Applying for VISA to study in North America
If you want to study in North America and are not an american citizen you will need to obtain a student visa. Applying for a US student visa can be a long process, so make sure you start preparing well in advance – at least three to five months before your course is due to start. In general, prospective students will go through five stages when applying for a US student visa:
1) Apply to and be accepted by a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school in the US (six to twelve months prior to US study).
2) Pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee.
3) Complete a US student visa application along with recent photo(s).
4) Pay the visa application fee.
5) Schedule and attend a visa interview.
Applying to an SEVP-approved institution
As well as making sure your chosen course matches your interests and ambitions, as an international student you also need to ensure you choose an institution and program accredited by the US government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Accreditation is important as it ensures your degree is recognized by other universities, professional associations, employers and government ministries worldwide. Only SEVP-approved institutions that can enroll students in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and provide you with the documents necessary to apply for a US student visa. Once you have been accepted by an institution, the university will enroll you in the SEVIS system and you will be sent a SEVIS-generated document called a Form I-20 if you are eligible for an F or M visa, or a Form DS-2019 if you are eligible for a J visa.
Paying the SEVIS fee
You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days prior to submitting an application for a US visa. In order to pay the fee you’ll need to file a form either online or in paper form. Both can be accessed through the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) SEVP website. Take care to ensure you input the required details exactly as they appear on your I-20 or DS-2019 form. At the time of writing the I-901 fee is US$200 for F/M visa holders and $180 for J student visa holders. J visa holders working as camp counselors, au pairs or in summer work/travel pay $35 instead. The website details procedures for different types of payment including debit or credit card, check, international money order and through Western Union Quick Pay. Having paid the fee you can return to the website to check on your payment status if desired. A third party can also pay the fee for you (such as your sponsor). If the fee is paid on your behalf you should receive a receipt from that third party. You can obtain and print a payment confirmation from the website at any time after processing your payment. You’ll need this confirmation as proof of fee payment at your US student visa interview. You may also be required to show the confirmation to the customs officer at your chosen US Port of Entry, if ever you change your non-immigrant status, or if you’re applying for any other US immigration benefits.
Completing a US student visa application
Once you have received your SEVIS form and paid the SEVIS fee, you can make an appointment with a US consulate or embassy in your country for a US student visa application. It’s best to apply as early as possible, regardless of when your program is due to start, as visa processing times can vary. Your visa can be issued up to 120 days before you’re due to enter the US. Most countries have their own dedicated website for everything to do with making a US student visa application, which can be accessed from this main page. If you cannot find your country in the list, you may still be able to find the US embassy or consulate in your country using the US embassies website. There are usually several steps to apply for a US student visa. These steps vary at each US embassy or consulate so it’s important to consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you intend to apply.
Online visa application: DS-160
In all cases you’ll need to complete the online visa application form DS-160. You’ll need to select the location from which you wish to apply and ensure you have all the documents and information you need to fill in the application. After selecting and answering a security question, you’ll be taken to the pages of the form. At the top you’ll find your Application ID. You’ll need this ID to retrieve your form if you need to exit the application and return to it later. Personal details you’ll need to complete the DS-160 form include:
- Name and date of birth
- Address and phone number
- Passport details
- Details of travel and travel companions
- Details of previous US travel
- Details about your point of contact in the US
- Family, work and education details
- Security, background and medical health information
- SEVIS ID and address of school/program you intend to study at in the US (as printed on I-20 or DS-2019 form)
You’ll also need to upload a suitable recent photo of yourself in the format explained in the photograph requirements. If your photo upload fails you’ll need to take a printed photograph meeting the requirements with you to your visa interview. Once everything is filled in, you’ll need to electronically sign your DS-160 by clicking the “Sign Application” button at the end of the form. After your application is uploaded you’ll be sent a confirmation page with a barcode, barcode number and your application ID number which you’ll need to print out and take with you to your visa interview appointment. You do not need to print out and take the full application.
Paying the visa application fee
The visa application fee is also called the Machine Readable Visa Fee, so you may see it referred to in acronym form as an ‘MRV fee’. Make sure to review the fee payment instructions available on your embassy or consulate website as methods may vary. In general, however, there are three ways to pay the non-refundable, non-transferrable visa application fee
Create a user account online and follow the flow of the website, filling in details, until you arrive at the payment page. Print out your DS-160 confirmation page, your deposit slip and your visa interview appointment confirmation receipt and present these to a bank teller at an approved bank (you can find details of approved banks using your country’s US embassy or consulate website).You’ll need to log into your online application profile to print and fill in the applicable US visa fee deposit slip. It must have the MRV Fee Receipt Number on it. Take note of the expiration date on the slip: you’ll need to generate a new deposit slip using the website if it expires before you can get to a bank. Upon receiving your payment the bank teller will issue you a receipt which you must keep safe
As above, create a user account online and follow the flow of the website, filling in details, until you arrive at the payment page. Call the appropriate number and follow instructions on the automated voice system to pay by card over the phone. Once you have paid the fee and your transaction has been approved, you’ll be given a fee confirmation number. Make sure to note this number down as you won’t be able to retrieve it later.
Again, create a user account online and follow the flow of the website, filling in details, until you arrive at the payment page. Methods of payment include electronic bank transfer and debit/credit card. Make sure to download and print the receipt when you pay online as you’ll need to take it to your visa interview. The cost of a visa application fee is determined by the type of visa for which you are applying. At the time of writing, fees for the non-petition-based F, M and J visas are US$160.
Scheduling and attending a US student visa interview
The final step in getting a US student visa is to arrange and attend a visa interview. You can again do this either online or using the phone, by calling your nearest US embassy or consulate. In either case, you should complete the MRV fee payment first, as you may need to give your MRV fee number.The visa application process cannot be completed until you appear for an interview with a consular officer. Don’t worry if you need to schedule your interview appointment at a different US embassy or consulate than the one for which you used to apply for your visa. The barcode from your DS-160 can be used to retrieve your information in any US embassy or consulate. However, be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa if you apply outside your place of permanent residence.