A record number of international students were enrolled in U.S. secondary schools and higher education institutions in the fall of 2016—more than 1 million according to the Open Doors Report. The largest group were from China (31.5%), followed by India (15.9%), Saudi Arabia (5.9%) and South Korea (5.8%). The largest number of these students, almost 150,000, attended schools in California, followed by New York State (114,000), Texas (82,000) and Massachusetts (59,000).
While they were born in dozens of different countries and attended schools in every one of the 50 states, these students all had one thing in common—they needed to obtain an F-1 Visa to pursue their studies in this country. Although the process for obtaining the F-1 Visa is relatively straightforward, it can seem a bit overwhelming to those unfamiliar with that process.
If you are an international student planning to study in the United States, here are the 6 steps you’ll need to take to obtain your F-1 Visa:
1. You Must Be Accepted at an Approved School
The first step in obtaining your F-1 Visa is acceptance at a school approved by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP). You can find out which schools are SEVP-approved at the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States school search page. After you are accepted by the school of your choice, you will automatically be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
After you pay SEVIS’s I-90I fee, your school will send you a Form I-20. You will need to present this form when you meet with a consular officer for your visa interview (if an interview is required). If you are married and your spouse and/or children plan to live with you in the U.S., they must each obtain an individual I-20 Form.
2. You Must Apply for the F-1 Visa
The specific steps to apply for your visa are slightly different depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. To be sure, follow the instructions you’ll find on the embassy or consulate website where you intend to apply. You’ll need to complete the online nonimmigrant visa application (Form DS-160) and print out the application form confirmation page (you’ll need this at your interview). You’ll also need to upload your photo as part of the application process
3. You Might Need to Be Interviewed
After you’ve been accepted to an approved school and completed the application process, you might need to be interviewed. Interviews are generally not required for students who are 13 years of age or younger; older students are generally required to complete an interview (there are sometimes exceptions if this is a visa renewal).
4. Preparing for Your Interview
If an interview is required, you’ll need to schedule an appointment for one, usually at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You will also need to pay a $160 non-refundable application fee prior to your interview.
You should use the time before your interview to gather all necessary documentation, including a valid passport for travel to the United States, your visa application confirmation page, a receipt for you fee payment, and your Form I-20, signed by you and the designated school official (DSO) at the school you’ll be attending. You might also be required to produce additional documentation, such as transcripts, diplomas, degrees or certificates from schools you’ve attended, standardized test scores, and proof that you can pay for all your educational, living and travel expenses.
5. The Interview
You will be interviewed by a consular officer who will determine if you’re eligible to receive your visa, and, if you are, which visa you qualify for. If everything is in order, your visa will be approved, after which you may pay a visa insurance fee (depending on your nationality). You will then find out when your passport and visa will be ready pickup or delivery.
6. The Last Step: Entry into the United States
Your F-1 Visa allows you to travel to the United States, but does not guarantee entry. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are permitted to enter the United States, a border protection official will give you an admission stamp or paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record).
Travelling to another country to continue your education can be confusing and, at times, a little frightening. Fortunately, the best schools employ competent professionals to help you make the adjustment and get through the rough spots.
At the Tenney School, we work hard to provide an ideal environment for our international students. To learn more about the ways our personalized curriculum and ability to work at the pace you find most comfortable can help you achieve your educational goals in the United States, contact us today.