The type of visa you will need to study in the US will depend on the nature of your study program. The application process for each visa type is the same, however in some cases you might be required to produce additional documents or information about your study program depending on your specific circumstances. Your host institution will inform you how to proceed if this is the case.
When you complete your study program, you are allowed a 60-day grace period in which you may leave the US, apply to change your visa status or request a transfer into another academic program.
F - 1
Most international students will require an F-1 visa. This visa is for international students who have been accepted into a full-time academic degree program at an accredited US College or University, i.e. Undergraduate, Postgraduate or Doctorate study. Exchange students whose full-time study load is more than 18 hours a week will also need an F-1 visa.
Check if your host institution is an accredited US College or University
M - 1
This visa is for students completing a non-academic or Vocational study program at a US College or University.
J - 1
A J-1 visa is for students who are enrolled in an educational exchange program that is a credited part of their home study program. Students in these programs remain enrolled at their home university whilst they study in the US, and return home to complete or receive their qualification after the fixed term in their exchange agreement is finished.
Exchange students whose study program are longer than 18 hours a week full time will need an F-1 visa.
After you have applied directly to your host institution and been accepted, your information is entered into a US government database called Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). When you’re accepted, the government uses this information to create what is called an ‘I-20’ form, which acts as proof of your eligibility for a US student visa. Your I-20 will have a SEVIS ID number on it that you will need to complete the DS-160 and SEVIS I-901 online forms. Your host institution will send your I-20 in the mail.
After you have your I-20, there are three steps in applying for a US student visa: completing the Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form, filling out the SEVIS I-901 form and paying relevant fees, and completing an interview (with relevant supporting documents) at your local American embassy or consulate.
Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form
You must complete and submit the DS-160 online before you’re able to make an appointment with your local American embassy or consulate. This MUST be the same consulate that you complete your interview at.
Next, you should contact your nearest US embassy or consulate and schedule an interview. When you make an appointment you will need to pay an application fee, and will receive a confirmation letter or email that you will need to bring with you to the interview.
SEVIS I-901 and Fees
Between completing your DS-160 form and your interview date, you will need to fill in a SEVIS I-901 form and pay two sets of fees: the I-901 fee and the visa application fee (MVR). You MUST pay both fees BEFORE your interview.
You can complete the SEVIS I-901 form and pay the fee online. Payment can be made via Visa, MasterCard or American Express. The SEVIS I-901 fee for F-1 and M-1 students is US$200, whilst J-1 students will pay US$180.
Once your payment has been processed, you need to print the receipt. A paper receipt will also be mailed to the home address you’ve listed on your I-901 form. You will also need to pay an MVR application fee. This fee is paid directly to the embassy online after you’ve made your appointment. Fees for all student visa types are US$160.
You can make an appointment with your local US embassy via their website, and will need both your application details thus far and the information on your I-20 to do so. After you pay the MVR fee, you will need to print the receipt and take it with you to the interview. If you do not take both receipts with you to the interview then you will NOT be issued a visa.
When you arrive at the US embassy you will need to show your valid passport, letter confirming your appointment and receipt for your MVR application fee.
When you are called for an interview you will be asked to produce your supporting documents. The interview is designed simply to verify your documents. If your documents are authentic and you’ve brought everything you need then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be granted a visa. You will be told immediately after the interview if your visa has been approved or not. If your application has been successful then the embassy will take your passport and mail it back to you with the visa attached.
Which documents will I need?
When you complete the SEVIS I-901 form online, you will need to have all the information on your I-20 handy, including your SEVIS ID number and details of your host institution. You’ll also need a valid credit card to pay the fee after you’ve filled in the form. You will also need the information on your I-20 to book an appointment at your local US embassy.
At the interview, you will need to bring the following:
- • Confirmation letter or printed email of visa interview appointment
- • Valid passport
- • Receipts for SEVIS I-901 and visa application fee
- • Proof you have access to enough funds to support yourself for the duration of your study program
- • I-20 form
- • Printed confirmation page of completed DS-160 form
- • All relevant academic transcripts to date
- • Any existing academic qualifications (i.e. Bachelor degree)
- • English Language proficiency test results ( if applicable)
- • A valid passport photography