You will be accepted by the college of your choice soon! You're looking forward to new learning experiences, friends and life in a new country. The final challenge will be: Applying for a student visa.
When should I apply for my Visa?
Let's assume you have been wise and taken the GRE a year ahead of your semester start date. You are done with your GRE by August 2012 for a semester starting the next year Aug. You should start preparing to get your Visa around May 2013, and appear for your Visa interview in June or July. You should start the process of applying for the Visa at least two months before your departure date.
Which Visa can I apply for?
If you want to study in the United States, there are two types of visas available:
F-1 Student Visa
J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa
With an F-1 student visa, you can find a job in the US after completing your studies. With a J-1 visa, you have to return to your home country and cannot enter the US again for at least two years. Check with the nearest American consulate for more information about these types of visas. Since you are joining your university full time, you will need the F-1 Visa.
When admission is granted by the university you applied for, they will send you an I-20 form. This is the most important document you need to apply for an F-1 student visa. (If you are getting financial assistance, they might send you an IAP-66 form, instead. With an IAP-66 form, you can apply for a J-1 or Exchange Visitor category visa. In almost all cases, students joining a university for MS/PhD receive an I-20 from the University)
When your form arrives, check for the following:
- Is your name spelt correctly and does it match the name on your passport?
- Is other information like date, country of birth, degree program, reporting & completing date, financial information correct? Is the form signed by a university professional?
- Has the reporting date passed? If it has, the form has expired and cannot be used to apply for a visa.
Did you answer 'yes' to all the earlier questions? You can apply for a student visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are already in the United States, you may be allowed to change your immigration status to student.
How should I prepare for the Visa interview?
Collect all the documents you will need to make your case. Visit the website of your nearest U.S. Embassy, Consulate or Diplomatic Missions.
You can find the directory of these sites at http://www.usembassy.gov/
Check appointment availability before making travel arrangements or paying the visa application and service fees. Take a look at the list of holidays as these will include both your national and American holidays and could vary across regions.
At the Visa interview, you could be asked questions about:
- Why you chose to study in USA when there are avenues to pursue higher studies in India.
- Proof that you will return to your home country after completing studies in USA.
- The university you have chosen, other applications, earlier education
- About your relatives in the United States and where they live
- Your job, if you have been working
- What you know about America
- How you will support yourself financially during the period of study, including tuition fees and living expenses
Go over these points in your mind. You can rehearse some of your answers, if that will help.
Remember: the Consular Officer wants proof that you have been accepted to a reputable U.S. educational institution, that you have the resources to pay for your education and that you have ties to your home country. Your fluency in English and the clarity of your motives could be other deciding factors.
What documents should I take for the interview?
To demonstrate your eligibility, you will need the following documents:
- Visa Eligibility Proof:
Passport, I-20 or IAP-66, Fee receipt, Interview appointment
- Proofs of Education:
Mark sheets & degree certificates from Class 10 onwards
GRE, TOEFL score reports
Email and other correspondence with Universities
- Proofs of Financial Resources:
Statement of liquid & fixed assets, passbooks of savings accounts, Fixed Deposit receipts
Provident fund statement from employer, Original documents relating to NSC, UTI or shares
Income tax returns of sponsor, sponsor's certificate
Proof of fixed assets - land, buildings or property
Take 12 color photographs. Your studio will probably know the requirements for a Visa photograph. The measurements are 50 mm by 50 mm. If relatives or friends are sponsoring your education, you'll need a notarized affidavit of support from them. The affidavit should describe their relationship with you and their commitment to pay for your education. You will also need a statement of their annual income, bank statements and other financial assets.
How will my Visa be issued?
If your application is successful, you will immediately be asked to submit your passport. The Consulate will stamp your passport with an F-1 student visa stamp. You can then collect it in the evening the same day. You should keep all other necessary documents and signed authorizations with you to avoid problems at your point of entry to the United States. Your passport must also be valid for a certain amount of time.
What can I do with an F-1 Visa?
You can change schools or universities while on an F-1 Visa without leaving the country. You cannot be a part-time student.
1) Traveling on F-1 Student Visa:
You can enter the United States multiple times
You can travel freely within the United States
2) Working on F-1 Student Visa:
You can work on campus as long as you are enrolled in school.
You can apply for Curricular Practical Training for work experience in your field of study while you are a full-time student.
You can take Optional Practical Training as a full-time employee after completing your degree.
After getting your degree in the United States, you could also be sponsored by your employer for an H-1B Work Visa.
More information on the F-1 visa is available at http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/visa_f1.html