[Edit: Article updated in April 2018] All accepted undergrad and graduate program (including MBA) students from India require an F1 visa stamping to get into the U.S. and stay there for the entire duration of the MBA course. In this post we try to address the most frequently asked questions on how to apply for a student visa, the basic documents needed, and problems / issues to tackle before you can confidently answer the F1 visa interview questions at the American consulate.
Read on to see what you need to do before you can get access to all the high-paying consulting and investment banking jobs that are coming back to the US based bschools.
What category of U.S. visa would I need?
If you are applying for regular graduate programs (like an MBA degree or any other Masters program) or undergraduate courses, you’d need an ‘F category visa’. As the student, you will need an F1 visa and your dependents (if any) would need an F2 visa.
Just for your awareness, there are also the categories of non-immigrant visas like the ‘J visa’ (exchange visitors), ‘M visa’ (for vocational and non-academic programs) , ‘B visa’ (visitor) and of course the ever popular H1B and L1 categories (work permits).
How much time is required to get an F1 visa stamping?
The actual time to get a student visa isn’t much. But the background work needed e.g. getting all the visa requirements (documents, fees, etc) can be time consuming.
So wrap up the Bschool application process as early as possible (target admission rounds 1 and 2 preferably, skip Round 3) and leave about 3 months or more for the visa procedures.
The earliest you can be issued an F1 visa is 3 months prior to the start of the program and you will not be allowed to enter before 30 days prior to the start of the program. Also since semester seasons usually see a surge of applicants applying for Visa interviews, it is wise to get through the process early and get the interview appointments well in advance.
In the event your visa officer determines that your case needs a review under Administrative Processing, an euphemism for background check, your visa may take longer than usual (of the order of weeks or months).
What are the qualifying criteria for student visas?
You’d first need to get an admission offer from a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified business school. These are the universities that can tap into the internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and issue you the Form I-20 (the primary thing that sets the visa process going). The I-20 tells the visa officer what course you are enrolled for, with which bschool, for how long etc.
There are 4 basic qualifying criteria:
– An admit from a SEVP certified university
– Proof of finances to fund the MBA (or any other graduate or undergrad) program
– Basic pre-requisites for the course
– Intention to come back to India after completing your study i.e. you are not a potential immigrant
What are the F1 visa documents required for an application?
- SEVIS Fee: The SEVIS I-901 fee can be paid online with a credit card. Once it is paid, the SEVP approved school will issue your I-20 form.
- Form I-20 duly signed: You know what this is. It needs to be signed by the institution, granting you the admission offer, and you. Only after the you are registered with SEVIS and you have your I-20 form, can you apply at your nearest US Embassy for an F1 Visa. Any dependents are also required to register with SEVIS and receive individual I-20s from the SEVP approved schools. No SEVIS fee is required for dependents though. Find out more about SEVIS at Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) here.
- Passport: This should have a validity of at least 6 months beyond the intended period of stay in the U.S.
- Form DS 160: You must complete the online non-immigrant visa application form and print the application and the confirmation page.
- Photograph: You must upload a recent photograph (photo requirements) while filling the DS 160 form online. If the upload fails, you will be required to bring a printed copy fitting the requirements.
- F1 Visa fee: This needs to be paid before you go for your F1 visa interview appointment. The F1 visa fee can be paid at an approved Indian bank. You need to carry the application fee payment receipt. The fee is currently around $160.
- Digital Fingerprint: You will be required to get a digital fingerprint (Biometric) scan completed prior to the F1 interview day. Check your consulate requirement whether it needs to be completed on a separate day at a specific location for Biometrics or if the consulate will conduct it before the interview.
- Other documents as suggested by the U.S. embassy / consulate
Where can I apply for an F1 visa in India?
If you want to apply for F1 visas in India, you will find U.S. Consulates in the following cities: Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata and a ‘Virtual Consulate’ in Bangalore. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi has a consular section too.
This means if you are located in other cities, you will need to travel to the closest U.S. embassy / counsulate for the F1 visa interview and to get your student visa stamped. That also makes it all the more important to ensure that you have met ALL the F1 visa requirements and are carrying ALL the compulsory documents to save yourself multiple trips.
What’s the difference between an embassy and a consulate?
Slight offtrack question, but here’s a short explanation anyway. There’s only one embassy in each country (generally located in the capital). There can however be many consulates.
The embassy focuses on diplomatic activities, while the consulate manages visa applications and many other services for people travelling to that country. So for F1 visas, you’d be approaching the consulate.
How to prepare for F1 visa interview questions?
The interview questions that the visa officer will ask are generally straight-forward. They try to evaluate if you are a genuine student going to attend a credible U.S. program and you have the right finances to help you complete your program.
There are no trick questions to throw you off-guard or general knowledge questions to test your awareness of U.S.A. So do your homework and be confident. We’ll cover the specific student visa interview questions and answer tips in a different post if there’s further interest.
How can I apply for F2 student dependent visas?
If you are married, the visa application process gets a tad more difficult as you might want to apply for dependent visas (called F2 visa) for your spouse (wife or husband) and kids.
It’s best if you can manage all the visas in one shot. But in case you can’t do that, or don’t want to apply for dependent F2 visas immediately, you can do it later as well. While you are in the US, your family members will have to manage it on their own. As long as they have all the relevant documents, the process is straight-forward.
What can I do if my F1 visa gets rejected?
Meeting all documentation requirements does not guarantee an F1 visa approval. There have been cases where folks who’ve got admits from US bschools (including some with graduate assistanship and MBA scholarships) but visa officers have rejected their student visa applications after the interview.
This can happen for technical reasons (incorrect documents) or when the visa office gets additional insights during the visa interview that goes against the 4 qualifying criteria mentioned in the first question.
You’ve worked hard to get into the best business school. Now that the academic hurdle has been crossed, take the legal steps seriously too to ensure that you can complete your MBA and get your career on the fast-track.
Read these related posts:
– F1 to H1B Visa process
– F1 Visa Interview Questions and Answers
– Optional Practical Training OPT on F1 Visa in USA
– CPT vs OPT: Differences for international students in USA
– What circumstances can lead to your Student Visa being cancelled and how can you get it reinstated?
Disclaimer: We aren’t legal experts and this post is just to give you a quick overview of the F1 visa requirements to enter and live in the USA as an MBA student. The US student visa application process and the documents required might have changed. Refer to the official American embassy & consulate websites for the latest guidelines.