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Resources for International Students

Entering the U.S. on a Visa

How to Apply

What does the Visa application process consist of? Student Applicants for F-1 Visas ~ More Information

If your course of study is more than 18 hours a week, you will need a student visa. Please read this information for general information on how to apply for an F1 or M1 student visa. For additional student related information, visit the EducationUSA website (http://educationusa.state.gov/) created by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (http://exchanges.state.gov/) to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more.

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.

Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. It is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.

When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa? ~ More Information

  • Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so.
  • The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on the course of study and nationality of the student. This can take some additional time. For more information on applicants who may have additional processing requirements see Special Processing Requirements (http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/info/info_1300.html).
  • Students should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.
  • Students are advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.
  • A student who wants an earlier entry into the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa. A prospective student notation will be shown on his/her visitor visa and the traveler will need to make the intent to study clear to the U.S. immigration inspector at port of entry. Before beginning any studies, he or she must obtain a change of classification, filing Form I-539 , Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status, and also submit the required Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security office where the application is made. Please be aware that there is an additional fee of $140 for this process, and that one may not begin studies until the change of classification is approved.

What is SEVIS and SEVP? What should you know about it? ~ More Information

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors. Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). SEVIS enables schools and program sponsors to transmit mandatory information and event notifications via the Internet, to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor's stay in the United States. Select SEVIS to go to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Internet site and learn more.

All student applicants must have a SEVIS generated I-20 issued by an educational institution approved by DHS, which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application. Unless otherwise exempt, participants whose SEVIS I-20 was issued on or after September 1, 2004 must pay a SEVIS I-901 Fee to the Department of Homeland Security for each individual program. The fee may be paid either through a special website, via Western Union, or by mail. See SEVIS for further information on how to pay the fee.

What is Needed to Apply for a Student Visa? ~ More Information

As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that the student will receive a visa. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on our website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites. During the visa application process, usually at the interview, a quick, two-digit, ink-free fingerprint scan will be taken. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply. 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.

All applicants for a student visa must provide:

  • Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form, I-20, which was provided to you by your school. You and your school official must sign the I-20 form. All students, as well as their spouses and dependents must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors and their dependents (F/M-2 visa holders). Your school is responsible for entering your information for the I-20 student visa form into SEVIS. Students will also have to pay an SEVIS I-901 fee for each program of study. Questions regarding your exchange program should be directly to your program sponsor;
  • A completed application, Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant, Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. A separate form is needed for children, even if they are included in a parent's passport. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic "e-form application." Select Nonimmigrant Visa Application Form DS-156 to access the electronic version of the DS-156.
  • An interview at the embassy consular section is required for almost all visa applicants. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. During the visa interview, a quick, two-digit, ink-free fingerprint scan will be taken, as well as a digital photo. Some applicants will need additional screening, and will be notified when they apply.
  • A passport valid for at least six months after your proposed date of entry into the United States.
  • One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in nonimmigrant photograph requirements
  • A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee if applicable. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Table and a separate SEVIS I-901 fee receipt. While all F visa applicants must pay the MRV fee, including dependents, only the F-1 principal applicants must pay the SEVIS fee.

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.

Additional Information

  • No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
  • Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from the expired passport. You may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.

Entering the U.S. - Port of Entry ~ More Information

A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it's very important to keep in your passport. Student visitors must have their Form I-20 in their possession each time they enter the United States. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport, or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection internet site offers additional information on Admissions/Entry requirements.

Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status ~ More Information

  • You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status. Additional information on successfully maintaining your immigration status while a student or exchange visitor can be found on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.
  • Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the United States is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
  • Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized, even by one day, results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S., your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
  • For non-immigrants in the U.S. who have an Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 with the CBP admitting officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to perform (e.g. you are no longer working for the same employer or you are no longer attending the same school), a DHS or an immigration judge makes a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.

What Items Do Returning Students Need? ~ More Information

All applicants applying for renewals must submit:

  • A passport valid for at least six months
  • An application Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices and on the Visa Services website under Visa Applications Forms
  • 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? ~ More Information

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 a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed the following additional time in the U.S. before departure:

  • F-1 student - An additional 60 days, to prepare for departure from the U.S. or to transfer to another school.

As an example regarding duration of status, 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.

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 be able to do so on a tourist visa. You should inquire at the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If your course of study is more than 18 hours a week, you will need a student visa. Please read this information for general information on how to apply for an F-1 student visa. For additional student related information, select Guide to U.S Higher Education to visit the Department of State, Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs website to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, opportunities for scholars, financial aid, testing, admissions, and much more.

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.

Changes introduced shortly after September 11, 2001 involve extensive and ongoing review of visa issuing practices as they relate to our national security. It is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.

Tips for U.S. Visa Application

What Consuls Look For

Evidence of Residence Abroad ~ More Information

The consular officer may not issue a student visa unless satisfied that the applicant:

  • Has a residence abroad
  • Has no intention of abandoning that residence
  • Intends to depart from the United States upon completion of the course of study

Applicants generally establish their ties abroad by presenting evidence of economic, social, and/or family ties in their homeland sufficient to induce them to leave the United States upon the completion of studies.

Evidence of English Proficiency ~ More Information

If the alien's Form I-20 indicates that proficiency in English is required for pursuing the selected course of study and that no arrangements have been made to overcome any English-language deficiency, the consular officer must determine whether the alien has the necessary proficiency. To this end, the officer must conduct the visa interview in English and may require the applicant to read aloud from an English-language book, periodical, or newspaper, and to restate in English in the applicant's own words what was read. The applicant may also be asked to read aloud and explain several of the conditions set forth in the Form I-20.

In the event that the applicant's language proficiency appears marginal, the officer may refer the applicant for language testing. Tests for this purpose will ordinarily be carried out by appropriate local groups, such as qualified host-country facilities. If the latter are used, the consular officer should be satisfied that the testing standards are sufficiently strict. However, if the local situation requires the consular officer to determine the language proficiency of applicants, materials such as the Test of English Language Proficiency (TEPL) may be available at the post. If not, they may be requested from the Department, through the post's Public Affairs Officer.

Determining Financial Status of F-1 Student ~ More Information

The phrase "sufficient funds to cover expenses" referred to in 41.61(b)(2) REGS/STATS means the applicant must establish the unlikelihood of either becoming a public charge as defined in INA 212(a)(4) or of resorting to unauthorized U.S. employment for financial support. An applicant must provide documentary evidence that sufficient funds are, or will be, available to defray all expenses during the entire period of anticipated study. This does not mean that the applicant must have cash immediately available to cover the entire period of intended study, which may last several years. The consular officer must, however, require credible documentary evidence that the applicant has enough readily available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study. The officer also must be satisfied that, barring unforeseen circumstances, adequate funds will be available for each subsequent year of study from the same source or from one or more other specifically identified and reliable financial sources.

Funds From Source(s) Outside the United States ~ More Information

Whenever an applicant indicates financial support from a source outside the United States (for example, from parents living in the country of origin), the consular officer must determine whether there are restrictions on the transfer of funds from the country concerned. If so, the consular officer must require acceptable evidence that these restrictions will not prevent the funds from being made available during the period of the applicant's projected stay in the United States.

Affidavits of Support or Other Assurances by an Interested Party ~ More Information

Various factors are important in evaluating assurances of financial support by interested parties:

Financial support to a student is not a mere formality to facilitate the applicant's entry into the United States, nor does it pertain only when the alien cannot otherwise provide adequate personal support. Rather, the sponsor must ensure that the applicant will not become a public charge or be compelled to take unauthorized employment while studying in the United States. This obligation commences when the alien enters the United States and continues until the alien's departure.

The consular officer must require documentary evidence to resolve any doubt that the financial status of the person giving the assurance is sufficient to substantiate the assertion that financial support is available to the applicant.

If the person giving the assurance is in the United States in nonimmigrant status, the consular officer must examine the evidence presented with exceptional care. Is the sponsor's financial situation sufficient to provide the funds without need to resort to unauthorized employment? Is it likely to worsen during the period of the commitment, possibly compelling the applicant or the sponsor to resort to unauthorized employment? Will the nonimmigrant sponsor remain in the United States at least as long as the student?

The consular officer must also carefully evaluate the factors which would motivate a sponsor to honor a commitment of financial support. If the sponsor is a close relative of the applicant, there may be a greater probability that the commitment will be honored than if the sponsor is not a relative. Regardless of the relationship, the consular officer must be satisfied that the reasons prompting the offer of financial support make it likely the commitment will be fulfilled.

Funds From Fellowships and Scholarships for F-1 Student ~ More Information

A college or university may arrange for a nonimmigrant student to engage in research projects, give lectures, or perform other academic functions as part of a fellowship, scholarship or assistantship grant, provided the institution certifies that the student will also pursue a full course of study.

Educational Qualifications for F-1 Student ~ More Information

Consular officers are not expected to assume the role of guidance counselor to determine whether an applicant for an F-1 visa is qualified to pursue the desired course of study. The institution will satisfy itself on the student's abilities before accepting the applicant for enrollment. Consular officers should, however, be alert to three specific factors in this regard:

  • The applicant has successfully completed a course of study equivalent to that normally required of an American student seeking enrollment at the same level
  • Cases in which an applicant has submitted forged or altered transcripts of previous or related study or training which the institution has accepted as valid
  • Cases in which an institution has accepted an applicant's alleged previous course of study or training as the equivalent of its normal requirements when, in fact, such is not the case

Other Information

Relationship of Education or Training Sought To Existence of Ties Abroad ~ More Information

The fact that a student's proposed education or training would not appear to be useful in the homeland is not, in itself, a basis for refusing an F-1 visa. It may, however, be a relevant factor in the overall assessment of the likelihood of the alien's return. This may be particularly true where F-1 coursework is advanced far beyond local needs.

Immigration Forms ~ More Information

Links to most of the immigration forms that you will need are contained within the text of the Overview and How to Apply for F-1 Student Visa, but here is a one-stop location for United States immigration forms via the Department of State and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Consulates and Embassies in the U.S. ~ More Information

The following is a list of known web sites and contact information for foreign embassies and consulates closest to Indianapolis. Embassies and consulates perform a wide variety of legal, cultural and immigration services. When you arrive to the U.S., it is a good idea to make contact with your nearest consulate or your embassy in Washington DC; some countries will actually require you to do this. Some consulates are limited in the types of services they can offer, but should you make contact with one, at the very least you will be more aware of the support offered to you and others from your country.

Afghanistan

Embassy of Afghanistan
2341 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 483-6410
Fax: (202) 483-6488

Algeria

Embassy of The People's Democratic Republic of Algeria
2118 Kalorama Rd, NW
Washington, DC 20008
2137 Wyoming Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 265-2800
Fax: (202) 667-2174

Antigua and Barbuda

Embassy of Antigua and Barbuda
3216 New Mexico Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20016
Tel: (202) 362-5122
Fax: (202) 362-5225

Antigua & Barbuda Consulate General Miami, FL
Ingraham Building
25 Southeast 2nd Avenue, Suite 300
Miami, FL 33131
Tel: (305)381-6762

Armenia

Embassy of the Republic of Armenia
2225 R Street
Washington DC 20008
Tel: (202) 319-1976
Fax: (202) 319-2982

Austria

Embassy of Austria
3524 International Court, NW
Washington, DC 20008-3027
Tel: (202) 895-6700
Fax: (202) 895-6750

Austrian Consulate General, Chicago, IL
Wrigley Building, Suite 707
400 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Tel: (312) 222-1515
Fax: (312) 222-4113

Albania

Embassy of Albania
2100 S Street, NW
Washington DC 20008
Tel: (202) 223-4942
Fax: (202) 628-7342

Angola

Embassy of The Republic of Angola
1615 M Street, NW Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 785-1156
Fax: (202) 785-1258

Argentina

Embassy of the Argentine Republic
1600 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: (202) 238-6401
Fax: (202) 332-3171

Argentina Consulate General Chicago, IL
205 North Michigan Avenue Suite 4209
Chicago, IL 60601-5968
Tel: (312) 819-2620
Fax: (312) 819-2626

Australia

Embassy of Australia
1601 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 797-3000
Fax: (202) 797-3168

Australian Consulate General Chicago, IL
123 North Wacker Dr., Suite 1330
Chicago, IL 60606
Tel: (312) 419-1480
Fax: (312) 419-1499

Azerbaijan

Embassy of Azerbaijan
2741 34th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 337-3500
Fax: (202) 337-5911