In order to study in the United States, every international student will need to obtain a student visa. Applying for a U.S. student visa may be a long and confusing process, so make sure you start preparing well in advance. There are several steps to apply for a visa and the order of these steps and how to complete them may vary depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply.
As an international student coming to the United States, there are three different student visas that you could be issued: F-1 Visa, J-1 Visa, or M-1 Visa. The F-1 and J-1 visas allow for the possibility of employment in the U.S. during your stay, while the M-1 Visa does not.
In general, prospective students will go through five stages when applying for a U.S. student visa:
Before you can apply for your F-1 or M-1 student visa for the U.S., you must apply to and be accepted by a school approved by the SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program). Only SEVP-approved institutions can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide you with the documents necessary to apply for a U.S. student visa. Once you have been accepted by an institution, the university will enroll you in the SEVIS system.
You will be required to pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. The U.S. school will then send you a SEVIS-generated document called a Form I-20 if you are eligible for an F-1 or M-1 visa, or a Form DS-2019 if you are eligible for a J-1 visa. You will have to present this form to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview. If your spouse and/or children plan to reside in the U.S. with you while you study, they will be required to have individual Form I-20s, but they will not need to be enrolled in SEVIS.
Applying for the F-1 student visa you will be required to pay a non-refundable visa application. There is an online visa application available, which allows you to complete and print the Form DS-160 to take to your F-1 visa interview.
The final step in getting a U.S. student visa is to arrange and attend a visa interview. You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa and schedule for your visa interview as early as possible.
Your visa interview will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying. Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this may vary based on location.
After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You will be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application. When the visa is approved, you may have to pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality, and you will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you.