How to Obtain a US Student Visa

You might have your heart set on studying in the United States, but if you’re not a US citizen, you’re required to obtain a student visa. Unfortunately, getting a visa can be a long, tedious process. A student visa isn’t something you can request and receive in a few days. It can take between three and five months to complete the process, so you’ll need to plan well in advance.

Here’s what you need to do to get a US student visa.

1. Choose an approved college or university

If you’re a foreign student planning to study in the United States, you can’t attend any institution or enroll in any program. To qualify for a student visa, the university/college and program must be accredited by the US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Accreditation is to your benefit. This way, your degree is recognized in different countries and by different employers.

You have to enroll in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and only SEVP-approved colleges and universities can enroll you in this system and provide the documents you’ll need to move forward with getting a student visa. To search accredited institutions in the US, visit Study in the States.

Understand, however, you have to apply and get accepted by an approved institution before you’re able to receive the documents to apply for a student visa. After you’re accepted into a college or program, you’ll receive a form for one of three types of visas.

2. Pay the SEVIS Fee

There are fees when applying for a student visa, including the SEVIS fee. Pay this fee at least three days before submitting your application. Submit your payment form and payment either online or in paper form. You can access or print the form from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

Fees vary depending on the type of visa — typically between $180 and $200. If you’re paying online, print and retain your payment confirmation. You’ll need proof of payment to schedule your student visa interview.

3. Complete Student Visa Application

After paying the SEVIS fee, contact the US consulate or embassy in your country to receive a student visa application. Since it takes about 3 to 5 months to complete a visa, it’s important that you apply as soon as possible. Most countries have a website that lets students submit an online visa application, but you can also request a paper application.

The application will request a lot of information, such as:

  • name and birthdate
  • address and phone number
  • passport information
  • travel details
  • information about previous visits to the US
  • point of contact in the US
  • medical health information
  • address of the school you’re attending

Take your time completing the application. Any errors can delay your application. After sending your application, you’ll receive a confirmation page with a barcode and your application ID number. Print and bring this information to your visa interview.

4. Pay Student Visa Application Fee

Payment methods vary depending on the embassy or consulate. The visa application fee is $160 (US). There are three ways to make a payment — in-person, over the phone or online. After paying the fee, you’ll receive an MRV fee receipt. Keep this receipt. You’ll have to present it at your visa interview.

5. Schedule Your US Visa Interview Appointment

After you’ve submitted your application and paid the fee, arrange the visa interview. You can schedule an appointment online or by calling the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. The interview is the final step, and you won’t be issued a visa until completing the interview.

The purpose of this interview is determined whether you qualify for a US student visa. You’ll be asked questions about your home country, your English skills, your financial resources while studying in the States, and the programs you’ll study in the US. Arrive on time, or else you may have to reschedule for another day. The required documents for the interview vary by country, so contact the embassy or consulate for this information in advance.

Getting a student visa and studying in the US can be the opportunity of a lifetime. Although getting a visa isn’t a simple process, preparation is the key.

Photo credit: Flickr

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