By: Richard Hanus
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An Overview of Student Visas in the U.S.More than 9 million U.S. visas were issued in 2018. A significant portion of those visas was for nonimmigrant visas, a category of visas that include students. Getting an education is becoming increasingly important in today’s world with so much competition in every market. Knowing how to go about the student visa application process can be both frightening and confusing. However, the process doesn’t have to be complicated. that’s why in this article, you’ll find out about everything you need to know about the student visas that the US has to offer. I’ll also be giving you a few resources to make the whole process easier.
First of all, let’s set one thing straight.
Not all student visas are created equal. Applying for the right visa will increase your chances of approval.
In order to get approved for any of the visas listed below, you must first be accepted by an approved by a U.S. Institution of Higher Education that is certified by the Student Exchange Visitor Program. For a full list of schools that are on the approved by the SEVP, check out this website.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
The first (and most common) type of student visa is the F-1 Visa.
This visa is intended for students who are looking to study at a U.S. university, college, high school, private elementary school, or English language school. Whatever the desired school may be, it’s crucial to make sure the school is accredited. For a full list of schools that hold accreditation status by the U.S. government, take a look at the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Once you’ve made sure your desired school is accredited, it’s time to get ahold of your I-20 Form. This is a form given to you by your school telling the government that you are an enrolled student. I-20s are especially critical since they allow students to maintain their student status even if their visa expires during their studies.
You will also need to document that you have significant ties to your home country, as well as an intention to return there to live. Also important, you must document you have sufficient funds available to cover your tuition and expenses, whether that be from your own assets, or by way of a sponsor in the U.S. .
Just like having an all-expenses-paid vacation is both amazing and unrealistic, student visas can also come with seemingly unreasonable requirements.
A large number of students who qualify to obtain an employment authorization document choose to work part-time during their studies to make a side income. This can be useful to pay cellphone bills or to get away from the cafe food.
Additionally, a good number of students with an F-1 visa are only allowed to work on campus. For this class of students still on campus, eligible F-1 visa holders can work up to 20 hours during full-time quarters or semesters and up to 40 hours during breaks.
If you have an extenuating circumstance that you believe may qualify you to work more than 20 hours a week, then it would be wise to speak to your Designated School Official (DSO). A quick trip to your school’s academic or financial office should get the process underway.
This type of visa is appropriate for a variety of classes of foreign nationals, including foreign students looking to participate in an exchange program. The exchange program can include a high school or university program.
To make sure your exchange program is accredited, check out the U.S. government’s Exchange Visitor Program. Accreditation is important so that you receive recognition from other institutions for your degree or credits (if you decide to transfer).
To qualify for J-1 visas, students must be English-proficient and have adequate medical insurance. Like the other visas, students must also provide the government with proof of funding.
Working under certain J-1 visa programs sometimes comes with requirements similar to those that apply to F-1 Visa holders seeking to work. Per the USCIS regulations, J-1 students are only allowed to work according to the terms set out by their sponsor and their DS-2019, the underlying, supporting visa paperwork. Most often, working on-campus is allowed for students who have a scholarship and working off-campus is allowed for students in a summer work/travel exchange program.
Whatever the circumstances, J-1 students who wish to work must be in good standing with their sponsoring program. In other words, as is pretty much the case with all U.S. visas, the visa holder must abide by the terms of their visa.
These visas are intended for individuals who want to study at a non-academic institution or vocational school. Examples of such institutions and schools include laboratories and trade schools (to become an electrician, for example).
By this point, you’ve probably realized how serious accreditation is to the U.S. government. The same applies to M-1 visas. For a full list of accredited non-academic institutions and vocational schools visit the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services website.
The basic requirements for an M-1 include being fluent in English, having adequate funds, having a permanent residence in one’s home country, and intention to leave the U.S. once the course is over.
Like the other visas, school documentation is required. Regarding work regulations, it is important to note that M-1 students are not allowed to work on or off campus during their studies.
Just like most government applications, student visas also require a couple of fees. The fees aren’t ridiculous but will set you back at least $340. For more details on the fees, make sure to check out this website.
The first fee is for the SEVIS/SEVP, or the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. For F-1 and M-1 visas, this fee costs $200. For J-1 visas, the fee is $180.
The second fee is the visa application, which is the same for all three visas and costs $160.
Now that you know the basics of student visas and the preliminary requirements for processing at a U.S. consular post, it’s time to apply. While this can be done on your own, oftentimes consulting an immigration lawyer in advance to help can make the process much easier.