Study in USA Guide to the F-1 Visa

In just the 2022/23 academic year, the USA welcomed record numbers of Indian students, seeing the fastest overall growth rate of the last four decades. This trend shows just a glimpse of the USA’s immense popularity as a higher education destination. After all, the USA is home to the largest number of world-ranking universities of any country in the world! And as an international student, one of the necessary steps to study in USA universities is to secure an F-1 student visa.

You can join more than one million international students currently studying abroad in the USA with the right planning and direction. Although the F-1 student visa process can be a little complex, we’ll do our best to break it down into bitesize pieces for you!

What is the F-1 Visa?

The F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant visa with which you can study in USA universities with Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certification. It is the most common kind of student visa for those wishing to attend a US college or university. You can only apply for the F-1 visa if you receive an acceptance from a SEVP-certified US university.

The length of your stay as an F-1 student depends on the course you choose. Your program’s expiration date will appear on the Form I-20 you will receive from your university.

Requirements to Apply for the F-1 Visa

To qualify for the F-1 student visa, you need to fulfil a checklist of requirements:

Institution Certification: SEVP Immigration & Customs Enforcement must certify the college or university where you intend to study.

Full-time Enrollment: For the duration of your academic term, you must be a full-time student enrolling at a SEVP-certified university.

English Language Proficiency: You must meet the institution’s requirements for English language proficiency, or enroll in courses that will help you improve your English proficiency to meet this standard.

Sufficient Funding: You must demonstrate that you have the funds available to cover your tuition fees and living expenses for your time in the USA.

Valid Passport: Your passport must remain valid for at least six months after you complete your program.

Home Country Residency: After earning your degree, you must be willing and able to return to your country of citizenship or residency.

Understand the Components of the F-1 Visa Application

Form I-20

Before applying for a visa, you will need a program offer and acceptance from an institution with SEVP certification. You will receive your Form I-20 from your university after receiving this acceptance.

The Form I-20 is one of the most important documents students hold on to during the time they study in USA universities. Formally the “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”, your Designated School Official (DSO) will issue the Form I-20 to you upon acceptance to your university.

As a holder of the I-20, you can access benefits as an international student in the USA. This includes applying for a social security number or a driver’s license! If you apply for CPT or OPT to access work experience (particularly in place of a post study work visa in the USA), your Form I-20 will update to reflect this.

SEVIS payment

‘SEVIS’, or the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, is the central platform through which US authorities track international students who arrive to study in USA universities. The Form I-20 contains information you will need to make the I-901 SEVIS fee payment.

The information you will need to provide to complete this payment includes:

  • Personal details, including your name, address, contact details, and date of birth
  • Your country of origin and/or citizenship
  • The School Code you will find on the Form I-20
  • The SEVIS Identification Number you will also find on the Form I-20

DS-160 visa application form

The DS-160 Form is your F-1 student visa application form, the official nonimmigrant visa application form for international students. In this form, students validate to US authorities that they received acceptance to study in USA universities by meeting all the necessary eligibility criteria.

Visa Interview

The next step, after filling out your DS-160 Form, is setting up your F-1 visa interview. You can book your interview through a US embassy or consulate in your country. For this interview, you will need to bring:

  • Form I-20
  • Your printed DS-160 application form
  • Receipts validating your SEVIS fee and visa application fee payments
  • Visa appointment letter
  • Passport
  • Academic documents, including your transcripts and English language proficiency scores
  • Documents that support your willingness and ability to return home after your degree (e.g., documents demonstrating your personal and financial ties to your home country)
  • Proof of finances
  • Proof of your relationship with your sponsor

Where to Apply for Your F-1 Visa

The DSO-160 Form is an online application that you will complete on the Travel.State.Gov website. Once you complete the application, make sure you print a clear copy of the DS-160 barcode page and hold on to this. You will need this at your F-1 visa interview.

Students planning to study in USA universities will then book their F-1 visa interview. You will generally book this through the US embassy or consulate in your country. For Indian students, you can look into the US Embassy in New Delhi or the Consulate Generals in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, or Mumbai for the option nearest you.

The F-1 Visa Application Process in Detail

1. Acquire the Form I-20 from an SEVP-Certified University

When you receive admission to a US university with SEVP certification, the F-1 student visa application procedure can begin. The US government uses SEVP accreditation as evidence that your university has the recognition and adequate resources to offer you an education as an international student.

Your university will provide the Form I-20 following admission. This form records your study schedule and offers corroborating details about your visit.

Once they issue the Form I-20, your DSO enters the following details into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS):

  • Your SEVIS ID number
  • The program commencement and completion dates
  • Your intended program of study
  • Your funding sources
  • Cost of attendance at your school of choice
  • Other personal information

Make sure that the information on your Form I-20 is correct as soon as you receive it, and then sign the bottom of the first page. Correcting an error on your I-20 can take a while, and any mistakes could bar you from entering the country. When travelling to study in USA universities, you must keep your Form I-20 with you. It is a must to live, study, and work in the USA as an international student.

2. Paying Your SEVIS Fee

Your F-1 student visa will cost you about US $510 in total, which includes maintenance and processing costs for SEVIS as well as the cost of the visa itself.

  • Requirements: Your Form I-20
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee: US $350
  • Where to apply: SEVIS I-901 Fee Processing Website

Save the receipt for the I-901 SEVIS charge. You will need to present it during your visa interview.

3. Completing Your DS-160 Visa Application

The next step is filling out the DS-160 visa application. To obtain an F-1 visa, all aspiring international students need to fill out a DS-160 form.

  • Requirements: Your I-20, passport, travel itinerary, photo for your visa
  • Cost: US $160
  • Where to apply: State Government website – DS-160: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application

Following the successful submission of your DS-160 application, you will need to save and print a copy of the barcode page. You’ll need this at your visa interview, so hold on to it.

4. Scheduling Your Visa Interview

Make an appointment for your visa interview at the closest US embassy or consulate. Keep in mind that wait times might take months and vary by nation, so make sure to schedule your appointments as soon as possible!

Ask the best consultancy to study abroad near you about recommendations for student visa interviews. Look into a practice interview for students applying to study at USA universities with them. By rehearsing your visa interview beforehand, you’ll feel more at ease during the proceedings.

5. Attend Your Visa Interview

In the interview phase of your F-1 visa application, the US consulate or embassy verifies that you are a bona fide, serious student traveling to study. You must also demonstrate during this interview that you have the funds to cover all your expenses in the USA and that you want to return home after you finish your program.

Apart from very few exceptions, you must attend your visa interview in person.

  • Cost: Your DS-160 payment covers the cost
  • Where to apply: Local US Consulate or Embassy website

You will receive your F-1 visa and obtain F-1 status once you pass your visa interview. Congratulations – you’re all set to study in the USA!

Rounding Up

The F-1 visa allows you to temporarily live in the USA for a certain period of time while studying at a school, college, seminary, or conservatory. While the process to apply to study in USA universities can be complex, with the right information and support, it is definitely more than doable. We hope that our breakdown of the visa application process sheds light on this journey in a meaningful way!

Date Published: Feb-09-2024

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About the author

This blog was written by Gradstar Global Education.