A Complete Guide to Your U.S.A. Student Visa

A step-by-step textual flowchart to navigating the F-1s and I-20s for your American student visa.


U.S.A. has always remained a favourite when for studying abroad. With changes in administration and many new destinations on students’ radars, there may be some apprehension, but the country still attracts the largest number of international students.

The American student visa for pursuing a full-time academic course is the well-heard-of F-1 visa. (Those looking to enrol in a vocational course need the M visa, and exchange students need a J visa.) The process to get your F-1 visa can often seem more complicated than most other countries, but it mainly just involves a few additional steps. While the different alphabets and numbers of visa categories may seem daunting, remember that there is a method to the apparent mayhem and many government websites that will ease your efforts with in-depth information.

The first is to get an acceptance letter from an SEVP-certified school in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor System or SEVIS, keeps track of all data related to international students and the SEVP, or Student and Exchange Visitor Program schools. SEVP certification allows institutions to issue Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, more commonly known as the Form I-20 to prospective candidates. It is only after your get your Form I-20 that you can apply for a visa to study in the U.S.

Once you have an acceptance letter, register with the SEVIS to get your Form I-20 and pay the SEVIS 1-901 fee of $350/ Rs 25,150* once you have applied for your visa. The SEVIS fee is different from the visa application fee, and can be paid before your visa interview at the consulate or embassy, while the fee for visa application $160/ Rs 11,500* is paid when you are submitting your application papers. Once you have your F-1, you can arrive in the country up to 30 days in advance from the start of your course, but not before that.

If you plan to bring your partner/spouse or dependent children to stay with you during course, you will have to get in touch with your school for an additional Form I-20 after you have received your own F-1 visa. They will need the document to apply for an F-2 visa. While your children can attend local schools, partners/spouses accompanying students are, however, not permitted to work in the U.S. on their dependent visa.

As an international student in America, you can work part-time. During your first academic year, you will only be allowed on-campus jobs—employment within university or at an “educationally affiliated off-campus location.” From the second year, you can work off-campus for up to 20 hours a week during term and full-time during official breaks, provided your job is related to your field of study and approved by Immigration Services (USCIS) and the SEVIS-authorised Designated School Official.

There are two types of off-campus jobs an international student can look into—the Curricular Practical Training or CPT, the Optional Practical Training or OPT. As the name suggests, CPT is part of your curriculum and would give you real-life experience in your field of study. It also does not have any weekly work hour restrictions. OPT, which can last for up to 12 months during (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) your course, refers temporary employment related to your field but not part of your course, such as an internship with a newspaper for a journalism student. However, if you are pursuing certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, you can opt for a STEM OPT, which allows a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorisation. Before taking on an OPT, whether pre- or post-completion, all students will need to submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) with the USCIS, and once approved you will be given a Form I-766 EAD. If you opt for a post-completion OPT, you have 90 days after graduating to find a job.

All of you wishing to stay back and work in the U.S. beyond your practical training will have to apply for a change in visa status to the “H” category visas.

*Based on conversion rates on date of publication.

Image courtesy: Maciej Lewandowski/Flickr



Posted in America, U.S.A on Sep 19, 2019