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Here's how to secure your student visa online
Dr Arun Vakil
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June 25, 2007

Obtaining a student visa for the US can be a daunting task to those unfamiliar with the process. If one understands the system, however, and applies as early as possible while making the necessary preparations, a qualified applicant should have no problems!

Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, securing a student visa wasn't too difficult. Now, however, the paperwork and red-tape have become increasingly annoying. In an effort to cut down on bureaucratic waste, the US government has outsourced visa processing to a company called Visa Facilitation Services.

This article examines how to utilise the internet, including VFS, in order to secure your student visa.

Here is a simple six-step procedure for obtaining a US study visa using the internet:

Step 1
Obtain your I-20 form from your US university. Any US university that admits you and wishes you to enrol will send a SEVIS (Student Exchange Visitor Information System) generated Form I-20.

This form is a
United States Department of Homeland Security document issued by colleges, universities and vocational schools providing supporting information for the issuance of your F-1 student visa. It will be signed by the appropriate university personnel; you will also be required to sign the document.

Step 2
Visit the Visa Facilitation Services
web site and click on the blue link stating 'HDFC [Get Quote] Bank' in the middle of the page. It will take you to a listing of HDFC branches that accept US visa fees across India (some branches do not accept US visa fees).  Find the one nearest to you and make a trip to the bank alongy with a photocopy of the first page of your passport.

The fees to be paid at HDFC Bank per passport are:

The fees are not refundable and the fee receipt gets activated two working days from date of issue. Do not attempt to make your visa appointment until these two days have passed. You must appear for an interview within one year (365 days) from the date you receive your fee receipt from HDFC Bank.

If you do not appear for an interview within one year of receiving your fee receipt, it will no longer be valid. The receipt is deemed as 'utilised' once the interview has occurred; a 'utilised' receipt cannot be used to make a subsequent appointment.

Step 3
The next step is to practise filling the three Department of State forms necessary for your visa application. Visit the immigration portal called and click on the 'immigration forms' link found on the left-hand side of the site. In the list, look for these three forms: DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158; download them and practice filling them.

The seemingly easy forms relay vital information about you to the visa officer, who reads them carefully to make judgments on visa issuance; it is therefore of paramount importance to practise and master these forms. There are experts who guide students on how to go about the process, and consulting one would not be a bad idea.

Step 4
You are now ready to apply for an interview date and fill out your Department of State forms on the Visa Facilitation Services website --  Click on the 'apply for a Non-immigrant visa' link. Select that you are 'seeking visa for studying' and a calendar of the current month will be visible showing dates marked in green or grey; dates in green indicate availability for interviews. Click on your date of preference.

If you wish to appear for the interview at a later date, you can see future months by clicking the right arrow. After you select the date and enter your HDFC receipt details, the three DS forms will appear which you have to fill online. The DS-156 must be the electronic 'e-form application' dated March 2006.

Since you have downloaded the forms and practised filling them, you should be comfortable with the format. Some of the boxes in the forms may not take all the data due to space constraints, so you will need to abbreviate your answer accordingly. Do not leave any box blank; write None or Nil or NA instead (when appropriate).

Step 5
Visit in order to submit and pay for the Form I-901. This form is your application for SEVIS (Student Exchange and Visitor Information System), which is a web-based system designed to link every US consulate with every US port of entry and all 74,000 educational institutions eligible to host foreign students.

The fee is $100 dollars (Rs 4,200) and can be made with a credit card (Visa, MasterCard or American Express). A receipt will be issued to you on the same web site which should be printed and carried for the US visa interview.

Step 6
You are required to carry the following documents at the time of the interview:

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