It seems so real, you can almost touch it. There’s the famous statue with its sage inscription in ancient Greek. And behind it, the library donated by that revered patron of higher learning. Dream school, here I come!
Well, not yet. You’ve done your college research (lost count at 30 schools), you’ve written your personal statement (a frame narrative detailing how your immersion into La Nouvelle Vague symbolizes your commitment to exploring new things through a balloon art metaphor… hmm, too much?), you’ve started working on your supplements, you have all your affairs in order. You’re ready to open that acceptance email in a few months, and ready to fly off to the US.
And then you realize that, at the end of this long process of putting together a coherent picture of you as a university-ready adolescent, the finish line is barred by red tape – You still need to get your student visa.
This vital process can be confusing, so let’s take it step by step:
To get your so-called F-1 student visa, the first thing you need is to be accepted by an academic institution in the United States. When that happens, you’ll be required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. Then, your school will provide you with a Form I-20.
This is a form you will need to bring to your interview. Once you have it, you will need to complete an online visa application, which involves filling in the Form DS-160.
You can schedule your F-1 visa interview with the local US embassy or consulate. Do this as soon as possible. An F-1 visa may be issued up to 120 days before your course of study starts, but you will only be able to enter the US with an F-1 visa 30 days before your start date.
Be sure to bring the following items to your visa interview:
- A valid passport
- The Form DS-160
- The application fee payment receipt
- A passport photo
- A Certificate of Eligibility for Non immigrant (F-1) Student Status (Form 1-20)
You may also be asked for transcripts, diplomas, degrees, certificates, test scores, proof of intent to depart the US after your program is complete, as well as proof of financial stability.
During the interview, be careful how you convey your intentions to stay in the US past your undergraduate course of study. The F-1 student visa is only granted for the duration of the study for which it is issued; the number one reason students are rejected for student visas is they express their intention to permanently stay in the US. You can be legally employed in the United States by transitioning to an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa, which allows students to work a cumulative maximum of 12 months with most studies and 29 months with certain STEM degrees. Beyond this, you may continue working in the United States if a company sponsors you for an H-1B Visa. Make sure you understand this, and that you make clear to the interviewer that you will faithfully comply with US immigration regulations.
After the interview is done, you will have to submit your passport, into which the visa will be inserted. Et voilà! you’re ready to go.
Tim Laas-Nesbitt is an Educational Consultant at Hale Education Group and a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Amsterdam.