The United States remains to be the most desirable destination to pursue higher education. Despite a backlash due to COVID-19, the US remains on the list of being the most preferred place to take up professional courses. It is also expected that the statistics will soon bounce back to previous levels, as soon as the situation is back to normal.
But, before one begins the gruelling yet gratifying trip of getting enrolled in a university in the United States, one must know about certain visa rules. Without acceptance of a proper visa, one cannot enter the US. The most common type of student visa is an F1 visa. Any student wishing to pursue education in the US must have an F1 student visa.
What is an F1 Visa?
To pursue education in the US, it is important to have an F1 student visa. Getting yourself enrolled in an accredited US university, college, language program or any academic course is the first step to getting an F1 student visa. It includes all programs, be it undergraduate courses or graduation courses etc. F1 visa also provides students with a shot at employment. Though off-campus employment is not permitted in the first academic session, students can take up on-campus employment offered (if any). After the first academic session, students have an opportunity to opt for any of the below-mentioned professional training/employment.
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- Optional Program Training (OPT)
- STEM OPT
(It is important to note that these benefits of CPT, OPT and STEM OPT can only be availed if the student is registered in a university or college registered with Student Exchange and Visitor Program*.)
(*Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is the department that works under the Department of Homeland Security and keeps a record of the non-immigrants/visitors/colleges/universities administered under the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System.)
Before we move ahead with the process of obtaining an F1 student Visa, let me apprise you of the eligibility requirements to procure an F1 student visa.
Eligibility Criteria to obtain an F1 student visa
- Selecting a full-time course.
- You must be accepted as a student of a university offering the academic program of your choice.
- The university/college must be registered with the Students and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
- Being proficient in the English language.
- Having a foreign residence.
- Sufficient financial backing to stay comfortably in the US.
Documents required for F1 visa application
Once you have confirmed your eligibility, make sure that you arrange the following documents to apply for an F1 student visa.
- An authentic passport with an extended stay duration of up to 6 months.
- Form I-20 is issued by the selected college/university.
- Form DS-160 (Non-immigrant application)
- SEVIS Fee receipt
- Passport size photo (recent)
- Bank statement (three years)
- ITR of the last two to three years
- Birth Certificate
- Proof of the Residential Address
- Medical Certificate
- Score sheet of any authorized standardized exam like TOEFL, GMAT, and IELTS etc.
- Academic transcripts, previous degrees or certificates, work experience certificate.
The process to apply for an F1 visa
Once you have procured all the necessary documents, the next important step is to follow the process of application with utmost care.
- Apply to a SEVP-approved college/university.”
- Fulfil their documentation requirements and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee of $350. (For fee details- https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901)
- After paying the SEVIS fee, the college will issue form I-20. The process to obtain a visa can only begin once the candidate has obtained form I-20 from the desired college.
- Thereafter, apply online for form DS-160. It can be filled out and submitted online. (https://ceac.state.gov/ceac/)
- Keep a replica of the confirmation page for future considerations.
- Pay the desired fee and schedule an interview appointment with the US Embassy or consulate in your country.
- Once a suitable date and time is fixed, it is necessary to ensure that you have collected all the documents.
- Also, keep a duplicate copy of all documents handy with you for all future verifications.
- Be confident and carry all the documents along with the academic qualifications/certificates, financial documents, work experience documents and certificates on the day of interview.
- Once the interview process is complete, wait for confirmation from your consular officer.
- If approved, pay the required fee for the issuance of a visa.
(*Point to be noted- F-1 student visa can be obtained by the student seeking admission in the US up to 120 days before the course or program starts. Thereafter, it is important to keep in mind that the student will not be able to enter the US, before 30 days of the start of the course.)
After arrival in the US
Once your tickets are confirmed and you are ready to take off, keep in mind the below-mentioned points regarding your F1 visa.
- Ensure that you have arrived in time i.e 30 days after the start of the program.
- Once you enter the United States airport, you are required to seek permission to enter.
- The authority to allow or deny any person from entering the US lies with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S customs and border protection personnel.
- Upon successful entry, form I-94 (arrival record) is assigned to the student.
(*For more information on detailed rules regarding entry into the US, kindly refer to the link https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors)
F1 Visa Extension
A student can get an opportunity to extend an F1 visa, with the condition that the student has opted for Optional Practical Training (OPT). If eligible for OPT, the F1 Visa extension can be extended up to 12 months. In the case of STEM OPT, it can be extended up to 24 months.
This whole strenuous process can thus be summarized as follows-
The whole process of becoming an international student and obtaining an F1 Visa may seem laborious, but the experience that you will gain is worth it.