Frequently asked questions about student visas
What does a student visa do?
Anyone coming to the U.S. with the sole intention of studying has to get a student visa. A visa allows you to travel to a Port of Entry of the United States (usually an airport); it does not grant you permission to enter the country or stay for any length of time.
How do I get a student visa?
- Send us your application, with the application fee and the tuition deposit.
- When you are accepted into an English program, we will mail you a SEVIS I-20.
- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires F-1 applicants to pay a $100 fee for the SEVIS I-20. You must pay this before visa interview. You can do so on-line at https://www.fmjfee.com/index.jhtml. Print out a temporary receipt, but you will also receive an official one in the mail, which you will need to take with you to your visa interview.
- Make an appointment at the embassy or consulate in your country for a visa interview. It may take some months for them to schedule an interview, so apply early! Click on visa interview for more information about this interview.
- If you are approved you will receive a student visa after this interview.
Can I study with a B1, B2, or F2 visa?
The most important factor is what your intention is in coming to the U.S. Anyone coming here with the sole intention of studying has to get a student visa. A B1 visa is for business, a B2 visa is for tourists, and an F2 visa is for anyone accompanying a spouse or parent who is studying in the U.S. The visa issuance system is set up this way for visitors to let immigration know specifically what the purpose of their visit is, and immigration does not look favorably upon anyone who misrepresents that purpose. However, this communication is only between the student and immigration. Schools are not required to reject a student's application or even report him to immigration for wanting to study with the wrong type of visa.
If I enter the country with a B1, B2, or F2 visa can I change it to F1 later?
While it is possible to change your status after coming to the U.S. it is complicated, time-consuming and very difficult to get approved. If you plan to study in the U.S. your best recommendation is to come with a student visa.
What happens when I first arrive into the U.S.?
The Immigration Officer at the Port of Entry (usually the airport) is the one authorized to allow you to enter the U.S. The immigration officer will look at your I-94 (arrival/departure card you fill out on the airplane), your visa, passport and I-20. He or she will mark your I-94 with how long you can stay here.
How long can I stay in the U.S.?
The immigration officer at the Port of Entry will mark the I-94 with the length of time any non-immigrant can stay in the country. For students they will usually write D/S, which means you may stay in the country for the Duration of Status. This means you are legally allowed to stay here as long as you maintain a valid I-20, and you remain a full-time student making normal progress.
Can I go to the U.S. before my course starts?
You can enter the country up to 30 days before the date on your I-20, but not afterwards.
What if my visa expires in the middle of my term?
The visa is only used to get to the Port of Entry of the U.S.; it does not affect your status once you are in the country. You will be in legal status as long as you remain a full-time student making normal progress in your studies and your I-20 does not expire. However, if you plan to take a vacation from your studies and leave the country and then return, you will need to renew your visa if it has expired.
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What do you need to know about the visa interview.
The first thing to know about applying for a student visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country is that the officer at the embassy assumes that you are going to use the student visa to try to stay in the U.S. permanently. It is therefore your responsibility to convince them that you will return to your country when you finish studying. Failure to prove this is the most common reason visas are denied.
Make an appointment to go to the embassy or consulate right away, as it may take a few weeks to get the visa. The consulate or embassy can issue a visa up to 90 days before your program start date, and you may enter the country up to 30 days before your start date. There is no guarantee that you will get it, though. To find the consulate or embassy nearest you go to the following web page: http://travel.state.gov/links.html
What to bring to the embassy:
- Valid passport
- Proof of financial support to show you can pay for your tuition and living expenses. This should be a bank statement or a letter from a sponsor, with his or her bank statement. You should also ask the bank for a letter stating how long the account has existed, and what the average balance has been. Show how your sponsor earns the money to support you while you are studying here, by bringing a letter from their employer, for example, stating what the job is, how long they've worked there, and how much they earn. Your application will be stronger if this financial support comes from family or employers located in your home country. If your sponsor is a U.S. citizen or resident they can fill out form I-134 to document their support. The amount of money on the bank statement should be more than the dollar amount listed on the I-20.
- SEVIS form I-20, with your signature on #11
- Pay the required visa application fee before your appointment, and bring proof that you paid this. Go to http://travel.state.gov/links.html to find out how to contact your local embassy to see how much they charge (usually $100).
- Fill out form DS-156, application for nonimmigrant visa (use the same name that's on your passport). You can get this at the embassy or consulate, or by going to www.unitedstatesvisas.gov
- Male students between the ages of 16 and 45 must also fill out form DS-156, Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application
- Consider the interview a formal event, and wear business attire
- Give your information quickly and completely. Visa officers have only a few moments for the interview and they make their decisions quickly
- You may ask for an interpreter
- The visa officer will want to know specifically why you want to study in the U.S. They generally do not like vague answers, memorized speeches, or overly solicitous comments about how great and wonderful the U.S. is. They do like honest, specific responses to their questions.
- Explain why it's better to study English in the U.S. than in your home country. The fact that English programs are available in your country is not a reason for them to refuse you.
- Have information on the institution and where it's located, as well as where you plan to live.
Proving you will return to your country:
Think about your main reasons for returning to your country after you finish studying. Now determine how to document those reasons. Some examples are:
Be honest in answering their questions. You are a legitimate student who wants to learn English! Good luck!
- Contracts proving you or your immediate family have stable work. If you own a business bring bank documents and pictures.
- Proof that you own a home
- Deeds to land ownership
- Photos of immediate family currently residing at home
- If a brother or sister studied in the U.S. and then returned home, bring a copy of the certificate or diploma. If he or she is working, you can bring a letter from the employer to establish familial ties to your country. If he or she is studying, you can bring proof of that. You can also bring his or her passport to show that he or she returned to the home country.
- You should not quit a job immediately before applying for a visa!
- If appropriate, you can bring a letter from a company in your country stating that you will be hired for a specific job when you return. If that's not possible, you can ask for a letter stating you will be considered for a position with the company, and that they need employees with English proficiency.
- If you are currently employed, a letter from your employer stating that English proficiency will be useful in your future employment with the company.
- If an immediate family member has an important position in the government, education, or with private corporations, you can mention that, and if possible, bring a document showing what the position is.
- If you have traveled to the U.S. or another country on an old, expired passport, it is a good idea to bring the expired passport to the interview to prove that there is a history of travel and return to your home country.
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