Getting a Student Visa to Study in the United States

What forms do I need? How soon in advance can I apply for my visa? Are there any steps I need to take once I am in the United States? Refer to this frequently asked questions guide as you are getting ready to apply for your student visa.

Text courtesy of the Consular Team, U.S. Embassy New Delhi

April 2022

Getting a Student Visa to Study in the United States

Photograph by ALFSnaiper/iStock/Getty Images

 

Navigating the student visa process can be a challenging and stressful process for international students. Below are frequently asked questions (FAQs) to provide students the information they need to start their journey to the United States on time. 

How do I start the process to obtain a student visa?

Your first step is to apply to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the United States. Use the school search tool to find SEVP-certified schools and programs that are eligible to enroll F-1 and M-1 students. For more information about the types of programs that are available to you, please visit the EducationUSA website.

What is an I-20?

Once you are accepted into an SEVP-certified school, your school’s designated school official will send you a document called the Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” The Form I-20 is a paper record of your information in our Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. Each school that accepts you will mail you a Form I-20.

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS is a web-based system for maintaining information on nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors during their course of study in the United States. 

How do I pay my I-901 SEVIS Fee? How much is the fee?

After receiving your Form I-20, you must pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee. SEVIS fees vary by program but most students will need to pay $350 for an F1 and $220 for a J1. 

Federal regulations require all F, M and J students pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee before applying for their U.S. student visa. You can pay your I-901 SEVIS Fee online at FMJfee.com or by using Western Union Quick Pay. 

You must present the receipt as proof of payment when you apply for a visa. It’s important that the SEVIS ID number on your I-901 SEVIS Fee receipt matches your SEVIS ID number on your Form I-20. If it does not, or you encounter other issues paying your fee, please contact SEVP.

How far in advance of my program start date can I apply for my student visa?

A student visa may be issued up to 120 days prior to the program start date listed on your I-20 form.

When will more student visa appointments be opened?

The U.S. Embassy and Consulates in India interviewed a record number of students during the 2021-2022 winter student season and we are continuing to interview smaller numbers of students through the spring. The majority of student visa appointments for fall 2022 admissions will be opened later in the spring and summer as students begin to receive their I-20s. Please plan to schedule your appointment after you have received your I-20.

How can I request an expedited appointment in order to travel in time for my program start date?

You’ll first need to book an in-person appointment. Once you have a confirmed in-person appointment you can request an expedited appointment through our online appointment system at https://www.ustraveldocs.com/in/en/expedited-appointment.  

If your expedited appointment request is approved, you will be notified with instructions via email. You should not cancel your existing appointment unless you receive a confirmation that your request for an expedited appointment has been approved. If you have not yet received an approval or denial, your request is still under consideration.

What should I bring to my student visa interview appointment?

It is important that you bring the following forms with you during your interview appointment: 

  • DS-160: the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application barcode page. 
  • Form 1-20: 
    • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students (Form I-20), or 
    • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students (Form I-20). 

Your school will send you a Form I-20 once they have entered your information in the SEVIS database. You and your school official must sign the Form I-20. All students must be registered in the SEVIS. Your spouse and/or minor children will each receive an individual Form I-20 if they intend to live in the United States with you. 

  • Photo: You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements. 
  • Passport: You must bring a passport valid for travel to the United States. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). 
  • Receipt of application fee payment: You are required to bring proof of receipt if you are required to pay the application fee before your interview. 
  • You may also be asked to show proof of your academic preparation, such as: 
    • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees or certificates from schools you attended; and 
    • Standardized test scores required by your U.S. school; 
    • Your intent to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study; and 
    • How you will pay all educational, living and travel costs. 

Can I enter the United States more than 30 days in advance? 

Students on F or M visas are not permitted to enter the United States earlier than 30 days before the start date of their program. If you wish to enter earlier than 30 days before your start date, you must separately apply and qualify for a visitor (B) visa. 

After you are admitted to the United States by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in visitor (B) visa status, you must separately apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status to student (For M) status prior to the start of your program.  

You may not begin your course of study until the change of status is approved, and you may encounter lengthy processing times. You may also depart the United States and re-enter on your student (F or M) visa. 

Once I have received my student visa, what do I need to do to maintain my SEVIS status?

When planning to travel to the United States, both F and M students must:

  • Enter the United States no more than 30 days before your program of study begins.
  • Immediately contact your designated school official (DSO) when you enter the United States.
  • When you arrive at school, you need to contact your DSO again. You must do so no later than the program start date listed on your Form I-20, the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.”

While studying in the United States, both F and M students must comply with the following requirements:

  • You must attend and pass all your classes. If school is too difficult, speak with your DSO immediately.
  • If you believe that you will be unable to complete your program by the end date listed on your Form I-20, talk with your DSO about requesting a possible program extension.
  • You must take a full course of study each term; if you cannot study full-time, contact your DSO immediately.
  • You should not drop a class without first speaking with your DSO.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT. 

How do I work as a student on OPT?

Students who apply for OPT authorization must have a Form I-20 endorsed for OPT, and apply to USCIS for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). To learn more about OPT, please visit the USCIS Website and the ICE International Students webpage. 

Is there a way to extend OPT?

Yes. If you have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization if you:

  • Are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF);
  • Are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify; and
  • Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

If you are interested in applying for a STEM OPT extension, please see our Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page for more information.

What does it mean if I am denied under INA section 214(b)?

This law applies only to nonimmigrant visa categories. If you are refused a visa under section 214(b), it means that you: 

  • Did not sufficiently demonstrate that you qualify for the nonimmigrant visa category you applied for; and/or 
  • Did not overcome the presumption of immigrant intent, required by law, by sufficiently demonstrating that you have strong ties to your home country that will compel you to leave the United States at the end of your temporary stay. (H-1B and L visa applicants, along with their spouse and any minor children, are excluded from this requirement.) 

If you are denied under section 214(b) your application is closed. You may choose to apply again in the future.

If you have questions about studying in the United States and the United States education system, check out the EducationUSA Frequently Asked Questions page here: https://educationusa.state.gov/experience-studying-usa/us-educational-system/frequently-asked-questions-faqs



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