If you need to apply for a new visa, first check the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply to determine their procedures and what documentation they require. All consulates and embassies are listed at http://usembassy.state.gov/. While every embassy and consulate follow the same set of U.S. laws and regulations for issuing visas, each location may have its own procedures.
Appointments are now required for most non-immigrant visa applications, even 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. You can check on processing times at embassies at http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/tempvisitors_wait.php
Allow plenty of time for the visa application process, and begin the process as soon as possible.
State 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 issued.
Technology Alert and Sensitive Areas of Study
Students who are considered to be majoring in "sensitive areas of study" as determined by the U.S. government may also be required to undergo security clearances before a visa can be issued.
There is a document called the "Technology Alert List" that visa officers consult for this purpose.
China, India, Israel, Pakistan and Russia have received special mention by the U.S. State Department in the context of this list, because these countries are considered to possess nuclear capability that is of concern to U.S. national security.
Even if you are not a citizen of one of the countries listed above, your field of study, especially if you are a doctoral student in the sciences, might require your visa application to undergo a security clearance REGARDLESS of the country you are from. Such clearances can add as much as four to eight weeks to the amount of time needed for visa approval. If you find that your visa application is delayed due a need for the consulate or embassy to send your file for review based on your field of study, please notify us by e-mail of any delay.
SEVIS Requirements for Students and Scholars
Visa officials are required to verify your record in the SEVIS system before a visa can be approved. This is also true for any dependents. If the visa official is unable to access your record in SEVIS, and you have a SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019, please contact us by e-mail to alert us to the problem.
SEVIS Fee - Required for Students and Scholars
Prior to the interview, you must pay a SEVIS Fee. You may file and pay the $200 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 www.ice.gov/sevis/index.htm. You should take your receipt with you to the interview. Please note that the SEVIS fee is not the same as 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, the "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 at http://evisaforms.state.gov/.
Check the website for the U.S. Embassy in your home country. Many of the embassies list the forms available on-line. Forms are also available as paper copies at any U.S. visa-issuing post abroad.
Additionally, you will need one photograph, 1 and 1/2 inches square, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background. You will need to have sufficient currency to pay the required visa fees or a receipt showing that you have paid the visa fees. You will also need your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 form.
Most U.S. visa posts abroad have implemented new biometric requirements for visa issuance. You should expect to have your index fingers scanned and a photograph taken as part of the visa process.
The Visa Interview
Ties to Your Home Country
Under U.S. law, all applicants for non-immigrant visas are viewed as intending immigrants unless they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States. "Ties" to your home country are the things that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence. These would include a job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. You may be asked about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans, and career prospects in your home country. Each person's situation is different, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter that can guarantee visa issuance.
Anticipate that the visa interview, should there be one, will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is 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.
Academics or Employment
If you are a student, know the academic program to which you have been admitted and how it fits into your career plans. If you are not able to articulate 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.
If you are a scholar, understand the program your sponsor has defined for you and in what activities you will be engaged . You should be able to explain how your experience in the U.S. will relate to your career goals.
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.
Not All Countries Are the Same
Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the U.S. as immigrants will have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the U.S.
If you are receiving funding from your home university, your employer, or from the 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, bank statements alone are seldom considered credible enough evidence to demonstrate sufficient finances. These items must be accompanied by a highly credible documentation which can substantiate the source of income such as job contracts, letters from an employer, tax documents, pay stubs, or deposit slips. Bank statements are most credible if they are a series of reliable computer-generated, ordinary monthly bank account statements.
For students, your main purpose for coming to the U.S. is to study. While many students may work part-time during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. At the end of your program, you must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home. If your spouse is also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the U.S. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the U.S. Volunteer work and attending school part-time are permitted activities.
Dependents Remaining at Home
If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression that your family members will need you to remit money from the U.S. in order to support them, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.
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.