Prodigy Finance - February 17, 2020
Ready to study your international master’s in the US? Somewhere in your list of to-dos will be getting your US study visa.
For most people, this means securing an F-1 study visa. If your spouse or dependents are joining you during your time in the States, it also means getting F-2 visas for accompanying family members.
Getting your study visa is a process (just like getting into grad school), but it’s a fairly straightforward one - as long as you know what’s expected.
This guide will tell you what you need to know to get yours. We’ll help you out with everything from using a Prodigy Finance loan to secure your I-20 form to the work privileges and exceptions you need to know before you leave.
The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa to enter the United States for educational purposes. If you intend to pursue a master’s degree and you’re not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you’ll need to apply for the F-1 visa (or a similar class of visa under the advisement of an immigration official or advisor).
There are very few exceptions, such as entry for short-term, non-degree courses which can sometimes (but not always) be taken while on a visitor visa. Anyone wishing to study their master’s in the US who is currently in the US on another, non-tourist visa should consult their immigration advisor.
A non-immigrant visa entitles you to enter and stay in a country for a specific time period. You are obligated to leave the country before it expires or to legally and officially extend your right to remain. Study visas, including the F-1, fall into this category.
Immigrant visas allow holders to remain in a country for as long as they wish (and uphold any obligations attached to the visa).
A snapshot of the F-1 student visa:
The maximum duration of an F-1 visa is 60 months.
However, F-1 visas are issued to foreign nationals for the length of study. If you’ve been accepted to a master’s programme that lasts 12 months, you will receive a visa for a maximum of 12 months. If your degree will take two years, the visa length will be two years.
There are additional regulations:
Study visas are, for every country, a privilege not a right. Any country issuing study visas can impose additional restrictions and has the right to deny a study visa application.
There are a few things you need to do before you can apply for your F-1 study visa:
TIP:The international student office at your university will guide you through the process of getting your I-20 form and will likely contact you as soon as you accept your admission to your school.
Once you have your I-20 form, you can apply for your F-1 visa. The process includes fee payments, completing application form DS-160 and an in-person interview at your nearest embassy or consulate.
Because each aspect is important, specific and there are exceptions for several nationalities, we’ve broken the application process down into several stages to make them easier to understand. Each section is part of your F-1 visa application as a whole and, therefore, must be completed as per US guidelines.
Although you will complete the DS-160 form online, you’re applying at a specific US embassy or consulate for your visa. It’s very important that you select the closest or most convenient embassy or consulate to your current residence because you’ll need to:
You should note that you can’t change which embassy or consulate once you’ve submitted your DS-160.
The F-1 visa application fee is $160. If you’re applying for an F-2 visa for your spouse or dependents, you’ll pay an additional $160 per person.
For most applicants, the visa application fee is the only official fee to pay. (There are also unofficial costs, such as making copies and travelling to your interview, which aren’t payable to the US government, but which you’ll need to budget for.)
There are, however, exceptions. Due to diplomatic agreements, nationals of specific countries may need to pay more, either for their visa application fee or as a visa processing fee (when an application is successful).
You can find a list of additional or exceptional fees by visiting the US State Department’s website. It’s your responsibility to check for and pay all fees applicable to your visa application.
Each embassy and consulate has their own instructions for fee payment. You will need to follow the instructions given by the embassy or consulate where you will apply and be interviewed.
In principle, you should apply for your visa as soon as you have your I-20 form, the application fee ready to pay and all of your supporting documentation ready to go. You don’t have control over how long it takes to get your visa; that’s up to the embassy and US governmental procedures.
The time it takes to issue a visa is dependent on:
You can’t rush the student visa process, but you can start early.
In addition, F-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days before the course start date and you can enter the country up to 30 days prior to your course start date.
TIP: If you wish to enter the US more than 30 days before your course begins, you‘ll need to apply for a visitor visa and subsequently apply for a change in status before your course begins (or you can be found in breach of your visa conditions and possibly deported). Speak to the embassy or consulate where you apply to learn more about entering earlier, before booking your ticket.
Receiving your I-20 is a signal that you’re ready to start your F-1 visa application, but it’s not the only document you need.
You need to gather several documents for your F-1 visa application and these can be broken into two groups:
These are the standard documents that all F-1 visa applicants are required to submit. They include:
In addition to the required documents, you may be required to complete additional forms. You will also be asked to provide supporting documents which are specific to your application. These can include:
TIP: Supporting documents aren’t the only way to prove your intent to leave the US after getting your degree, but they are the easiest. If you don’t own property or have a job to return to, however, you should be prepared to answer more questions about your post-graduation plans than others might face.
Must have documents:
All of the information on your DS-160 and I-20 forms can be independently verified. But, the purpose of the visa interview isn’t to check facts; it’s to see if:
As such, you can expect questions that relate to all three concerns.
Above all you need to prove that your primary reason for entering the US is the education you can receive at the university you’re attending, that you plan to leave the US after getting your degree and that you’ve got the financing you need to support yourself.
Congratulations! You’re one step closer to your dream degree.
While you’re thinking about your finances, now’s a good time to double check your budget. If you still need an international student loan, check out what Prodigy Finance can offer - or begin budgeting for your second year on campus to make sure everything is in order before leaving for the US.
Once you get on campus, make sure you get to the international office, as they’ll help you stay on top of visa changes and regulations.
When it comes to your internships and post-graduation employment, both the international office and the career center at your university will guide you through the process of applying for your F-1 OPT visa extension or your H-1B employment visa.
And, if your Prodigy Finance loan includes living expenses, don’t forget to open a local bank account as soon as possible so your university can transfer these funds to you.
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Post updated for accuracy and freshness on February 17, 2020. Originally published on April 8, 2019.
The purpose of this guide is to provide prospective students with an overview of the application process for a US student visa and should not be regarded as legal or immigration advice or as a substitute for the official information published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from time to time or any instructions and/or advice provided by US embassies and consuls. Whilst we have carefully compiled the guide in accordance with the information published by USCIS, Prodigy Finance Limited does not accept liability for any inaccuracies, mistakes, omissions or outdated information in the guide and we encourage prospective students and other readers to consult the USCIS’s website at https://www.uscis.gov. Prodigy Finance Limited is not authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ)'s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to provide immigration services and will not provide any additional information or assistance to any person to apply for a US student or other category visa.
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