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11 things you need to know about the F-1 Student Visa

Note: Article copied with permision from usa-fvisa.com 

Foreign students who want to come to the U.S. to study at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and who are applying to universities and colleges for academic study or to language training programs, require an F-1 visa.

School Acceptance:

The first step in obtaining an F-1 visa, is to apply and be accepted by a school.  U.S. schools must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to be able to admit international students.  SEVP is part of the Department of Homeland Security and manages nonimmigrant students, their dependents that have accompanied them to the US, and the schools they attend in the US.  You can find a list of SEVP approved schools here. 

Financial Ability:

Applicants must provide proof that they have enough "cash money" to cover the first academic year's tutition, fees and living costs.  An academic year is nine months.  The school will determine how much they estimate a student will need to cover nine to twelve months of educational expense.  This is the amount of financial documentation a student will need to present to the school, as well as to the U.S. Visa Officer.  Read more about Financial Ability

I-20 Form:

Once a student has been accepted, and has proven to have the financial ability to cover one year of tuition, fees and living costs, the school will then issue an I-20 form, along with the acceptance letter. If you are not familiar with the I-20, it is a legal document or the "certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status" form.  The I-20 form is needed in order to apply for the F-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate. 

On the I-20 form will be your unique SEVP number, which is entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).  SEVIS is the web-based system that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to track all international students who apply to attend a US school and monitors their stay and the schools they attend. 

SEVIS fee:

F-1 Students must pay a $200 U.S. dollar fee before being allowed to conduct a visa interview appointment with the US consulate in their home country. Students can pay this fee by credit or debit card via the internet, by check or money order by mail to SEVP, or by Western Union Quick Pay.  Paying by the internet is quick and efficient, and generates an immediate receipt for payment.  Always remember to print out the SEVIS payment receipt before exiting the site.  Persons other than the student are allowed to make the SEVIS fee payment.  Please visit www.fmjfee.com for complete instructions.  

I-901 Form:

 Students must file the form I-901 at the time they pay their SEVIS fee.  Go to www.fmjfee.com to complete the form online.  After paying the fee make sure and print a .pdf receipt.  You may use this receipt when you go to your visa interview to prove you paid the fee.   

DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application form:

This form and an accompanying fee are required in some consulates. Please check the website of the consulate where you will be applying for the visa.  

Visa Interview Appointment:

Students will use the SEVP number, located in the upper right hand corner of the I-20 form to schedule their visa interview appointment at the consulate.  Be sure to check any available instructions on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will be applying for your visa.  

Documents to accompany the student to the Visa Interview:

The visa interview costs $200 for each interview. When you arrive to the consulate for your visa interview, you must be sure to bring with you all the following required documentation; I-20 form and acceptance letter from school, current valid passport, 2x2 photo, SEVIS payment receipt, Visa application form, copies of degree and transcripts, official financial statements documenting sufficient funds designated for the student's educational expenses during their first year in school, an official letter of support from the student's financial sponsor, test score reports (if applicable), and any other documentation of business or land holdings in their home country. It is also helpful to bring a brochure or other published information about the school you are applying to. It will be important that you show the visa officer you have sufficient funds for not just your first year of study, but the and second year as well. (the second year does not have to be "cash money" but can be fixed assets or future earning projections.)

Visa Interview:

The visa interview with a US visa officer will be very short, usually only 2 or 3 minutes in length.  It is the student's responsibility to demonstrate to the visa officer that he/she is a serious student and have a clear plan for their education in the US and future employment in their home country.  Applicants will also need to prove they have sufficient home ties.  If you have questions about this, please contact us.

Dependents:

Students may choose to have their spouse and children apply for an F-2 visa  to accompany them to the US.  The following documents need to be submitted to the school in request of the F-2 I-20s:  passports, marriage certificate, birth certificates, and approximately $8,000 in additional financial support per dependent. 

Length of Stay on a F-1 visa:

Students are allow to enter the US up to 30 days in advance of the start date noted on their I-20. Students must report to the I-20 issuing school for which they received the visa within that time period, or they will be considered out of status.  After completion of their program, students have 60 days to leave the U.S.  However, students may transfer to a different program or to another school within the SEVIS system.  The student also has the option of remaining in the US to work for up to one year in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program or two and half years in a STEM OPT program, or six years if they switch from an F-visa to an H1b Visa.  

Work and Study F-1 visa holders may participate in on or off-campus employment.  Please read more about  F-1 employment options.

For more information go to:

www.travel.state.gov

www.ice.gov/sevis

www.fmjfee.com

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