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Study US: Getting your student visa
Pushpinder Bhatia
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October 01, 2008

Part I: Education system and academic calendar
Part II: Admissions process explained!

Thousands of international students from all around the world wish to go to the US to study and improve their skills. Getting a visa for USA will be dream come true for many who wish to pursue studies there. However, many students that I regularly come across put the question "Is obtaining US student visa easy or difficult?" That is exactly what the topic of discussion is today.

First and foremost, the applicant must be admitted to a US school or university before starting the visa process. Moreover, an early start is highly recommended so that the admissions, travel arrangements, accommodation etc can be planned in advance as well.

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Visa officers evaluate the applications very carefully and take more time now than in the past. Moreover, the applicants will be interviewed. Students should also remember that acceptance by a US educational institution does not guarantee issuance of a student visa.

Normally, international students who are not residents of USA will require an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types as well. Here is a short description of the different visa types that involve study:

F-1 or Student Visa: This is the most commonly issued visa for those who wish to pursue studies in the United States. It is for the people who want to study at an accredited US college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute.

J-1 or Exchange Visitor: This visa is for people who will be participating in an exchange visitor programme in the US. The "J" visa is for educational and cultural exchange programmes.

M-1 or Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the US.

Next we look at the steps that are involved in applying for the Visa:

Points to be noted before you apply for a visa
1) First, you must obtain a SEVIS-generated document, either a Form I-20 or DS-2019, issued by a US college or university or Department of State-designated sponsor organisation. The US academic institution or programme sponsor will provide you with the appropriate SEVIS-generated form only when the institution academically admits you or the exchange programme accepts you as a participant. In case, the spouse/child also wishes to accompany, the same should be listed on your form or have their own SEVIS-generated form.

2) After getting the I-20, you needs to pay the SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information) fee of $131 at any designated branch of HDFC bank [Get Quote]. The visa fee receipt is normally activated within two working days of the payment of the same. The spouse/child or exchange visitor does not pay the SEVIS fee.

3) The next step involves scheduling of Visa interview online. Thus, after two working days of paying the SEVIS fee, you should logon to and click on the "Apply for a Non-immigrant Visa" link. It is to be noted here that the two-page Visa Fee Receipt should be in hand, to book the  appointment and complete the forms DS-156, DS-157, DS-158 and lastly the print out should be taken.

4) Lastly, attend the interview. Make sure you reach in time.

Points to be noted when you apply for a visa
1) Apply early for a visa. Students should note that the US Embassy and US Consulates are able to issue a student visa 120 days or less in advance of the course of study start date or registration date. In addition, all initial or beginning students can enter the US 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start or registration date as shown on the Form I-20 or DS-2019.

2) Spouse or Children. As mentioned earlier, the spouse or children of a student are also entitled to accompany or join the holder of an F-1 Visa. They can apply for an F-2 Visa. However, they cannot seek employment in the US. Their visas application, interview appointments also need to be applied for the same day as the student's and all of them should attend the visa interview together.

3) The F-1 Student Visa Application kit should include:

4) The Interview. The visa interview is generally short and revolves around the course and the university selected, future career plans, financial status; of the sponsor etc. The golden rule for the interview is to be confident adn truthful to the Visa officer. That is just a small effort to get your dream visa, isn't it?

5) Visa interview result/ visa decision. Interestingly, the candidate/s gets to know the interview result/ visa decision instantly ie on the spot. If the interview has been successful, the visa officer will take the original passport and I-20 from the student.

6) Return of Passport: Ordinarily the passport will return within 72 hours from the interview date. Delivery time lines depend on place of residence. 

7) Working RIGHTS on F-1 Student Visa: Generally, the students on F-1 visa are legally allowed to work for 20 hours per week part-time. One should note that

  • Students may work on-campus as long as they are enrolled full time in a school  
  • Students may apply for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) to gain work experience in their field of study while being a full time student.
  • Students may take advantage of Optional Practical Training (OPT) once the degree is completed. The period of OPT is 12 months for the non-engineering studies graduates while the engineering students have a reason to party. As per the new ruling early in the year 2008 all engineering graduates in the areas of STEM, ie, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are eligible to extend the period of OPT by 17 months.
  • Many students obtaining a bachelors or masters degree in the United States go on to be sponsored by their employer for an H-1B Work Visa. Yet again a reason to cheer!

Part I: Education system and academic calendar
Part II: Admissions process explained!

If you have further queries on studying in the US, join us for a chat on Friday, October 3, at 4 pm.

The writer is CEO of PAC Asia Services, a leading Study Abroad Consultant of the country & the sub continent. He has 12 years of experience in guiding the students aspiring to study abroad. For more information, one may visit or call at 011- 41668383

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