Student Visa (F1, J1) Application Process, Part 1 (Pre-Interview)

Student Visa (F1, J1) Application Process, Part 1 (Pre-Interview)

Requirements for a Student Visa

There are three main requirements for those wishing to receive a U.S. non-immigrant student visa:

•   You must have a permanent residence in your home country, with no immediate intention of abandoning that residence;

•   You must intend to depart from the United States upon completion of your course of study; and

•   You must possess sufficient funds to pursue the proposed course of study.

What are the Forms I-20 and DS-2019 and Why do I Need One?

The Form I-20 is a certificate of eligibility that is issued through the USCIS’ SEVIS system for F-1 students, the most common type of international student.  The form states that the named student has been accepted for an academic program in the U.S. at a specific educational institution and that the school has reviewed the financial documents needed to prove that the applicant has the financial means to live and study in the U.S. for the full duration of the academic program.

The Form DS-2019 is also a certificate of eligibility that is issued through the USCIS’ SEVIS system but it is for J-1 students.  The main difference between an F-1 and a J-1 student visa is that for a J-1 visa holder, a substantial portion of financial support must come from a scholarship, home government or a corporate sponsor. Students with only personal or family support are not eligible for J-1 status.

Without an I-20 or DS-2019, it is not possible to obtain a student visa or maintain lawful student status in the U.S.

How Can I Get my I-20 or DS-2019?

When your new school sends you the offer of admission, they will likely include what is called an “I-20 or DS-2019 Request Form” or direct you to a website where you can request the form online.   Be sure to fill out this form very carefully as even small errors can hold up the application process. 

You will also be asked to submit an official bank statement that demonstrates your ability to cover the cost of attending the academic program (tuition and living expenses) for at least one academic year.  If you are being sponsored by a parent or outside sponsor (your company, government, etc.), a letter of support should accompany the official bank statement.

All financial support documentation must be written in or translated into English and amounts listed in US dollars. If amounts are not in US dollars, applicants must provide documentation of the current exchange rate and currency conversion.  All documentation must be in deposited, currently accessible, liquid assets in a savings/checking account. Securities, stocks, etc. are not acceptable.  All documentation must be original (photocopies will not be accepted) and current (dated no more than four months earlier.)

You will also be asked to send in a photocopy of the first two pages of your passport.  If your passport has expired or is due to expire in the next six months and you need to renew it before your departure, be sure to plan ahead as this also can take time during the busier summer months.

Once the application form and supporting documentation have been received, reviewed and approved by your school, the school will mail you the Form I-20 or DS-2019.   Once you receive the form, be sure to check that all of the information is correct (birth date, name, etc.) and that the school official has signed the form.   You will also be required to sign the form before your interview.  

You should not make your visa interview appointment until you receive your Form I-20 or DS-2019.

Plan ahead

You are allowed to apply for the visa up to 120 days before the course registration date (the date that your school expects you to arrive on campus; they will list this date on your Form I-20 or DS-2019) and as a new student, you are able to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before that same date.  Be sure to consider this date before making your travel plans to the U.S. 

One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you will be able to arrive in time for the start of your educational program in the U.S. is to plan well in advance for the visa application and interview process. You can check the visa appointment waiting times at the embassy in your home country at this website.  Do note that at some Embassies or Consular offices there can be delays for visa appointments in the summer months and that processing times can be longer than posted.  (Thankfully, the offices in Japan are usually quite speedy.)

Fill out the DS-160 Online Non-immigrant Visa Application

You can fill out the DS-160 application online at https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/.  To complete your DS-160 application, you will need the following information:

•   Your passport

•   Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States if you have previously traveled to the United States. You may also be asked for your international travel history for the past five years.

•   Résumé or Curriculum Vitae – You may be required to provide information about your current and previous education and work history.

•   Your SEVIS ID–  This ID number is printed in the top right hand corner of your Form I-20 or DS-2019. You also will be asked to provide the address of your school and this is also listed on the Forms.

When you are finished, be sure to print out the confirmation page with your application ID number on it, as you will need to bring this piece of paper with you to your visa interview appointment.

Pay Visa Application Fee

The current fee is USD $140. You can usually pay this fee online and will be asked for your passport number and the 10-digit barcode that can be found on the confirmation page of your DS-160 form.   Visit your specific Consulate or Embassy website for more information about how to pay this fee.

Make your Visa Interview Appointment

You can make your visa interview appointment online through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate office nearest you.  For a full listing of offices, visit http://www.usembassy.gov/.   You will need to provide the 10-digit barcode number from the last page of your printed DS-160 electronic visa application.   

You usually will be asked to bring a copy of your Appointment Confirmation to your interview in order to enter the building. The system will not send a confirmation email so be sure to print this out after making the appointment.

Pay SEVIS I-901 Fee

The current fee is USD $200 for F-1 visa applicants and USD $180 for J-1 applicants. You can pay this fee online by credit card or you can pay by mail by sending the form and a check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank and payable in U.S. currency.  The address: I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee, P.O. Box 970020, St. Louis, MO 63197-0020, U.S.A    

The fee must be processed at least three business days prior to the date of the visa interview and you must print out and bring a copy of the receipt of payment with you to the interview.

Helpful Websites

SEVIS Program Information-Students:  http://www.ice.gov/sevis/students/

The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program : http://j1visa.state.gov/

Online DS-160 application: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/

Online I-901 SEVIS fee application:  www.FMJfee.com

List of all U.S. Embassies and Consulates: www.usembassy.gov

Glossary

DOS: Department of State

DHS: Department of Homeland Security

ICE:  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

SEVIS: Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.   SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains information on non-immigrant students and their dependents. SEVIS enables schools and sponsors to transmit mandatory information to the DHS and DOS throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay in the U.S.

** Please note that this information is subject to change and that you should always check your Embassy or Consulate website for the latest information and requirements. **

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