April 19, 2024

How to Sail Smoothly through the US Student Visa Process: Your Ultimate Checklist

Obtaining a student visa is a requirement for non-US citizens wishing to study in the United States. The US student visa process can be time-consuming, so it is crucial to begin preparations well in advance, preferably three to five months before the commencement of your intended course.

You will be involved in these five stages of the US student visa process:

Stage 1 – Seek admission and gain acceptance to a school in the US approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). It is recommended to initiate this process six to twelve months before your intended study period in the US.

Stage 2 – Fulfil the payment of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee.

Stage 3 – Complete the US student visa application, including submitting recent photo(s).

Stage 4 – Make the payment for the visa application fee.

Stage 5 – Schedule an appointment for a visa interview and attend the interview as scheduled.

Also, please note that specific procedures and requirements may vary, so it is important to consult the instructions provided by the US embassy or consulate in your country for comprehensive guidance.

Completing the US Student Visa Process: Five Stages

Stage 1: Seek admission and gain acceptance to a school in the US
  • Choose an accredited university and program: To ensure a smooth process as an international student in the US, it is vital to choose an institution and program that is accredited by the US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Accreditation holds significant importance as it guarantees the recognition of your degree by other universities, professional associations, employers, and government bodies worldwide. Only institutions approved by SEVP can enrol students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide the necessary documents for applying for a US student visa. To identify accredited institutions, visit the Study in the States website maintained by the government.

  • Apply to each institution separately: Unlike certain countries, the US lacks a centralised university application system. Hence, you will need to apply separately to each institution of interest. Fulfilling the admission requirements of each institution is necessary, and you will often be required to demonstrate adequate financial resources.
  • Automatic enrolment in SEVIS after acceptance: Upon acceptance by an institution, you will be enrolled in the SEVIS system, and depending on eligibility for an F or M visa, you will receive a SEVIS-generated Form I-20. For those eligible for a J visa, a Form DS-2019 will be provided.

The SEVP oversees international students in the F and M visa categories, while the Department of State (DoS) manages Exchange Visitor Programs and international students in the J visa categories. Both SEVP and DoS utilise SEVIS to monitor and track institutions, exchange visitor programs, and international students.

Stage 2: Fulfil the payment of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee
  • Pay the SEVIS fee: To ensure a smooth US visa application process, it is essential to pay the SEVIS fee at least three days before submitting your application. The fee can be paid by completing an online or paper form, both accessible through the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) SEVP website. Make sure to accurately enter the required information exactly as it appears on your I-20 or DS-2019 form.

As of the current writing, the I-901 fee amounts to US$200 for F/M visa holders and $180 for J visa holders. However, J visa holders engaged in specific roles such as camp counsellors, au pairs, or summer work/travel participants have a reduced fee of $35. The website provides detailed instructions for various payment methods, including debit or credit cards, checks, international money orders, and Western Union Quick Pay. Once the fee is paid, you can revisit the website to check the payment status if desired. Alternatively, a third party, such as your sponsor, can make the payment on your behalf, and you should receive a receipt from them as proof.

  • Print a payment confirmation: After completing the payment process, you can obtain and print a payment confirmation from the website at any time. This confirmation serves as evidence of fee payment during your US student visa interview. Additionally, you may be asked to present the confirmation to the customs officer at your chosen US Port of Entry if you decide to change your non-immigrant status or apply for other US immigration benefits.
Stage 3: Complete the US student visa application, including submitting recent photo(s)
  • Schedule an appointment for the student visa application: After receiving your SEVIS form and paying the SEVIS fee, you can proceed to schedule an appointment with a US consulate or embassy in your country for your US student visa application. Applying as early as possible is essential as it doesn’t matter when your program begins or the period of visa processing time. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before your planned entry into the US.
  • Locate your country-specific US embassy to apply: There are websites created by most countries with specific and dedicated web pages on US student visa applications. If your country is not listed, you can try locating the US embassy or consulate in your country using the US embassy’s website.
  • Complete the DS-160 Form accurately: For all applications, you will need to complete the online visa application form DS-160. Ensure that you have selected the appropriate application location and gather all the required documents and information before filling out the form. Upon selecting and answering a security question, you will proceed to the form’s pages. Your application ID will be displayed at the top, which you will need to save to retrieve your form if you need to exit and return to it later.

The DS-160 form requires personal the following details:

  • Your name, date of birth, address, phone number, passport details 
  • Travel plans, previous US travel history
  • Point of contact in the US, family and educational information
  • Security, background, and medical health details

Documents to provide include:

  • Address of the US school or program you intend to enrol 
  • A recent photo of you

Ensure that you answer all questions accurately and thoroughly, as any errors may require rescheduling your visa interview appointment. If you need clarification while completing the application, you can find answers to your questions on the travel.state.gov website.

  • E-sign the DS-160 Form and submit: After completing the visa application form, electronically sign your DS-160 by clicking the “Sign Application” button at the end. Once your application is uploaded, you will receive a confirmation page with a barcode, barcode number, and application ID number. Print out this confirmation page and take it with you to your visa interview appointment. There is no need to print the full application form.
Stage 4 – Pay the visa application fee

If you are required to make payment before your visa interview, you will be asked to pay a non-refundable visa application fee. Thereafter, if your visa is approved then depending on your nationality, you may be requested to pay a visa issuance fee. 

Stage 5 – Schedule an appointment for a visa interview and attend the interview as scheduled
  • Schedule and attend the interview: Consular officers may require an interview aged between 14 and 79. Interviews are generally not requested for applicants below 14 or 80 and above years of age. To schedule an interview for your visa appointment, you may do so at the US Embassy or Consulate based in your home country. You may have to wait a certain period for your visa interview appointment based on your location, visa category and season. You could check your visa appointment wait time to get a better idea.

Are you looking for guidance while applying for a US student visa? Feel free to run your expectations and career requirements by us, and we’ll guide you with the right information and assistance.          

  • How long does a US student visa take to process?

The processing time for obtaining your F1 visa can range from a week to a couple of months, depending on the time it takes to collect documents and follow through with other related processes. Typically, applications are processed within a few days. However, the decision to approve or disapprove a US student visa application takes place during the interview. 

  • What is the acceptance rate of student visas for the USA?

Obtaining a USA student visa is a complex process, and it’s challenging to compare its acceptance rate with that of other countries directly. Multiple surveys indicate that the USA visa is the most sought-after visa by students worldwide.