USA | Visa Requirements

The USA welcome students from all over the world to study in the country but it is important that students make sure that they apply for and secure the appropriate Visa for their stay.

There are lots of different Visas available such as: F1 VisaJ1 Visa or M1 Visa. The F1 and J1 visas allow for the possibility of employment in the US during your stay, while the M1 Visa does not.

All Visa applications must be accepted and approved by the student’s school of choice. Once the student has had their application approved by their institution, they will be provided with the necessary approval documentation to submit with their application (an I-20 form stating the student’s eligibility for their chosen course).

 It is crucial that students understand which type of Visa they will need to apply for, how this will impact on their financials situation, and how to apply. Students can apply for their full Visa within 120 days of the start date of the I-20).

There are several types of Visa available for the US and these are listed below.

F-1 Visa: This is the most common type of student Visa in America. If the applicant wishes to partake in academic studies at an approved school or accredited US college of university, the student must apply for an F-1 Visa. This type of Visa is appropriate for students whose courses include more than 18 hours of study a week.

US law does not allow international students to study in the country at elementary level (kindergarten to 8th Grade) or any publically funded adult education programme. F-1 Visas can be issues for students wishing to attend a public secondary schools for Grades 9-12 but the student is limited to stay for 12 months at the school in question. In this situation, the institution must declare on the I-20 form that the student has settled the unsubsidised cost of the education and the cost of this paid by the student.

For more information relating the legal requirements of F-1 Visas, please visit the Department of State website.

Note: Holders of A, E, F-2, G, H-4, J-2, L-2, M-2 or other derivative non-immigrant visas may enrol in public elementary and secondary schools.

M-1 Visa: This type of Visa is for applicants who plan to engage in non-academic/vocational study or training at an institution in the US.

More detailed information relating to Visas and study opportunities in the USA, can be found on the Education USA website.

How to apply for a US Visa:

1)      The student must firstly identify the correct Visa for their study plans

For non-immigrant Visa applicants, determine the appropriate type of Visa by looking at the Common non-immigrant Visa page.

If the student’s country participates in the ‘Visa Waiver Programme then applying for a Visa is not necessary if the student is travelling to the US for business or pleasure and will only be staying in the country for 90 days or less.

2)      Next the student is required to complete the Non-immigrant electronic Visa application (DS-160) form following review of the accompanying guidelines. Once the form has been submitted, it cannot be changed. If students are in any doubt, IGES recommend consulting a specialist immigration lawyer.

If an applicant has been denied a Visa previously, the student is required to complete a new application.

3)      Once the DS-160 has been completed, the applicant must pay the relevant Visa fee. Please see the fees page detailing the associated costs in different currencies.

4)      Applicants must login to their profile that will have been allocated them during the application process (using the credentials they will have been given when paying the Visa fees). Applicants can now schedule their Visa appointments, one which will be at the Visa Application Centre (VAC) and the other at the Embassy or Consulate.

The first meeting should be at the Embassy or Consulate and the second at the VAC. When the applicant visits the VAC they will have their fingerprints and photograph taken. This appointment must be at least one day before the Visa interview appointment at the Embassy or Consulate.

In order to schedule appointments, applications will need their passport number, the ten digit barcode number from their DS-160 confirmation page, and the date in which they paid their Visa fee.

Throughout the process, applicants will be able to select the Visa type they are applying for and add personal data.

5)      For the VAC appointment, applicants will need to bring with them:

  • A valid passport valid for travel to the USA with a date that is valid for at least six months beyond the intended period of stay in the country (unless country-specific exemptions dictate otherwise).
  • The DS-160 confirmation and appointment confirmation
  • One passport size photograph, for more information please see here.

6)      Next, the applicant will attend their meeting at the Embassy or Consulate and must provide following documentation for review – applications will not be accepted without these documents:

  • DS-160 confirmation
  • A printed letter confirmation their appointment
  • Their current passport and their past passports
  • Supporting Visa documents in line with the specifications for the chosen Visa
  • A I-901 SEVIS receipt (for more details please visit the SEVIS website)

The supporting documents

The supporting documents that are needed for US Visa applications are of the utmost importance and one of the many factors that a consular office will take into consideration at an applicant’s interview. Each application is unique and will be assessed on a case by case basis and often officers will look at an applicant’s long term plans, their family situation etc.

Submitting false or inaccurate documentation is considered fraudulent. Misrepresentations of any kind during the process can result in an applicant becoming permanently ineligible for Visas in the future. The Embassy will treat all personal documents with confidentiality.

Candidates should take the following documentation with them to their meeting:

  • Documents that demonstrate that the applicant has ties to their home country and that they plan to return there once their period of study has come to an end.
  • Academic documents that demonstrate their preparation for their chosen course (such as certification, transcripts etc.)
  • Original bank statements
  • Financial documents that show that the applicant can financially support themselves for their first year of study and then enough funds to finance any other expenses for the remainder of their stay. Applicants for the M-1 Visa must show that they have the ability to pay all of their costs (both tuition and cost of living) for the entirety of their stay in the USA.
  • If a student is being supported financially by another person, they must bring with them proof of their relationship to the sponsor.

Dependents and their supporting documents

If the Visa applicant has a spouse or children under the age of 21 that wish to join them in the US for the duration of the principal Visa holder’s stay, then they require the relevant derivative Visa. Dependents in possession of a derivative Visa cannot work in the USA and so if the dependent intends to work in the country, they will need to apply for a work Visa.

If family members will be visiting the primary Visa holder during their stay in the States then they may be eligible to apply for a Visitor Visa (B-2).

In terms of supporting documents for dependents, the principal applicant must provide documentation that proves their relationship to the dependent. Dependents are encouraged to apply for their Visas at the same time as the primary Visa applicant, but if this does not happen then the dependent must provide a copy of the principal applicant’s passport and Visa when they apply for their own.

Other notable information

Students who hold an F-1 Visa may be eligible for up to 12 months of optional practical training following the completion of their course of study. Students applying to do this training may present an I-20 form with the original completion date for the studies that may have already passed. The I-20 must be annotated by an official at the institute of study showing that the student has been approved to complete practical training. The student must also be able to show that the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) have given their approval or that their application for approval is pending.

If a student takes a break from their studies (a break of more than 5 months) then they are expected to re-apply for their Visa following travel abroad so as to recommence their studies.

If a student remains in the US during a study break but does not return to their studies within the 5 month period, they may lose their Visa status. For more information regarding this, please visit the USCIS website. Students who leave the US for 5 months or more during their studies may lose their Visa unless the activities they engaged in during their absence were related to their course or studies. Students are advised to check with their institute as to what their policies are here.

It is really important that if a student is leaving the US that they make the relevant provisions with regard to their Visa. Attempting to return to the US after being out of the country for over 5 months could result in the student being disallowed entry.