Simplifying the U.S. visa process for students

Recently, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) requested the missions of eight countries, including the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia and Germany, to streamline and fast-track the visa process for students. This issue has become critical for students who have already paid steep fees for specific academic programmes and are in limbo as far as visa issuance goes. Not enough visa slots are available, and the processing is taking too long due to post-pandemic tourism, business, and employment surge.

Going by the data from last year, the U.S. continues to be the world’s leading student destination. The questions that a young visa aspirant may face are many, but here are the basics:

Types of study visas

F1 Student Visa: Meant for students applying for a programme that requires over 18 hours of study in a week and includes all undergraduate and graduate programmes.

J1 Exchange Visitor Visa: Meant for students who have got a research scholarship or are part of an exchange programme; for visiting scholars or lecturers who have been offered a fellowship; or working professionals who have been offered vocational training in the U.S. Many Fulbright scholars and students from India, who may be keen to pursue short-term study programmes, also travel to the U.S. on a J-1 visa.

M-1 Vocational/ Non-Academic Student Visa: Reserved for vocational and technical schools. The difference from the earlier two is the time stamp on entering the U.S. Students cannot overstay their visit.

Checklist for F1 Visa

A valid passport with a validity date that exceeds your period of stay by at least six months.

Passport-size photographs

Meticulous preparation to answer all questions on the DS-160 accurately and completely, as a minor mistake can stall your visa interview appointment. The DS-160 Online Non-Immigrant Visa Application form is submitted online to the Department of State website. Once this is submitted, you will have to confirm the next step with the embassy or consulate and schedule a visa interview appointment.

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee is important. This is an online system that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses to maintain information regarding the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme certified schools and to know more about students studying with F1 and M1 visas, and their dependents, as well as about exchange programme sponsors designated by the U.S. Department of State.

Be prepared for every single step, from the moment of application. Many students don’t know that most full-time undergraduate and graduate programmes in the U.S. require applications by December or January each year. Admission notices are usually sent out in March and April .

Once accepted, you will receive either Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status) for F-1 and M-1 students or Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status for J-1 students. Once you get the relevant form from the institution, pay the SEVIS I-901 fee on time.

The writer is Lead Attorney and co-founder at Applyusavisa.com

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