The USA is a very welcoming country for foreign students, however there is a strict visa application process that must be completed beforehand. Initially, all student visa applications must be approved by their school or program. Once approved and accepted by that institution, your school or program will present each applicant with an approval document which must then be submitted when applying for a student visa. The application must be submitted within 120 days from the start date of l-20 and can travel within 30 days from that start date.
Visa Descriptions and Qualifications:
The F-1 Visa is the most common type of visa for students. This visa is essential if you wish to study in the U.S., whether it’s at an accredited college or university, a private secondary school or on an approved English Language program. The F-1 Visa is also required if your course is for 18 hours a week or more.
The M-1 Visa is needed for any non-academic study, vocational study or training at an institution in the USA.
For more information about the type of visa you require for studying in the U.S., visit the Education USA website, where you will find more in depth details about the visa application process and additional opportunities for studying in the United States.
U.S. Public Schools
As it is not permitted by U.S. law for foreign students to attend public elementary school, which covers kindergarten to 8th grade, or to engage in study on a publicly funded adult education course, the F-1 Visa cannot be granted for studying at these schools.
However, the F-1 visa is valid for up to 12 months for attendance at a public secondary school (grades 9-12). In such an instance, an l-20 form will be allocated to the student and the school must indicate on that form that the student has paid the unsubsidized cost of their study and the amount submitted must be specified.
Additional information about legal requirements of the F-1 Visa is available on the Department of State website.
Note: Holders of the following visas; A, E, F-2, G, H-4, J-2, L-2, M-2 or other derivative non-immigrant visas may enrol in public elementary and secondary schools.
Student Assistance, Finding a U.S. School:
Prospective students wishing to enrol at an American educational institution should contact and visit the U.S.-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).
How to Apply
Non-immigrant Visa applicants: To determine the type of visa that you require, read Common Non-immigrant Visas. Each visa type thoroughly explains and corresponds to certain qualifications and applications. Choose the visa that is right for your situation.
Visa Waiver Program: If you only intend to stay in the States for 90 days or less and are from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program, you do not need to apply for a visa if travelling for business or pleasure. Be sure to read information about the program before applying to see if you qualify.
Note: You may be able to obtain a visa without attending a consulate interview if you are either under 14 or over 79 years of age or you have received a visa that has expired within the last 48months or 12 months and are returning to the U.S. for the same purpose of travel.
Step 2 is to complete the DS-160 Non-immigrant Visa Electronic Application form. Once the form has been submitted you are unable to make any changes, so read the Guidelines for Completing the DS-160 Form thoroughly and ensure that all of the information you enter is accurate! Please contact an immigration lawyer or translator for assistance and use your DS-160 number on the form to book your appointment.
Note: If you have previously been refused a visa, please complete a brand new DS-160 form.
After determining the type of visa you require and once you have completed the DS-160 form, you must pay a visa fee. A list of the fees is available on the Visa Fees page and includes the amounts in U.S. dollars and native currency.
The Bank and Payment Options page explains how to make your visa fee payment. You need to create a profile and make a note of your receipt number in order to book your visa appointment.
You’re nearly ready to book your visa appointment! To do this, log into your profile with the same details you used to pay your visa fee. After you are logged in, on your dashboard you will see ‘Schedule Appointment’ on the left-hand side, click on this to start the booking process.
There are two appointments that you need to make; one with the VAC (The Visa Application Centre) and the second at the Embassy or Consulate for your visa interview.
The first appointment you need to schedule is at the Embassy or Consulate for your visa interview.
Second, arrange your appointment at the VAC. Your appointment will take place at one of the five Visa Application Centres where you will have your fingerprints and photos taken. This appointment should be arranged for at least the day before your interview at the Embassy or Consulate. In order to schedule your appointment you need the following:
• Your passport number
• The date you paid your fee
• The ten digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
Throughout the process you will be able to choose your visa type, enter personal information, add dependents, select your document delivery address, confirm the payment of your visa and schedule your appointments.
Things to bring to your Visa Application Centre appointment:
•A passport valid for travel to the United States with validity dates at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
•Your DS-160 confirmation page.
•Your appointment confirmation page.
•One photograph as per U.S. visa specifications if the applicant is under 14 years of age. See the Photos and Fingerprints page for more details.
After your visit to the VAC, you must then visit the Embassy or Consulate for your interview.
You will need to bring the following:
•A printed copy of your appointment letter,
•Your DS-160 confirmation page
•Your current and all old passports
•A Form I-901 SEVIS fee receipt indicating the SEVIS fee. The SEVIS website has more details
•Supporting Documents as per your visa type
Applicants without all of these items will not be accepted.
Note: Children under 14 years of age do not have to attend the VAC or the visa interview at the Embassy or Consulate. An accompanying guardian/parent can carry their documents.
There are many factors that a consular officer considers during your interview and your supporting documents are just one of them. Each application is looked at individually by a consular and will be considered based on professional, social, cultural and other aspects during this process. Every case is examined in accordance with the law and such specifications may be considered; your specific intentions, family situation and long-term plans and prospects within your country of residence.
Warning: Never present false documents! Any fraudulent information may result in you being permanently ineligible for a visa.
Confidentiality: If you are concerned about confidentiality, do not worry as the Embassy or Consulate do not make your information available to any other parties and will respect your privacy. You may present your information to the Embassy or Consulate in a sealed envelope if privacy is a concern.
For your interview, bring the following:
Documents demonstrating strong financial, social, and family ties to your home country that will compel you to return there after your program of study in the U.S.
Make the Embassy or Consulate aware that you have sufficient funds to support your application. Present documentation that will give credible evidence to show that you have enough money and access to funds that will cover all expenses for your first year of study in the U.S. M-1 Visa applicants must show they are able to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire length of time they intend to stay.
Only present original bank statements or bank books as only showing photocopies will not be accepted.
If you have a financial sponsor, bring proof of your relationship to that person e.g. your birth certificate, the sponsor’s most recent original tax form and bank book/statement or a fixed deposit certificate.
Useful documents to bring that show scholastic preparation include school transcripts (preferably original copies) with grades, public exam certificates (A-Levels etc.), standardised test scores (SAT, TOEFL etc.) and diplomas.
These include spouses, same-sex spouses and/or unmarried children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany the principal visa holder in the U.S. for the duration of their stay, however they require derivative F or M visas. There is no derivative visa for the parents of F or M holders.
Family members who do not intend to live in the U.S. with the principal visa holder but wish to visit for vacations could be eligible for a (B-2) visitor visa.
Spouses and dependents cannot work in the U.S. on a derivative F or M visa. If your spouse or child is looking for employment, then that person must apply for their own appropriate work visa.
Supporting Documents for Dependents:
Any applicants applying for visas with a dependent must present the following:
• Proof of the student's relationship to his or her spouse and/or child (e.g. marriage and birth certificates).
• Preferably, families should apply for their visas at the same time, however if the spouse and/or child need to apply at an alternative time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder's passport and visa, with their own required documents.
Looking for more advice? Check out our the study visa guides.