Appointments are now required for most non-immigrant visa applications at U.S. embassies and consulates located in countries that did not previously require appointments. This has resulted in significant delays at some U.S. visa-issuing posts abroad, especially during summer. Please allow plenty of time for the visa application process and begin the process as soon as possible.
Applying for the Visa
To apply for an F-1 visa, check the website of the US embassy or consulate where you plan to apply to obtain the latest information on non-immigrant visa processing and delays.
Background CheckSince Department consular posts use a computer program called the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) to check names and visa eligibility of all visa and passport applicants. If you have ever been arrested, or if you have a name that is similar to someone who has been arrested, the record will need to be cleared before a visa can be isued. This process can take as long as six to eight weeks.
Visa officials are required to verify your record in the SEVIS system before a visa can be approved. If the visa official is unable to access your record in SEVIS, and you have a SEVIS I-20, please contact us by e-mail to alert us to the problem.
The SEVIS Fee
Prior to the interview, you must pay a SEVIS Fee. You may file and pay the fee on-line with a credit card at www.FMJfee.com and print out a receipt immediately, or you can send in a paper form with a check or money order and the receipt will be sent to you. If you need further information about the SEVIS Fee, you can visit the SEVIS website at http://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/index.htm. You should take your receipt with you to the interview. Please note that the SEVIS fee is not the same a the visa fee. The visa fee will be paid at the consulate with your application.
Visa Application Requirements
To apply for a new visa, you will need to complete application Form DS-156, "Non-Immigrant Visa Application" and DS-158, "Contact Information and Work History for Non-Immigrant Visa Applicant." If you are male, you must also complete the DS-157, "Supplemental Non-Immigrant Visa Application." Note that consular officers reserve the right to require a DS-157 from any applicant for any visa classification. You may download the DS-156 form at http://evisaforms.state.gov/. These forms are also available as paper copies at any U.S. visa-issuing post abroad. For additional requirements, check the website for the U.S. Embassy in your home country.
The Visa Interview
Anticipate that the visa interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. Try to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview. Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular official will want to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.
Know the academic program to which you have been admitted and how it fits into your career plans. If you are not able to state the reasons you will study in a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the U.S. consular official that you are indeed planning to study and not to immigrate. You should be able to explain how studying in the U.S. relates to your future professional career when you return home.
Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute or two of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer’s questions short and to the point.
It should be clear at a glance to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have two to three minutes of interview time at best.
If you are receiving funding from your home university or government, be prepared to present the appropriate letters or documents which verify this funding. If your financial support is coming from personal or family funds, remember to bring bank statements. Bank statements are most credible if they are a series of reliable computer-generated, ordinary monthly bank account statements.
Maintain a Positive Attitude
Do not engage the consular official in an argument. If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and obtain in writing an explanation of the reason you were denied.
Upon Entry - SEVIS
At the time you enter the US, immigration officials are required to record your arrival data into SEVIS, stamp your SEVIS I-20, and return the I-20 to you. However, not all Customs officials will have access to SEVIS at their booths in the "primary lanes." Depending upon the port of entry, some students may be directed to a secondary inspection area or "student lanes" so that data can be entered into SEVIS. Processing at land, sea, and air ports may take more time. Travel and connecting flight plans should take this into account.
Upon Entry - US VISIT
U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US - VISIT), is a new entry/exit record keeping system for all non-immigrants traveling to and from the United States at airports and some seaports. It came into use in January 2004.
In addition to the usual inspection procedure conducted by Customs officers, each non-immigrant will have their fingerprints taken by placing their index fingers on an inkless fingerprint scanner. A digital photograph will also be taken.
Examine your I-94 card carefully as you leave the immigration booth. F-1 students should have their I-94s marked "D/S" which means Duration of Status, along with a stamp indicating the date you entered the United States. If an expiration date is written on the I-94 instead of "D/S," bring this to the attention of the Immigration Officer.
Anyone who is denied admission at a U.S. port of entry should be very cautious about arguing with the immigration official. You may risk being issued "expedited removal," which now entails a five-year bar on admission to the U.S. If you are denied admission, first try to contact the Office of International Programs for assistance. Also make it known to the immigration official that you are willing to withdraw your application for admission to the U.S. rather than be subject to expedited removal
The federal Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) has recently instituted new screening procedures at domestic airports throughout the United States to improve security and passenger safety at airports and in planes. This can include the opening of locked check-through baggage without prior notice to the passenger.
Should a bag be selected for inspection, an inspector is required to use whatever means necessary to gain access to the bag. This may include breaking locks to access the contents. If a bag is opened, the TSA official will place a note inside the bag to let the owner know.
We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the new procedures. Detailed information on security, access requirements, checkpoints for passengers and baggage, permitted and prohibited items, and recommendations for travel preparation is available at this link: TSA Note to Travelers.