What type of visas are available?
There are generally two types of visas for individuals who live abroad and wish to come to the United States as foreign students. For those who wish to attend an academic institution at a college level (and sometimes high school level), an F-1 visa is usually required. For those who seek to attend a vocational program, an M-1 visa is applied for. (There is also a J-1 visa, but that will not be discussed in this entry.)
Is a visa needed for non-citizens who are already in the United States?
Not necessarily. There is a difference between having a visa and having status. If the individual is already in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission, for example, having entered on a visitor’s visa, he or she would be applying for a change of status, not necessarily a visa. An individual only applies for a visa if he/she is outside the United States. Be aware, though, that while a change of status is possible, USCIS may examine the circumstances and visa of the applicant under which he/she was originally admitted. If an individual enters on a tourist visa and suddenly makes an application to change status to a student, USCIS may question whether the applicant had genuine intentions of only coming to visit.
F-1 and M-1 Visa Application
To apply for an F-1 visa, the applicant must first apply to, and be accepted by, a school authorized to enroll foreign students. The list of SEVP certified schools can be found on the Department of Homeland Security Website. Once accepted, the prospective student will be an issued an I-20. The non-citizen will then have to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee and complete the non-immigrant visa application.
Student Visa Interview
Following this, the non-citizen must schedule an interview appointment with a US Embassy or Consulate, usually in his/her native country. To schedule an interview, the non-citizen must provide his/her passport number, the date he/she paid the application fee, and then 10-digit barcode number found on the DS-160 confirmation page.
At the time of the interview, the following information should be brought: (1) The DS-160 confirmation page, (2) the Form I-901 SEVIS fee receipt, (3) the non-citizen’s current and old passports, and (4) a copy of the appointment letter. In addition to this, the applicant should bring supporting documentation. These include:
· Documentation that demonstrates the individual’s financial, social and familial ties to his/her home country. The reason is that the F-1 and M-1 visas are non-immigrant visas, and it is important to show the consular officer that the individual does not have any plans of staying permanently. This might include, for example, proof of assets and/or property that one would not ordinarily abandon.
· Students need to furnish financial documentation establishing their ability to not only pay their school tuition but also that they will be able to support themselves while they are here.
· For students who are being financially sponsored by another person, documentation should be brought that establishes both the relationship to the sponsor and of course, evidence of the sponsor’s ability to support the student.
· In some cases, academic documentation showing that the student is prepared for the rigors of studying abroad.
The consular officer conducting the interview will evaluate these documents in conjunction with the non-citizen’s answers to his/her questions to determine whether he/she is qualified to receive a visa. While most applicants will usually be informed of the decision on the day of the interview, it is possible for the officer to defer making a decision and put the case under “administrative processing” in order to investigate or look into something. Once the consular officer has issued either the F-1 or M-1 visa, the student can travel to the U.S. within 30 days of the start date of his/her I-20.
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