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United States Student Visa - Study in the USA

According to your course of study and the type of school you intend to attend, you need either an F visa or an M visa, depending on your study plan.

USA Student Visas for International Students

USA Student Visa Requirements and Application Guidelines

Citizens of foreign countries who wish to enter the United States are generally required to obtain either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Studying in the United States requires you to have a student visa.

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USA student visa overview

Depending on the type of study you intend to pursue in the US, you will require a certain visa.
The American government offers three different types of student visas:

  • F Student Visa: used to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute
  • J Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
  • M Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the U.S.
  • Not enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your studies program.
  • When you arrive in the US, get in touch with your authorised school representative.
  • Before the program start date indicated on your Form I-20, you should get in touch with the assigned school representative once again.

Our immigration consultants regularly assist international students in moving to or extending their stay in the USA to pursue their education. Fill out the contact form to get started with your USA study visa application process.

United States student visa categories

Depending on your goals and the type of work you intend to operate, there are various US work visa categories.
The various categories of temporary work visas for the United States are as follows:

You need the student visa F to enter the United States to attend:

  • An academic institution with a language training program
  • Conservatory
  • Seminary
  • Private elementary school
  • High School
  • University or college

You need the student visa M to enter the United States to attend:

  • Other than language training programs, vocational or other recognized non-academic institutions

It is not possible for students to travel under the Visa Waiver Program or with a visitor visa (A) to study in the United States, you need a student visa (F or M). Tourists entering on a visitor (B) visa or through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may not study after entering, except for recreational study (non-credit). 

A Visitor (B) visa may be appropriate for short periods of recreational study. It is permissible to enrol in a short recreational course of study with a visitor (B) visa, which is not for credit toward a degree or academic certificate, but for recreational purposes.

On a visitor (B) visa, study leading to a U.S. degree or certificate is not permitted, even for a short time. If a student is enrolled in a distance learning program that requires time on the institution’s U.S. campus, a student visa (F or M) is required.

Student acceptance at a SEVP approved school

First, you must apply to a SEVP-approved school in the United States. Once the SEVP-approved school accepts your enrollment, you must register for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and pay the SEVIS I-901 fee. You will receive a Form I-20 from the SEVP-approved school. Upon receiving the Form I-20 and registering in SEVIS, you may apply for a student (F or M) visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You must present Form I-20 to the consular officer at your visa interview.
If To live with you in the United States while you study, your spouse and/or children must also enrol in SEVIS, obtain individual Form I-20s from the SEVP-approved school, and apply for a visa (but they do not have to pay the SEVIS fee).

How to apply for a USA study visa

The visa application process involves several steps. You may be required to complete these steps in a different order depending on the American Embassy or Consulate where you apply. 

Student acceptance at a SEVP-approved school

  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 – For your interview, you must: 1) complete the visa application and 2) print the confirmation page of the application form. Find out how to complete the DS-160 by filling out the contact form.
  • To complete Form DS-160, you will have to upload your photo. The photograph must follow the format specified in the Photograph Requirements.

An interview may be required of any visa applicant by consular officers.
As a rule, you will need to schedule an appointment for your visa interview with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy in your country of residence. It is possible for you to schedule your interview at any United States Embassy or Consulate; however, you should be aware that you may have difficulty qualifying for a visa outside of your permanent residence. 
The waiting time for a visa interview appointment depends on the location, the season, and the type of visa you are applying for, so you should apply for your visa as soon as possible.

Fill out the contact form to find out how long it will take to schedule an interview for a nonimmigrant visa.
New Students – Student (F and M) visas can be issued 120 days before the start date of a course of study.  Your student visa will not allow you to enter the United States more than 30 days before the start date.
Students who are continuing students can apply for student (F and M) visas at any time, provided they are enrolled in a SEVP-approved school or institution.  Students continuing their studies may enter the United States at any time before classes start.

Pay the non-refundable visa application fee before your interview, if required. Depending on your nationality, you may also be required to pay a visa issuance fee if your visa is approved

Before your visa interview, gather and prepare the following documents:

  • A passport valid for travel to the United States must be valid for at least six months beyond the period of your stay (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). All individuals who need a visa must submit a separate application, including any family members listed in your passport.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Application fee payment receipt if you are required to pay before your interview.
  • When completing Form DS-160, you will upload your photo. You must bring one printed photo in the format described in the Photograph Requirements if the upload fails. 
  • For academics and language students, a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status will be provided to you, while for vocational students a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status will be provided to you. Once your school has entered your information in the SEVIS database, they will send you a Form I-20. The Form I-20 must be signed by both you and your school official. All students must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). A Form I-20 will be issued to each of your spouses and/or minor children who intend to live in the United States with you.

There will be an interview with the consular officer to determine whether you qualify for a student visa, and the officer may require additional documentation, such as proof of:

  • Your academic preparation, such as:
  • You will need to provide transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from any schools that you attended
  • Scores on standardized tests required by your U.S. school
  • Following completion of the course of study, you intend to leave the United States
  • How you intend to pay for all educational, living and travel expenses that you will incur

An immigration officer will determine whether you are eligible for a visa and, if so, which visa category is suitable for your purpose of travel during your visa interview. To receive the visa category for which you are applying, you must establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law.
As part of the application process, your fingerprints will be scanned digitally, without ink. This is usually done during your interview, but it can vary depending on where you are.
Depending on the outcome of your visa interview, your application may need to be processed further administratively. The consular officer will inform you if further processing is required for your application.
You may have to pay a visa issuance fee (depending on your nationality) and arrange for the return of your passport and visa once your visa has been approved.

Entering the United States

Entry into the United States is not guaranteed by a visa.  It is only through the issuance of a visa that a foreign citizen is able to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) to request permission to enter the United States. It is the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CBP) officials at the ports of entry to determine whether a person should be permitted to enter the United States of America.  

A CBP official will make this decision after you present your passport, visa, and Form I-20 at the port of entry.  The CBP official will issue you with an admission stamp or a paper Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, as soon as you are permitted entry into the United States.  

Extending your stay

foreign students in the United States with F visas must depart the country within 60 days of the program end date listed on Form I-20, including any authorized practical training.
Foreign students can request an extension through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Should you fail to depart the United States on time, you will be considered to be out of status. In accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act, when an individual is out of status, the visas he or she has been issued are automatically voided (Section 222(g) of the Act).  In the case of any multiple entry visa that has been voided as a result of being out of status, this visa will not be valid for any future entries into this country. 
You may also be ineligible for future visas if you fail to depart the United States on time.

Change of status

You may be able to change your nonimmigrant status to another category if your plans change while you are in the United States (for example, you marry a U.S. citizen or receive an employment offer). A request for this may be made to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

A change of status from USCIS does not require you to apply for a new visa while you are in the United States of America. As soon as you leave the United States, you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy in the appropriate category for the purpose of your travel.

Additional information

  • It is not guaranteed that you will be granted a visa if you apply for one. Until you have obtained a visa, you should not make final travel plans or buy tickets for your trip.
  • If you are outside of the United States, but your student visa is still valid, and you are taking a temporary break from your studies, contact your Designated School Officials. 
  • Spouse and children
    – If you intend to reside with your spouse and unmarried, minor children during your study, you can apply for an F-2 or M-2 visa. Your school must issue them a Form I-20, which they need to apply for their visas, even though they do not have to pay the SEVIS fee. It is mandatory that you provide a copy of your F-1 or M-1 visa as well as proof of your relationship
    – While accompanying you, your minor children are allowed to attend school in the United States
    – The American Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate visa applications based on same-sex marriages in the same manner as applications based on opposite-gender marriages
  • An expired passport does not affect the validity of a valid U.S. visa. If a visa is not canceled or revoked before its expiration date, it will remain valid until that date. Do not remove any valid visas from your expired passport if you still have a valid visa in your expired passport. For travel and admission to the United States, you may be able to use the valid visa that is in your expired passport along with a new valid passport

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is the temporary employment of an eligible F-1 student who is directly related to the area of study they are enrolled in. The students who have been authorized to participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have a Form I-20 endorsed for OPT, and must also submit an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) application to the USCIS. 

For holders of student visas (F), there are some restrictions on their ability to attend public schools in the United States.

No matter if you are applying for the first time or renewing your visa, you will need to follow the same application process (please read How to Apply, above).

An individual who attempts to obtain a visa by making a willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or by engaging in an act of fraud, may be denied entry into the United States permanently.

Students from Canada and Bermuda do not require visas to enter the United States but must present a valid Form I-20 at the time of admission.

Questions? You’re covered

As soon as you receive your I-20, it is strongly recommended that you apply for your non-immigrant student visa. To ensure you get an early and timely date you may apply at any time. The application for a student visa can be made up to 120 days before the start date indicated on your I-20, but not earlier than this date.

Yes. In general, you may apply for a change in your nonimmigrant visa status if you have lawfully entered the United States with a nonimmigrant visa, provided your nonimmigrant status remains valid, if you have not violated the conditions of your status, and if you have not committed any actions that would make you ineligible for any reason. Please fill out the contact form if you would like more information.

As long as the student's schedule does not exceed 20 hours per week, full-time students on F visas are allowed to work on campus. It is permissible for an applicant to seek employment off campus after one year of being in student status, as long as USCIS authorizes them to do so. The student advisor at your university will be able to provide you with more information.

Students on F or M visas cannot enter the United States earlier than 30 days before the start date of their program.  You must apply and qualify separately for a visitor (B) visa if you wish to enter earlier than 30 days before your start date.  

As soon as you are admitted to the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in visitor (B) visa status, you must apply separately to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status to student (For M) status prior to the start of your study program.  In some cases, you will not be able to begin your course of study until your change of status has been approved, which may result in longer processing times.  It is also possible for you to depart the United States and then reenter the country on your student visa (F or M).

USA Study Visa Eligibility Check

Are you eligible for the USA study visa?

Our immigration consultants regularly assist international students in moving to or extending their stay in the USA to pursue their education. Contact us to discuss your USA study visa application.

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