As an international student coming to the United States, there are three different student visas that you could be issued: F1 Visa, J1 Visa or M1 Visa.
Types of International Student Visas
- F1 Visa
- The "F" visa is for academic studies. An F1 visa is issued to students who are attending an academic program or English Language Program. F1 visas are by far the most common form of international student visa in the U.S. F1 students must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. F-1 status allows for part-time, on-campus employment (fewer than 20 hours per week). Additionally, students can work on optional practical training (OPT) for up to one year after completion of their academic program. Click here for a series of blog posts on working in the U.S. on an F1 visa. Students are expected to complete their studies by the expiration date on the I-20 form (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status).
- J1 Visa
- A J1 visa is issued to students who need to obtain practical training that is not available in their home country to complete their academic program. J-1 student status allows for similar employment as the F-1 visa, with similar restrictions, as long as permission is given by the exchange visitor program sponsor.
- M1 Visa
- An M1 visa is issued to a student who is going to attend a non-academic or vocational school. M-1 visa holders for technical and vocational programs are not permitted to work during the course of their studies. The M-1 student visa applicants must have evidence that sufficient funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of intended stay.
The US Visa system can be extremely difficult and complicated to navigate. Please be sure to visit our immigration center which will provide you with more detailed information about student visa's for the USA.
Living with your Student Visa in the USA
As you begin to think about funding sources for your educational and living expenses in the United States, remember that you cannot count on working in the United States unless you have been granted a teaching or research assistantship. Immigration regulations are very strict with respect to working while carrying a student visa, and when you submit evidence of your financial resources, you cannot rely on potential income. The income on which you base your application must be assured, and it must be equal to or exceed the costs of the first year of your studies.
Careful long-term and short-term planning is necessary to ensure that you will have a rewarding educational experience in the United States. If you are realistic about your financial needs, you will be better able to enjoy the exciting academic and cultural experience of living and learning in the United States.
Applying for your Visa
Different universities have different admission policies. Your university will inform you what they need from you in order to determine that you are academically eligible. Amongst other requirements, you will need to show the school that you have enough money to support yourself while studying without having to work. You may also have to show health insurance in order to cover any medical expenses should you need any medical assistance. Always protect yourself by keeping a copy of everything that you fill out and send off. Once the university has determined that your application is complete and that you are academically eligible, they will issue an I-20 form to enable you to apply for your student visa. Applicants for student visas should generally apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. [This will normally be your home country in which you live.] Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
When applying at the consulate for your student visa:
- You will have to pay a non-refundable application fee. This means that if your visa does not get approved, you will not get your money back.
- An application Form DS-156, completed and signed. These forms are free at all U.S. consular offices.
- A DS-157 form for all males aged 16-45.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application.
- One photograph 1 and 1/2 inches square (37x37mm) for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background.
- For the "F" applicant, a Form I-20A-B. For the "M" applicant, a Form I-20M-N.
- You will need to show that you have enough money to support yourself.
When applying for a student visa, you will have to prove to the consular officer that you have strong ties to a residence in a foreign country (this will most likely be your home country). The consular will want to see that you have no intention of permanently leaving your home country, and that you will leave the United States when you have completed your studies.
You should take as much evidence as possible to show that you have ties to your home country. Such evidence can include, but is not limited to:
- Ownership of property
- proof of immediate family that is still based in your home country (such as your parents, brothers, sisters, etc.)
- evidence of a mortgage payment
- a letter from a future employer stating that you have a job offer upon returning home
- assets, such as a car or anything else that can show that your intention is to return to your home country
Your arrival at the United States Port of Entry
You need to be aware that even if your visa is granted, it does not guarantee your entry into the United States. It is ultimately up to the INS [The immigration and Naturalization service] to let you into the United States. It is also the job of the INS to determine how long you may remain in the United States.
At the port of entry, an INS official validates Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted. This will be a small white card issued by the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) upon your entry to the U.S. The form I-94 is your permit to stay in the U.S.