Among the popular study destinations, the US is undoubtedly one of the toughest in terms of their visa policies. Nevertheless, if you’ve been admitted to a US university, your chances of obtaining a student visa are a lot higher. As a student in the US, you typically require an F1 visa, however, if you’re applying for a vocational or non-academic program, you need an M1 visa.
The visa application process can take as many as 2 to 3 months. In some cases, it can take longer as well. The ideal time to start working on your visa application would be as soon as you receive admission into a university. This way, you will have sufficient time to prepare all the documents necessary for the application as well as pay the visa fee.
As specifications listed by each city’s US embassy or consulate may slightly vary, checking with the embassy website that applies to you is a good idea.
To give you an idea of how to go about the process, we’ve listed some of the main steps you will have to take to get your student visa.
Get admitted to your target school
Only once you’ve been accepted into a university, can you apply for a visa. This is because your visa application will require the I-20 form provided by your university.
You will have to do a background check on the US schools and programs that interest you. Only schools that are accredited by the US Government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can provide you with the documents required for your visa application. To find out if the universities on your shortlist are accredited, all you have to do is visit the US Government Agency’s website.
Once a US school accepts you, you will be enrolled in the SEVIS system and receive a document called the I-20 Form. This form is what you require to be eligible for an F or M visa.
However, in cases like a student exchange program, you will get a DS-209 Form, which is necessary for a J visa. In this article, we will focus on the steps that need to be taken for an F visa.
Get your education loan
Proof of adequate financial means to pay your tuition fee as well as living expenses is required. You can do this by applying for and getting an education loan.
In India, you can apply for an education loan from several financial institutions. Some popular options among our students have been HDFC bank, Incred, and other nationalized banks.
Get your financial reports in order
You will have to turn to a qualified chartered accountant for a certified valuation report of all your assets from a qualified CA, which you submit to your visa officer.
In India, a qualified CA should charge you around Rs 5,000 for this report.
Complete your DS 160 form
You will need to download, fill and submit a DS 160 form online. To fill up this form, you will require the following documents and information:
- Personal details
- Passport details
- Details of travel plans, and travel companions
- Details of previous US travel
- Your point of contact in the US
- Family, education and employment details
- Background, security and medical health documents
- SEVIS ID and the address of the US school you intend to enroll in (as printed on I-20 or DS-2019 form)
After selecting the location from where you wish to apply from and answering a security question, you will be directed to the form. At the top of the page, you will find your application ID. This ID is essential to retrieve your form in case you need to exit the application and return to it later on.
As per the format specified, you will have to upload a recent photograph of yourself.
To avoid rescheduling your visa interview and to reduce the likelihood that it will be rejected, ensure you answer all the questions carefully and accurately. If you have trouble filling the form, you can always turn to the website of the US government for answers. After you finish filling your form, you have to electronically sign it by clicking the “Sign Application” tab at the end.
After uploading your application, you will be directed to a confirmation page with a barcode, barcode number, and your application ID number. Take a print-out of this page and carry it with you to your visa interview.
Pay VISA fee
After you’ve submitted your DS 160, you will have to pay the Visa fee. Our counselors recommend paying this fee in cash at Axis or CITI Bank.
For those of you who do not reside in India, have a look at the instructions provided on your embassy or consulate website regarding fee payment.
Schedule your visa interview
Finally, you will have to schedule and attend your visa interview.
Ensure that your visa appointment is at least 120 days before classes begin.
Pay the SEVIS fee
The SEVIS fee will have to be paid at least 72 hours before the visa interview. It will cost around $350.
Keep your documents ready
The documents you will have to carry along with you to your visa interview are as follows:
- A passport with a validity period that extends at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US. You will mostly have to carry previous passports as well.
- Signed SEVIS Form I-20
- SEVIS fee receipt
- A printout of the DS-160 application confirmation page, which will contain the barcode and application ID number
- Visa fee payment confirmation receipt
- A printed copy of your visa interview appointment letter
- At least two photographs in the specified format
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution. Examples of these are the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, and GMAT.
- Financial proof that you or your sponsor has adequate funds to cover your living expenses in the US. These financial documents could be in the form of a bank loan letter, bank statement of 1-year transactions, DEMAT Account statement, fixed deposit statement, provident fund statement, passbook, pay slips, and your parents’ income tax papers, among others.
- You should also carry a separate written list of all your previous employers, as well as your offer and relieving letters.
- CA and Valuation Reports
While this is the latest list, please always check again with the embassy or consulate about the documents required for your interview.
Mock VISA interview
To avoid those interview jitters, always schedule a mock visa interview. Whether you turn to a friend, relative, or an acquaintance who has attended a visa interview, these interviews can help you feel more confident at the real visa interview.
Visa Interview Tips
We’ve turned to our counselors to help you with this one. Here are some of the most common tips they have to offer.
Visa Interview Dos.
- Smile: Remember to relax and smile. A smile is a sign of optimism and openness after all.
- Posture: The right posture can signal confidence. Avoid slouching.
- Dress for Success: Dressing well supports your image. It reflects that you have a positive outlook. Looking professional tells the interviewer that you are taking the interview seriously. Avoid heavy or flashy makeup. Jewelry should be minimal. Avoid strong smelling perfume. Wear your spectacles if it is in your photographs.
- Speak in English: Being able to communicate in English is one of the primary requirements for your program in the US, so you must talk to your visa officer in English.
- Communicate Clearly: Avoid using filler words such as ‘Like’, ‘Um’, or ‘I guess’ in sentences. Pay careful attention to the questions posed by the officer and make sure you answer these questions directly and thoughtfully. Practice in front of a mirror before the interview – it actually helps!
- Look at the Interviewer: Not being able to make eye contact is considered a sign of dishonesty. Practice at home and do look at the interviewer when answering the questions.
- Carry your Documents: Always make sure the file you carry is complete with all the necessary documents and is well cataloged, which would ensure you do not waste time searching for a document if you are asked for one.
Visa Interview Dont’s.
- Be Nervous: Remember, thousands of students from across the world go through this process to study in a US university, so don’t be nervous. While a little nervousness is natural, sweating or hyperventilating is not a good sign, and don’t fidget. Try some breathing exercises to calm yourself before the visa interview.
- Speak English with a Forced Accent: The Visa Officer will have no trouble understand Indian Accents, so do not adopt an American accent or any other accent for that matter. Use your own accent, while focusing on answering clearly and crisply.
- Stare: While eye contact is good, continuous staring can make the person uncomfortable – remember to blink.
- Offer your document unless asked: The Visa Officer, in all probability, will not ask for any documents. Please do not offer to show it to them (until and unless they specifically ask to see something)