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If you are not a US citizen and wish to study in the United States, you will need to apply for a student visa. Applying for a student visa in the United States can take a long time, so start planning ahead of time — at least three to five months before your course begins. When applying for a student visa in the United States, there are normally numerous processes involved. Because the procedures differ at each US embassy or consulate, it’s critical to check the guidelines on the embassy or consulate’s website before applying.

When applying for a student visa in the United States, prospective students will go through five stages:

  1. Apply to and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school in the United States (six to twelve months before the start of your study in the United States);
  2. Pay the SEVIS fee (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System);
  3. Fill out an application for a student visa in the United States and include a recent photo;
  4. The visa application fee must be paid;
  5. Make an appointment for a visa interview and show up.

Continue reading for more information on each of these five processes.

  • Apply to a SEVP-approved college or university.

As an international student, you should choose a school and program that is accredited by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program of the United States government (SEVP).

Accreditation is vital because it guarantees that your degree will be recognized by other institutions, professional groups, businesses, and government departments all around the world. Only SEVP-approved institutions can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide you with the paperwork you’ll need to apply for a student visa in the United States. To find recognized colleges, go to the government’s Study in the States webpage.

The United States, unlike some other nations, does not have a centralized university application system, therefore you will need to apply to each institution separately. You’ll need to meet the admissions requirements of each college, and you’ll almost certainly be requested to show proof of sufficient financial means.

When you are accepted by a university, you will be enrolled in the SEVIS system and sent a SEVIS-generated document called Form I-20 if you are eligible for an F or M visa, or Form DS-2019 if you are eligible for a J visa.

The SEVP is in charge of international students with F and M visas, while the Department of State is in charge of Exchange Visitor Programs and international students with J visas. SEVIS is used by both the SEVP and the Department of State to track and monitor universities, exchange visitor programs, and overseas students.

  • Pay the SEVIS application cost.

The SEVIS fee must be paid at least three days before you apply for a US visa. To pay the charge, you must fill out either an online or paper form. Both can be found on the SEVP website of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Make sure to provide all of the needed information precisely as it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019 form.

The I-901 cost is $200 for F/M visa holders and $180 for J student visa holders at the time of writing. Instead, J visa holders who work as camp counselors, au pairs, or in summer work/travel must pay $35. The page describes how to make payments using various methods such as debit or credit cards, checks, foreign money orders, and Western Union Quick Pay. If you want to check on the progress of your payment after you’ve paid the charge, you can do so on the website. You can also have a third party (such as your sponsor) pay the charge on your behalf. You should receive a receipt from the third party who paid the fee on your behalf.

After you’ve completed your purchase, you can get and print a payment confirmation from the website at any time. This confirmation will be required as proof of fee payment at your US student visa interview. If you modify your non-immigrant status or seek any other US immigration benefits, you may be asked to confirm with the customs officer at your chosen US Port of Entry.

  • Fill out an application for a student visa in the United States.

You can schedule an appointment with a US consulate or embassy in your country to apply for a US student visa once you have received your SEVIS form and paid the SEVIS fee. Because visa processing periods can vary, it’s advisable to apply as soon as possible, regardless of when your program is set to begin. Your visa can be approved up to 120 days before your scheduled arrival in the United States.

Most nations have their specific website for everything related to applying for a student visa in the United States, which can be found on this page. If your country isn’t listed, you might be able to locate the US embassy or consulate in your nation by visiting the embassy’s website.

  • Online visa application: DS-160

In all situations, you’ll need to fill out the DS-160 online visa application form. You must first choose the place from which you intend to apply and verify that you have all of the necessary documents and information to complete the application. You’ll be brought to the form’s pages after selecting and answering a security question. Your application ID can be found at the top of the page. If you need to exit the program and return later, you’ll need this ID to retrieve your form.

Personal details required to complete the DS-160 form include:

  • Name and date of birth
  • Address and phone number
  • Passport details
  • Details of travel plans, and travel companions
  • Details of previous US travel
  • Your point of contact in the US
  • Family, work, and education details
  • Security, background, and medical health information
  • SEVIS ID and address of US school/program you intend to enroll in (as printed on I-20 or DS-2019 form)

The visa application fee must be paid.

The visa application fee is also known as the MRV fee, which stands for Machine Readable Visa Fee. Check the fee payment instructions on your embassy or consulate’s website because payment methods may differ. There are three ways to pay the non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee in general:

  • In-person at an approved bank
  • By phone (you’ll receive a fee confirmation number)
  • Online (you’ll need to print your receipt)
  • If you come across the term “visa issuance fee based on reciprocity” during your study, don’t panic – it doesn’t apply to F1, F2, M1, M2, J1, and J2 visa applicants.

When you arrive for your visa interview, you will be asked for the MRV fee receipt. When participating in a US Agency for International Development (USAID) program or a federally supported educational and cultural exchange program with a program serial number beginning G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7, some J visa applicants will not be required to pay application processing costs.

  • Schedule and attend a student visa interview in the United States.

The final step in obtaining a student visa in the United States is to schedule and attend a visa interview. You can do so either online or over the phone by contacting the US embassy or consulate in your area. You should finish the MRV fee payment first in either scenario, as you may be asked for your MRV fee number.

You won’t be able to finish your visa application until you meet with a consular officer for an interview. If you need to schedule your interview in a different US embassy or consulate than the one where you applied for your visa, don’t worry. Your information can be retrieved using the barcode from your DS-160 at any US embassy or consulate. However, you should be aware that applying for a visa outside of your permanent residency may be challenging. The length of time it takes to get a visa interview appointment varies depending on the location, season, and visa category.

Documents for the visa interview

Check the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to make sure you have all the required documents needed for your interview. These documents may include:

The passport is valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US. If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application. You may also need to bring all your current and old passports.

  • Signed SEVIS Form I-20 or DS-2019 (including individual forms for spouse/children)
  • Form DS-7002 (for J-1 Trainee and Intern visa applicants only)
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • DS-160 application confirmation page with barcode and application ID number
  • MRV fee payment confirmation receipt
  • A printed copy of the visa interview appointment letter
  • 1-2 photographs in the format explained in the photograph requirements. Should be printed on photo quality paper.
  • You should also be prepared to provide the following documents:
  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
  • Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • Financial evidence showing you or your sponsor (i.e. parents or a government sponsor) has sufficient funds to cover your tuition, travel, and living expenses during your stay in the US.
  • You can also bring along a separate written list of all your previous employers and schools you have attended for reference. 
  • Any derivative visa applicants will need to take:
  • A copy of the marriage and/or birth certificate for proof of relationship
  • A copy of the principal applicant’s visa (i.e., F-1, M-1, J-1), or official documentation from the USCIS confirming the principal applicant’s status.
  • A copy of the personal data page from the principal applicant’s passports.

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