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Student visas to America: An FAQ


Dr Arun C Vakil | March 13, 2006

You have got admission to a university in the US. Congratulations!

Now there's only one obstacle remaining between you and your foreign degree -- the F-1 or US student visa.

image To get the answers to your queries about foreign sponsors, specific quotas, number of attempts, shifting schools, sufficient funding and other commonly asked questions, read on:

Will having a relative in the US affect my visa application?

If you have a close relative like a parent or a spouse who is a US citizen or a permanent resident in the US, the consul may presume you are going there to join your family and will not return to India.

While the law does not prohibit the issuance of student visas to applicants who have close relatives in the US, it puts an additional burden on the applicant to prove his/ her non-immigrant intent.

In any case, it is extremely important to provide such information truthfully on your application. You must prove your financial ties, ie a substantial financial stake in your family property by showing property papers, etc. You must also express strong social ties with your parents or with your spouse and kids in India.

What about a foreign sponsor?

The motive has to be clearly established.

Sixty per cent of the students who go to the US for education do so on some sort of aid.

Education in the US is a costly proposition. So, if someone is funding you, the US consul would want to know why and under what terms. The sponsorship could be from family/ relatives in India or from family/ relatives in the US.

If you are being sponsored, is it for or against your case if the sponsor is (a) a US citizen, (b) an Indian citizen?

There is no regulation for or against the nature of the sponsor's citizenship.

Is there a specific number or quota annually for student visas?

There is no ceiling on student visas according to US immigration laws.

I am a student going to America for a PhD. My I-20 says my funding is for one year, after which it will be reviewed. Will I have to show funds for the rest of the 3-4 years of study?

The I-20 is a form issued by the American university declaring your admission.

At the visa office, you must show funds (academic plus living) for one year and access to funds for subsequent years. If your aid covers your overall expenses for the first year, then it is okay.

What is the right time to apply for visas?

One can apply 120 days before the date of enrolment mentioned in the I-20 form.

What about shifting schools once I get there?

Once you are in the US, you are governed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services rules. Accordingly, you cannot change your school before completing a year in it. It is advisable you make your choice carefully, and avoid problems later.

I get my visa on one I-20; then I get another I-20 from another school, which I now want to join. What will I have to do?

You will have to apply for another visa.

How many attempts are allowed if a visa is denied?

You can apply any number of times after visa refusal but, each time you reapply, you have to pay the visa fees (Rs 4,600 + Rs 276 as service charge), fill fresh application forms and show 'new evidence' compared to the documents you presented when your visa application was rejected. 

The new evidence should reveal changed circumstances with regard to your financial ties that will prove you are not an intending immigrant.

Visas are often denied due to the applicant's inability to prove he/ she is not an intending immigrant and sometimes also because he/ she do not communicate well enough ie deliver answers to-the-point.

Also, if you have two refusals in a period of the last six months, you will have to wait in the normal queue for a visa appointment. You will not get a priority appointment to meet a university deadline if you have been refused a visa twice.

Does the reputation of the college have any bearing on my visa application?

Not always.

However, the reputation of the college establishes the motive.

If you are going to a reputed college, your intention is clear. But if you are going to an institution no one has heard of, and which has not asked you to take any standard tests, it might make the US consul suspicious.

In some cases, when students are going for some specialist courses not offered anywhere else, a marginal school would do.

Does it help if I have been chosen by 10 schools?

Yes, it establishes that you are a superstar. There is no direct relation, though it completes the picture for the consul and helps it evaluate the case better. Mention this during your interview.

What if I plan for graduate (Master's) study in the US and am financing my education myself?

You will have to show how you will transfer your funds from India to the US.

Do you have a foreign exchange release permit from an authorised bank or a sponsor in the US to take care of your living and education in dollars? The RBI issues the permit. 

Moreover, you should convince the consul you have strong ties in India to prove you are not an intending immigrant.

For students going for further studies, what is considered conclusive proof that they are coming back? How much assets or liquid cash on hand should be shown for a student visa?

There is no fixed amount of assets or liquid cash specified in the US immigration law.

The law that operates is that the US consul who interviews you should be convinced you are a bona fide student, genuinely wanting to pursue higher studies in America. He should also be convinced you plan to return to India after your education and apply your knowledge here.

The ties shown by you should involve your economic attraction to India after graduation and the social roots to which you would return rather than stay in the US.

Statistics in the past have shown that seven to eight out of 10 students from India do not return. Therefore, consulates in India are very careful while granting student visas.

Is a student visa guaranteed when an I-20 form is issued by a university?

A student visa is not guaranteed with the issuance of the I-20 alone. You have to convince the US consul you are not an intending immigrant by showing proof of your permanent ties in India.

If sufficient funds are not available, can a loan from banks or other institutions help in getting a student visa?

The US consul will have to be convinced about how you will repay the loan.

If huge loans are shown, getting a visa can become difficult. It is preferrable to have a smaller loan.

Can a student be partially sponsored by a US-based sponsor and partly by an India-based sponsor?

The US consul has to be convinced about the genuineness of the case. Prima facie, the case cannot be rejected because two sponsors are involved.

Do visas for students get rejected if the applicants have brothers and sisters in America?

This is an individual situation. The decision depends on a case-by-case basis.

If the US consul feels you are trying to get into the US in the guise of a student, with the possible support of your siblings in America, your application may be rejected. Likewise, if your brother or sister had gone to the US on an NIV (Non Immigrant Visa) and adjusted that status to permanent visa, you become a 'risk candidate'. It will then be left to the judgment of the interviewing officer to decide.

Do I have to pay the first year's tuition expenses in advance and show a receipt from the university?

No, paying the tuition expenses in advance is a good way to show proof of funds, but it is not a requirement.

How do I prove I can afford to attend school in the US?

Part 7 on the I-20 shows the amount of funding you must have available to cover the first year's expenses. The total amount includes tuition and fees, living expenses, expenses of dependents (if applicable) and other expenses (as applicable). You must prove you have immediate funds available to cover this amount.

If you are going to a two-years Master's programme, you must also show that funds are or will likely be available to cover the same amount for the second year.

What if my university does not require I take the TOEFL or GRE?

You should provide a letter from the university stating the same. However, the embassy strongly recommends that all student visa applicants provide standardised test scores.

Dr Arun Vakil has an MBA from the University of California, USA, and a PhD from the University of Wyoming, USA. He is an expert on US visa regulations. He was associated with the US consulate in Mumbai as an economist from 1974 to 1977. Dr Vakil conducts orientation courses for students going to the US; these courses are organised by the United States Education Foundation in India and the Indo-American Society. He also lectures on US visas and immigration laws. Dr Vakil wrote the book Gateway To America, in 1984.

CHAT

Dr Vakil will host a chat on visa applications at 4 pm on Thursday, March 16. Do join us.

YOUR SAY!

Did you apply for a student visa?

If you got it, what were the things that worked in your favour?

If your application was rejected, were you able to figure out why?

Do share your insights with us.

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