U.S. Student Visa Policy, Requirements and Process

U.S. Student Visa Policy, Requirements and Process


According to comprehensive data from USCIS, as of July 2016, American schools hosted 1.11 Million foreign students. These students come from diverse countries around the world with China, India and South Korea being the most common countries of origin for foreign students. 72% of international students receive a majority of their support from sources outside the U.S. and inject an estimated $30.5 Billion annually into the U.S. economy. Most students return to their home country after completing their studies. Others remain in academic and research positions or enter the American workforce to provide much needed skills. The United States welcomes internationals students during their term of study and provides ample opportunities to remain after graduation.

This article sets forth the general procedure and requirements for obtaining the F-1 student visa. Criteria for the M-1 visa for vocational study and the visa type required for short term, informal study programs vary. Each application is different and will be decided on its own merit. Mistakes made in the application process can lead to visa denial or costly delays. Contact the Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II for a thorough case review and guidance through the U.S. student visa application process.


In order to study in the U.S., prospective students must apply to and be accepted at a school certified for participation in the Student and Visitor Exchange Program. American universities and some private high schools are quite competitive. Many schools are limited in the number and proportion of foreign students that they may admit. Many prospective students utilize the services of various education consulting agencies to help them prepare and polish their applications. In such a competitive environment, using the services of an education consulting agency may be advantageous. The Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II may refer those in need to a trusted education consultant who will help prepare your school application in a way that is consistent with U.S. student visa requirements.

When you are accepted by the U.S. school you plan to attend, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You must pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. The U.S. school will provide you with a Form I-20 to present to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview. If your spouse and/or children intend to reside with you in the United States while you study, they must obtain individual Form I-20s, but they do not pay the SEVIS fee. Each family member will be required to attend a visa interview though children under 13 years old may be exempted.

Detailed U.S. student visa application instructions can be found on the USCIS website here. The instructions are briefly summarized as follows:

Gather Required Documentation

Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students, Form I-20 – Your school will send you a SEVIS-generated Form I-20 once they have entered your information in the SEVIS database. You and your school official must sign the Form I-20. All students, their spouse and minor children if they intend to reside in the United States with the student, must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS). Each person receives an individual Form I-20.

Additional Documentation May Be Required

Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply. Additional documents may be requested to establish that you are qualified. For example, additional requested documents may include evidence of:

  • Your academic preparation, such as:
    • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended; and
    • Standardized test scores required by your U.S. school;
  • Your intent to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • How you will pay all educational, living and travel costs.

Attend Your Visa Interview

During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.

Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.

After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You will be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application.

When the visa is approved, you  may pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality, and will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you. Review the visa processing time, to learn how soon your passport with visa will generally be ready for pick-up or delivery by the courier.


To obtain a U.S. student visa, you must first be generally eligible for admission to the U.S. Visa ineligibilities are found primarily in Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. A U.S. student visa applicant may be found ineligible for admission to the U.S due to certain health related conditions, criminal records and previous overstays in the U.S. among other reasons. Most ineligibility grounds may be waived. Waivers are complicated legal matters that require a precise showing of evidence demonstrating that the applicant meets the requirements for a waiver as set forth by applicable law.

If you are eligible for admission to the U.S. or receive a waiver, you must show that you meet several other requirements before a U.S. student visa will be issued. First, you must show that you have such ties to your own country that you will return after your term of study is up. Consular officers are aware that students most often do not have long term jobs, business relationships or own property. The requirements to show non-immigrant intent vary significantly from other non-immigrant visa categories. A consular officer may inquire as to a U.S. student visa applicant’s long term plans and goals and may consider the applicant’s chosen university and major. However, a student must still demonstrate to the satisfaction of the consular officer that he or she has the present intent to return home rather than remaining in the U.S.

A U.S. student visa applicant must also show that they have funds to pay for the study program in full without resorting to unauthorized employment. The availability of funds need not be in the possession of the student. Parents and other family members may pledge their support for the student. The consular officer may inquire into the ability of guarantors to fully support the student. A U.S. student visa applicant may also demonstrate their ability to pay for the course of study by verifying scholarship awards.


The United States maintains the world’s most admired university system. Superlative students who are chosen for admission to  U.S. universities can often expect to achieve more in their careers than their peers who attend domestic universities. Study in the U.S. may also open the door to employment in the U.S. and, in some circumstances, permanent residency and citizenship. As a U.S. student visa lawyer, it is my mission not only to help students obtain a U.S. student visa but also to help guide them safely towards achievement of their goals for both themselves and their families. Contact the Immigration Law Office of L. Ford Banister, II today for a free initial consultation regarding your U.S. student visa options.