The F-1 Visa process: What to expect

Getting a visa is the first and foremost thing that needs to be done once you get an admit from a university. Uncle Sam is really particular about not letting anyone enters his place without his permission :D. It’s not that he doesn’t want you to come at all but as Huma Qureshi says in Gangs of Wasseypur: “permission leni chahiye na”. Anyhow, jokes aside, you should try to get started in the process as soon as you can because sometimes these things take a lot of time and if you don’t get the visa on time, you can waive goodbye to your admission letter for that year. Many people are afraid of this whole process because of the aura it has around it (I mean you’ve to go to these highly secure embassies and give “interviews” and all) but applying for, and getting, the F-1 visa is a fairly straightforward and a simple process (if you follow all the guidelines that is :P). Read on to find out…. .

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You must be thinking right now if all I needed to do was just to follow the steps, why do I need you for? Well the truth is you don’t. We are just here to gather that list in a single place to save you a few google searches in addition to a few things that you should watch out for. So let’s get started.

  • Before applying for the visa, you should make sure you have a valid (signed by the school official) form I-20 given to you by your school. Basically, I-20 is a kind of a certificate of eligibility for international students. You cannot apply for a visa unless you have a valid I-20.
  • Once you have an I-20, the next step is to fill out the SEVIS I-901 form here.  You will need your I-20 to complete the application and an international credit card to pay the $200 SEVIS fee for F-1 Student Visas. Once the application and the payment is complete, save/print a copy of the receipt for your records and one for the visa interview.
  • The form DS-160: In essence this is the only thing you would have to fill as your application for the visa. Fill this with as much care as you are lifting a newborn baby in your hand: one mistake and you’re done! Some things that you should pay special attention to is the first name/last name fiasco. I’ve seen many people mess up the order of first name/last name in forms. Oh and god save you if you have a middle name as well. Please make sure you write the correct part of your name in the correct box. The form can be filled online at this site and detailed instructions for filling the same are available here. Be ready to shell out another $160 for the visa fee..(yes.. I know that was the most painful part… 😛 )
  • Going forward, it’s just a cakewalk from here. You just need to book  a couple of appointments and be there on time with all the required documents. You must schedule two appointments, one for the Visa Application Center (VAC) for the biometric test and one for the visa interview at the Embassy. Ideally you should try to schedule the visa interview first because that may have a longer waiting period and then you can schedule the appointment at the VAC which should be at least one day before your visa interview.

What are the documents I will need for the interview ?

Apart from all the official documents (your passport, visa application, appointment confirmation etc.), the embassy expects you to bring all the documents that you think are able to confirm your financial position, your love for the country (no kidding, they wouldn’t approve your visa, if they feel you have an intention of not returning back from the US) and your academic excellence (through your class 10 and 12 marks certificates and the results of standardized tests like GRE and TOEFL). Please use your judgement and take all the documents you think can support your case (and no that does not include a love letter from your girlfriend/boyfriend to show that you’ll return for them 😛 ). We’ve prepared a list of such documents for your guidance.

The list of documents that you should have ready for your visa interview include but may not be limited to:

  • A valid passport
  • The DS-160 barcode page and the confirmation receipt of visa fee
  • I-20 and the SEVIS fee receipt
  • The appointment confirmation
  • A photograph as per the specifications
  • Your current resume with complete details of your current and past research, if you have any
  • Financial documents: You need to be able to produce documents to prove that you have readily available funds to cover all your expenses during the first year of your stay in the US. Now if you are one of the lucky ones who have a funded program (like our very beautiful Ms X), you should be good to go. However, if you’re one of the misfortunate/less talented people like me who don’t get funding from the school, you should produce all the documents that show you have enough funds. One thing to note here is that online statements/photocopies of bank statement are not accepted as a valid proof. You should ask you bank to give you a letter, in original, which confirms the amount you have in your account
  • And lastly, documents to show your strong ties to your family and the love for the mother, both your own as well as the country 😛

The interview..

Now a few things about the interview: don’t be nervous and answer everything to the point. Well I shouldn’t be teaching you how to crack an interview, I am sure you must have passed in numerous vivas without having an idea of what was being asked. Here it’s even easier: they’re not going to test you on anything. They just want to be sure that you won’t stay in the US after your course completion that’s all. Some good questions that are generally asked and should be practiced before the interview can be found here.

A special note for people in areas like biotech/nuclear or other sensitive areas should apply as soon as possible as their application might require additional processing. Most cases that require additional processing are resolved within 60 days of the visa interview.

Post the interview…

After your interview, the officer will either tell you that your visa has been approved in which case you’ll have to leave your passport at the office. The passport with the visa stamp will be ready for you to collect from the embassy within a week or two. In some cases however, the officers might feel that they don’t have enough information to make a decision yet. That is nothing to worry about though. Consider it the same as when you propose a girl and she says she needs some time to think over it. That doesn’t mean that she is not interested in you, it simply means that she needs more data points to make an informed decision. What do you do in this period? Give her more information about how you’re the guy for her. So it’s the same here as well. You’ll have to give them some more information. And don’t worry, they are not like the girl where you’re clueless as to what more information you could provide. On the contrary, they would be very upfront about what more documents they need :P. More information on this “more information required phase” can be found here.

Once your passport has been stamped, it’s time to spend the last few weeks in your country to the fullest. Go meet your friends and relatives. Make sure to visit all your favorite cafes/bars and have the “specials” at each one of them and lastly don’t forget to bug your mom to cook all your favourite dishes before you fly off to the foreign land. Don’t worry we’ll be posting an article about your last month checklist soon. Watch this space for more.

I hope this was a good collection of all the information you need to get your visa. Please let us know in comments if we missed something or if you need more clarification on anything.

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