A Quick Guide to Student Visas
Education unlocks knowledge and opportunity, stoking the fire of future possibility and promise. And for those wishing to receive an excellent education, attending school in the United States (U.S.) provides a path forward. International students wishing to attend an American school or university can apply for special visas intended for educational purposes. The U.S. issues three main types of student visas depending on what type of schooling and/or training the beneficiary wishes to obtain. But it can be difficult to discern the exact steps one should take and when.
This article will provide basic information about student visas, as well as an overview of the application process. Because of the delicate and complicated nature of the visa process, it’s best to work with a qualified immigration attorney. Therefore, if you are seeking a student visa, don’t delay. Davis & Associates offers free initial consultations with our lawyers to help you get started.
Who Can Apply for a Student Visa?
Only certain people can apply for student visas. Most importantly, you must already be accepted to an SEVP-approved school or programbeforeapplying for your visa. An “SEVP-approved” school or program is any program reviewed and allowed by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). Once accepted, applicants should discuss their visa requirements with their institution. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website discusses exactly who is eligible for each type of student visa. Table 1 below, sourced from the State Department’s website, details eligibility categories for student visas.
Table 1. Student Visa Categories
Types of Visas Available to Students
There are a few types of student visas, all of which are considered “nonimmigrant” visas. This means that these visas are temporary. Because of this, student visas will expire after completion of the course of study. Students must leave by the expiration date in order to be compliant with the terms of their visa. Overstaying a visa, even accidentally, can be disastrous as it can lead to future consequences like deportation or visa/green card denials. Thus, ensure to follow your visa guidelines very carefully.
For anyone considering study in America, the State Department’s Education USA website is a great tool and resource. You can explore your options and learn about the process.
The most common type of student visa, the F-1 visa benefits university students, high school students, and others. Schools must be SEVP-approved, as discussed earlier in this article. See Table 1 above for specific school categories eligible for F-1 visas. Further, students studying on an F-1 visa should understand specific limitations of the visa, like work. Any F-1 student cannot work off campus during their first academic year. After the end of their course work, an F-1 beneficiary must exit the U.S. within 60 days.
These visas are available to a very specific class of learners and exchange students. Often, the opportunity is less like school and more like apprenticeship, on-site training, or cultural exchange. Further, this visa category is intended to “promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and science.” According to the USCIS, those included in this eligibility category can include professionals like research and graduate assistants, professors, au pairs, teachers, and camp counselors. Finally, after completing their exchange or career-based program, visa holders must leave the U.S. within 30 days.
The considerations and requirements for the J-1 visa program differ from those of the J-1 and M-1 application process. For example, the “exchange institution,” designated and approved by the State Department, must serve as a sponsor for J-1 applicants. Read more about J-1 visas and their requirements on the USCIS’s website.
The most restrictive student visa is the M-1 category. These visas are only available to students participating in vocational programs. Again, the program or institution must be approved by SEVP and students must be accepted before applying for their visa. After the end of their vocational program, M-1 visa holders must leave the U.S. within 30 days.
How to Apply for a Student Visa
Read below for the basic steps required to attain a student visa, as well as required documentation. The best resource regarding each step is a qualified immigration attorney. They understand the process deeply and can provide adequate guidance.
Applying for a Student Visa in Four Steps
- Firstly, you must apply to an SEVP-approved institution and receive acceptance. In many cases, especially with colleges and universities, you may apply and receive acceptance to multiple institutions. Once you make your decision as to where you will attend, it’s time to move forward with the visa application process. Talk to your institution to acquire any specific information or details that you will need to submit with your application. Your school or organization will issue a Form I-20, which you should submit with your other documentation.
- Secondly, you’ll need to register with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS. All registrants must pay the associated fee. This step is required for all student visa applicants and you’ll receive your I-20 from your institution through this system (F or M status applicants only). J-status applicants will receive their DS-2019 form through SEVIS. Exchange sponsors for J visa applicants will also register via the system.
- Thirdly, receiving your SEVIS form(s), it’s time to officially apply for your visa. Thus, you must submit the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160). This application includes a filing fee. After submitting the online application, all applicants must remember to print a hard copy of their application to bring to their visa interview.
- Finally, the student visa application process ends with the visa interview. Once the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy processes your application, you’ll receive notice that it is time to schedule an interview. Also, you must bring all required documentation (see below) to your visa interview. During your interview, the interviewer will talk with you and determine if you qualify for your particular visa. It’s likely they’ll also take your fingerprints at the interview.
The State Department lists all required documentation that applicants must bring to their student visa interview. This includes a hard copy of your visa application (DS-160) and proof of its online submission, proof of payment (if required before your interview), and all identification documents like passports and IDs. Additionally, you must bring any paperwork provided to your by your sponsoring institution, likely an I-20 or DS-2019.
After your interview, your visa officer may request additional paperwork in support of your student visa application. They can ask for a number of additional sources of evidence in order to process your application. For example, according to the State Department, this could include:
- Any academic preparation documents, including transcripts, diplomas, or degrees from any schools you’ve attended;
- Standardized test scores required by your U.S. university or institution (if applicable);
- Evidence of your intent to depart the U.S. after your program’s completion; and/or
- Proof of ability to pay for educational, living, and travel costs.
Work with a Qualified Immigration Attorney
In conclusion, the application process for student visas can be intricate and difficult. If you wish to attend school in the U.S., the best ally available is an expert immigration attorney. A lawyer skilled in immigration law will understand the potential problems or setbacks you may face during the application process. With that knowledge, they can guide your application through government review as smoothly as possible. While no immigration outcome, including a visa or green card, is guaranteed, proper guidance and representation from legal counsel increases your likelihood of success.
Serving clients in Miami, Davis & Associates works tirelessly to provide top-tier immigration legal services. Whatever your circumstances or concerns, contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our qualified attorneys. During your appointment, you’ll sit down, discuss your case or application, and receive guidance to help you proceed towards your goals.