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Getting a Student or Exchange Visa

Each embassy and consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student and exchange visas. Make sure you consult Embassy web sites or call for specific application instructions. Plan ahead! June, July, and August are the busiest months for most consulates and embassies, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period.

Student Visas - When to Apply

Apply for your visa early to provide sufficient time for visa processing. You can apply for your visa as soon as you are prepared. The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on your course of study and nationality. This can take some additional time. Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date (provided on your Form I-20), the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. The Department of Homeland Security requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. A beginning student who wants an earlier entry into the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date) must get a visitor’s visa. A prospective student notation will be shown on the visitor visa and the traveler will need to make the intent to study clear to the U.S. immigration inspector at port of entry. Before beginning any studies, he or she must obtain a change of classification. Continuing students may apply for a new visa at any time, as long as they have been maintaining student status and their records are current. Continuing students may also enter the U.S. at any time before their classes start.

Student Visa Requirements

Since each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for same might be required to submit different documents. As a result, the following are general guidelines and can be altered/expanded on by consular officers overseas, depending on each student’s situation. All of the following are required for the student visa:

  • SEVIS - All student applicants must have a SEVIS generated I-20 issued by an educational institution approved by DHS, which they submit when they are applying for their student visa. The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application.
  • Interview - As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79.
  • Fingerprint - During the visa application process, usually at the interview a digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a Consular Officer. 
  • Form I-20 - Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students or Form I-20M-N, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students. 
  • Application - A completed application, Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant,Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157.
  • Passport - A passport valid for travel to the United States that is valid at least six months beyond the your intended period of stay in the US (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions).
  • Photo - One (1) 2x2 photograph.
  • Fees - A fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee if applicable and a separate SEVIS I-901 fee receipt (if applicable).
  • Transcripts - Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended.
  • Test Scores - scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.
  • Finances - Evidence that shows you or your parents who are sponsoring you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your intended.

All applicants applying for renewals must submit:

  • Passport - A passport valid for at least six months.
  • Application - an application Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices and on the Visa Services website.
  • Receipts - A receipt for visa processing and application fees.
  • I-20 Form - a new I-20 or an I-20 that has been endorsed on the back by a school official within the past 12 months.
  • Grades - An official copy of your grades from the school in which you are enrolled
  • Finances - Financial documents from you or your sponsor, showing your ability to cover the cost of your schooling.

Exchange Visitor Visa Overview

The exchange visitor (J) nonimmigrant visa category is for persons who are approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. This means that before you can apply at an American Embassy or Consulate for a J visa you must apply, meet the requirements, and be accepted for one of the Exchange Visitor Program categories through a designated sponsoring organization. If you are accepted as a participant in an exchange program, the sponsor will provide you with information and documents necessary to apply for the J visa to enter the United States. Applicants must demonstrate that they plan to remain in the U.S. for a temporary, specific, limited period; that they have sufficient funds to cover expenses in the United States; and that they have significant social and economic ties abroad that will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

Applying for an Exchange Visitor Visa

You may apply for your visa at an Embassy or Consulate any time before the beginning of your exchange program. Applicants must provide the following:

  • Interview - An interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79.
  • Fingerprint - During the visa application process, usually at the interview a digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken.
  • Certificate of Eligibility - DS 2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. You will need to submit a SEVIS generated Form DS-2019, which was provided to you by your program sponsor.
  • Plan - A Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002. All exchange visitor (J visa) trainee or intern visa must also present Training/Internship Placement Plan, Form DS-7002 when applying for your visa.
  • Application - An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156
  • Supplemental Application - A Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 This form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. The four countries that are considered state sponsors of terrorism are Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran. Regardless of guidelines, a consular officer may require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form.
  • Contact Info and Work History - A Contact Information and Work History, Form DS-158
  • Passport - A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions
  • Photo - One (1) 2x2 photograph.
  • Fees - Nonimmigrant visa application processing and visa issuance fees.
  • Binding Ties - Applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have binding ties to a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning, and that they are coming to the United States for a temporary period. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.

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