access to the U.S. automatically. All persons entering the country must be examined for eligibility to enter.
A student visa allows a person to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry to seek admission to enter the country for studies.
A port-of-entry can be any terminal that connects the U.S. to outside travel pathways, like airports, harbors, or border crossing stations at one of the land borders.
The first step to studying in the U.S. is to apply and be accepted by an American school. Students may also be able to obtain help from their school in getting a visa.
University students are not the only students allowed to study in the U.S. Students may apply to high schools, private elementary schools, seminaries, conservatories, and other academic institutions, including language training programs.
Young students accompanying their parents to the U.S. may be able to enroll in public schools under the strength of their parent’s visas.
Which Student Visa Do I Need?
Students coming to the US specifically for academic studies must obtain an F-1 visa.
Students who wish to go to trade school (non-academic or vocational study or training) must obtain ‘M’ category visas.
Students in an exchange program, either school or university, need to obtain a ‘J’ visa to come to the U.S.
How to Get a US Student Visa
- First, apply and get accepted into a SEVP approved US School.
- On admission, if you are an F-1 or M-1 student, your school will send you Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status to register for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). If you are a J-1 student, your school will send you Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status.
- On receipt of the form, pay the SEVIS fee online.
- Apply for a student visa at your nearest US embassy or consulate.
- Complete and submit Form DS-160 online.
- Schedule an interview at the nearest US embassy or consulate and pay your visa application fee.
- Appear for your interview at the scheduled date and time.
- If the interview goes well, pay the visa issuance fee (if required), and receive your visa.
Applying for a Student Visa
Applicants interested in applying for a student visa will need to contact the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for the appropriate paperwork.
The process typically involves filling out a form, paying a fee, and including some supporting documentation within the application package such as acceptance letters and proof of finances.
Most foreign students apply for their visas to the United States from their home countries. The primary contact that they will have for the process will be the U.S. consulate or embassy nearest to them (said to be within their jurisdiction).
Students can find the contact information of the embassies and consulates on the U.S. State Department’s website.
SEVP and SEVIS
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) manages the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
If you are an F-1 or M-1 student, on admission in a SEVP approved school, your school will send you Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status which you need to file to register for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
If you are a J-1 student, your school will send you Form DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status. J-1 students can look for designated sponsor organizations on the J-1 website.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses SEVIS to maintain information regarding:
- SEVP-certified schools
- F-1 and M-1 students and their dependents in the United States
- Designated Exchange Visitor Program sponsors
- J-1 participants and their dependents.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are both responsible for the administration of this important program.
If at any time a student in the program has a change of their legal name, change of address, change of field of study, education degree level, funding, or on-campus employment they must immediately inform SEVP.
After the Student Visa
Once a student receives a student visa, they can travel to a U.S. port-of-entry, apply for entry and receive their I-94. Form I-94, Arrival-Departure Record outlines the requirements of one’s stay in the U.S., such as period of stay, terms of admission, legal status, and duration of stay.
The student must follow the stipulations on the I-94 so as not to fall out of status. Becoming out of status would severely impede one’s ability to apply for any further immigration benefits in the U.S.
USCIS Student Visa
DoS Student Visa