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How to get your US student visa
Merril Diniz |
June 05, 2006
Planning to travel to the US for further studies? You've got company -- lots of it!
According to US Consul General Michael Owen, 81,000 Indian students were studying at American colleges and universities in the last academic year. China ranked second with 64,000 students.
This year, the US consulate in Mumbai alone expects 12,000 applications for US student visas, an increase of a little over three percent from last year. Owen anticipates this number will grow even further over the years.
Owen and Consular Section Chief Joseph M Pomper share their tips to help you expedite the application process.
When must you apply?
You must be a bonafide student. In other words, you must have been accepted for admission into an American college/ university.
Apply for the visa after you receive an I-20 from the college you plan to attend. The I-20 is a form signed by the university authorities confirming you have received admission.
You can apply for your student visa upto 120 days before the beginning of the academic year. "Try and apply as early as possible," advises Pomper. However, you can enter the US not more that 30 days before your academic course begins.
How to apply?
Owen recommends applying online and not calling the consulate in person to expedite the process.
Log onto their Web site to gather information as well as schedule an interview appointment with the consulate. This is the most effective system to help you secure your visa on time.
How much will it cost you?
- A non-refundable application fee of $100 payable in Indian currency at the consular rate of exchange (currently, this amounts to Rs 4,600)
- A non-refundable VFS' Service Charge of Rs 281 (inclusive of a 12 percent Service Tax and 0.24 percent Education Cess).
The fee amount is payable at any of the designated branches of HDFC Bank; this list is available on the VFS Web site (VFS stands for Visa Facilitation Service)
Setting an interview date
Now that you have paid your visa fee, you can schedule an appointment.
You must acquire a visa fee receipt to schedule an appointment within one year from the date of issue.
You will receive a bar code with a Personal Identification Number; this will enable you access the VFS Web site to make an appointment for your interview, which will be conducted by a designated consular officer.
Most student visa appointments should be available within three weeks. You can search for the best available appointment date online. Check the VFS Web site over the course of several days. If you do not find an appointment date that is convenient on the first day, you probably will on the second or third.
In case you cannot get an appointment, you must immediately zip across an e-mail. All e-mails are answered.
Visa related questions can now be answered via the telephone as well. After your interview is confirmed by VFS, you receive 10 minutes of 'free talk time' by calling a national toll-free number.
This talk time may be used to inquire about visa rules and regulations. For the time being, the toll-free number is accessible from MTNL and BSNL lines only. If you have not yet received a PIN, you may call the VFS Infoline at commercial rates.
VFS Infoline: (022) 56547600
Tackling the interview
- Documentation. Don't leave it at home!
1. Completed visa application form.
2. Original form I-20, approved and signed by the university authority.
3. Visa fee receipt issued by HDFC Bank.
4. Interview appointment letter.
5. According to the VFS web site, you are also required to provide your passport, original degree certificates along with mark sheets and relevant test scores ie TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT or LSAT.
- You must be able to prove you have sufficient liquid funds for the first year of tuition, fees and living expenses in the US. You must also be able to show sufficient access to funds for the subsequent years. This could be in the form of fixed deposits or other investments.
Show evidence of ties that will make you come back to India once your studies are completed. This could include strong family ties, proof of residence, ownership of property in India and/ or hefty bank balances and investments.
- Be articulate and prepared to explain yourself. Why you chose a particular college/ university/ programme of study, how it fits into your career plans and how it will help you on your return to India. Do not come with a canned, memorised speech because that could raise suspicions as to whether you are a bonafide student.
- Your English need not be excellent, however you must be able to speak the language or prove you will be taught the language at the course you are going to study in the US. Don't get tense. Be relaxed, be yourself and be responsive to the questions asked by the consular officer.
- If your application is rejected, you will be told why at the interview itself. If you are unsuccessful in your interview, you are welcome to reapply, especially if your circumstances have changed. Contact VFS and get another appointment.
~ For specific information on student visas, review the information available on the Visas page of the US State Department web site
~ For general scheduling information, check the Visa Facilitation Service web page or call their VFS Infoline: (022)56547600.
~ For general information about any visa category, visit the consulate web site or mail them.
Next: Top 7 myths on the application process