10 Steps To Get Your USA Student Visa and Documentation Checklist

US Student Visa

Each year, many international students apply to US schools to study full-time in the United States. It is a leading student destination with unparalleled opportunities to learn and excel across all streams. Combined with an economy that continually needs skilled talent, it's an ideal place for students seeking a career after graduation. To attend school in the United States, you must have a US student visa.

The process of obtaining a visa can be complicated, which is why we're here to help!

There are three types of US student visas:

  • F-1 visa: The visa is intended for high school, college, and university students (including language programs), undergraduates as well as graduate students.
  • M-1 visa: This visa is for nonacademic or vocational study in the US. Such programs are usually short-term and career-focused. For example, you could attend a fashion school or a medical training academy.
  • J-1 visa: This visa is for exchange visitors, including study abroad students, scholars, interns, and au pairs.

Generally speaking, international students who wish to study full-time in an undergraduate or graduate program will need an F-1 visa. In contrast, if you want to study abroad for a semester or two at a US institution and receive credits for your home institution, you must apply for a J-1 visa.

Once you've secured admission to the school you wish to attend, you can begin the visa application process and prepare all the necessary documents for verification and approval. 

Required Documents for a US student Visa:

Let's briefly review the specific documents you should have to apply for a student visa.

1. Passport

Every international student must possess a valid passport issued by their home country. This passport must also be valid until at least six months beyond the end date of your program in the US.

2. Recent passport size photograph.

For your application, you must attach a passport-style photograph taken within the past six months. This will be your visa photograph, which you will later upload and submit with your online visa application.

3. Payment receipt of SEVIS.

Before you can apply for a visa to enter the United States as a student or exchange visitor, you need to pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee. This fee includes the cost of the computer system which is used to record your stay in the United States.

4. Form I -20/ DS-2019

After being accepted to a school, you'll receive one of two forms: Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status for F-1 and M-1 student visas, and Form DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 student visa.

5. Payment Confirmation page of DS-160.

Form DS-160 is a Non-immigrant Visa Application.

Steps to apply:

Step 1: Apply to a US School and Get Accepted

The first step is to apply (and eventually gain admission) to a US school!

Ensure that the schools you apply to are approved by SEVP (Student Exchange Visitor Program. 

Step 2: Receive Form I-20 or DS-2019 From Your School

Once admitted to a school, you'll receive one of two forms: F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and J-1 students will receive Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).

Your school will mail the appropriate form to you. You will need this form for your visa interview.

Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

Once you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, pay the I-901 SEVIS fee online. Note that the I-901 SEVIS fee is separate from your visa application fee. Print out your receipt after paying the fee, as you'll need to bring it to your visa interview. 

Step 4: Find Your Nearest US Embassy or Consulate

You must apply for your international student visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate (city or region you live). You can search for US embassies and consulates online through the US Department of State. US student visa applications may differ slightly depending on the embassy you apply to, so you might have to provide additional documentation with your visa application.

Step 5: Complete Form DS-160 Online

Next, complete the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160. To successfully fill out this form, be sure you have the following items on hand:

  • Your passport
  • A visa photograph (to upload)
  • Form I-20 or DS-2019 (the form you receive depends on whether you are an F-1/M-1 or J-1 student)

Once you've completed this form and submitted it online, print the DS-160 confirmation page with a barcode.

Step 6: Schedule Your Visa Interview

After you've submitted Form DS-160, contact your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, the one you input on your online application) to schedule your visa interview.

Wait times for interviews vary depending on the embassy. Go to the US visa website to see the wait times for your embassy.

Step 7: Pay Your Visa Application Fee

Next, pay the application fee. Your embassy will instruct you on how you'll need to pay your visa application fee. If your embassy requires you to pay this fee before your interview, be sure to bring your receipt as proof of payment to your interview.

Step 8: Attend Your Visa Interview

The last big step in the visa process is the interview. This interview will be the deciding factor as to whether you will receive a US student visa or not.

Before attending your interview, gather the following documents:

  • Your passport
  • One copy of your visa photograph
  • Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
  • Form I-20 for F-1/M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (make sure to bring the original form — not a copy!)
  • Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
  • Your visa application fee payment receipt (this is only required if you paid the application fee before your interview)

After your interview, your embassy will inform you when and how it will return your passport (with your new visa) to you. (To get your visa, you must leave your passport with your embassy.)

Step 9: Pay the Visa Issuance Fee (If Required)

Some students must pay a visa issuance fee once they have been approved for a US student visa. Whether this fee is required or not depends on your nationality and your country's mutuality agreement with the US. The US visas website offers a chart you can use to see whether you must pay a visa issuance fee.

Step 10: Receive Your Visa

Once you've completed all of the steps above and have received approval for an international student visa to the US, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa.

Now that you have your Visa issued, you are ready to fly!

We hope we have answered most of your questions, if you would like to know more about studying in the USA or for further assistance with your application or international education journey feel free to contact our experienced counselors.

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