In this video attorney Jacob Sapochnick explains how you can apply for an F-1, J-1, or M-1 international student visa in 2023 in 10 easy steps.
In 2022 we saw a significant rebound in the number of international students applying for visas to study in the United States with over 1.3 million students coming to the United States from 227 countries.
Essentially there are 3 types of student visas: the F-1 visa for academic students, J-1 visa for exchange visitors, and M-1 visa for vocational students. We discuss each of these visa categories in turn down below.
F-1 Visa for Academic Students
The F-1 nonimmigrant visa category allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that leads to a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.
J-1 Visa for Exchange Visitors
The J non-immigrant visa category is for individuals approved to participate in work-and study-based exchange visitor programs. Such programs may be for the purpose of teaching, instructing, or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.
M-1 Visa for Vocational Students
Finally, the M non-immigrant visa category is for students in vocational or other nonacademic programs, other than language training.
Our 10-Step Guide to Getting a Student Visa in 2023
The application procedure for these visas is very similar, therefore we will apply the 10-step process to each of these visa categories.
Step #1 F-1 and M-1 students must apply and be accepted into an accredited college, university, academic institution, or language training program in the United States
Only schools certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) can enroll F or M nonimmigrant students. You may search for SEVP certified schools and programs eligible to enroll F-1 and M-1 students in the United States on the DHS webpage here. The School Search tool allows you to search by school, location, education, or visa type. The green and blue icons displayed next to the search results indicate the category of international students (F-1 or M-1) a school is certified to enroll.
If you are applying for the J-1 visa, you must find an exchange program sponsor that can place you in a qualifying exchange program in the United States. You may search for program sponsors on the Department of State’s J-1 webpage here.
Step #2 F-1 and M-1 students must receive Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” from an Accredited School. J-1 students must receive Form DS-2019 “Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status”
Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
All F and M students that study in the United States must receive a Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” After an international student has been accepted into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, they will receive a Form I-20 from their designated school official (DSO).
International students must also receive a Form I-20 for any eligible dependents they plan to bring to the United States (foreign spouses and unmarried children under age 21).
Form I-20 is a very important document that must be signed by both you and your designated school official (DSO). Applicants must bring this document with them to their Consular visa interview when applying for the F-1 or M-1 student visa (for J visa applicants this form is called the DS-2019). This document is important because it indicates your course of study, institution, and program start date. It also signals to the Consular official that the school has accepted you and that you are eligible for the listed program.
You are authorized to enter the United States, 30 days before the listed program start date on the I-20.
DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitors
For J visa applicants, the DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status similarly provides information about your exchange program, including your program sponsor, program start date, and other important information. Dependents must also receive a separate DS-2019 from the Designated Program Sponsor (foreign spouses and unmarried children under age 21).
Step #3 Students and Exchange Visitors must pay the I-901 SEVIS Fees
All nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors must pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee, which funds the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and SEVIS. This fee is separate from visa fees and school SEVIS administration fees.
The I-901 SEVIS Fee for F or M visa applicants is $350 USD and $220 USD for J visa applicants.
Once you have paid the I-901 SEVIS fee, you must print your online receipt. You will use it as proof of payment and take it with you to your Consular visa interview appointment and when you travel to the United States.
For more information about paying the SEVIS fees please click here.
Step #4 Locate your Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consular post in your country of Residence
Next, you must locate the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you where you wish to apply for your visa. You will need to navigate to their webpage and review their requirements and instructions for applying for a student visa.
For a complete directory of U.S. Embassies and Consulates by country please click here.
Step #5 Complete Form DS-160 and Schedule your Visa Interview at your Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consular post in your country of residence
Once the DS-160 has been properly submitted, you may proceed with scheduling your visa interview appointment online via the Official U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Service or U.S. Travel Docs webpage depending on the country where you are applying. Please review the application procedure of your specific post. You may also wish to contact the nonimmigrant visa unit via email for information on visa interview scheduling or seek the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney to help you with this process.
Please consider that wait times for visa interview appointments vary widely depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will be applying. Some posts have longer wait times than others, depending on visa demand. Recently, the State Department announced that Consulates would be prioritizing visa scheduling for international students. Currently, it is taking anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks to obtain appointments. Previously, it was taking 6 months to 1 year to schedule such appointments. Please check the webpage of your particular Embassy or Consulate for more information about their visa appointment wait times.
Step #6 Schedule your Visa Appointment and Pay the Visa Application Fee
Once you have scheduled your visa interview appointment via the Official U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Service or U.S. Travel Docs webpage, you must pay your visa fees. The procedure for payment of visa fees varies from post to post. Some Consulates will allow you to pay your visa fees on your online portal, while others require you to pay visa fees at a designated bank in your country. You must review the visa payment procedures of your specific Consulate or Embassy.
Step #7 Prepare and Attend your In-Person Visa Interview
Once you have scheduled your visa interview appointment and paid your visa fees, you must prepare the supporting documentation that you must bring to your visa interview such as your DS-160 confirmation page, your signed and executed Form I-20 or DS-2019, proof of payment of SEVIS fees and visa fees, acceptance letter into your program of study, proof of your strong ties home, proof of your ability to pay for your program of study and cost of living, etc.
You must also practice your responses to the questions that will be asked by the Consular officer during your visa interview. Such questions will include questions about your program of study, how you will be paying for your program of study and cost of living, explaining your strong ties to your home country, the purpose of your studies or program, etc.
This is perhaps the most important step of all. Because of this you may wish to consider seeking assistance from an experienced immigration attorney to help you prepare for your interview and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your application.
Applicants who are denied may find it more difficult to be successful on subsequent applications, therefore it is important to be well prepared from the very beginning.
Step #8 Payment of the Visa Reciprocity Fee also known as the Visa Issuance Fee
Nonimmigrant visa applicants from certain countries may be required to pay a visa reciprocity fee also known as a Visa Issuance Fee after their application is approved. These fees are based on the principle of reciprocity which is when a foreign government imposes fees on U.S. citizens for certain types of visas. In such cases, the United States will impose a reciprocal fee on citizens of that country for similar types of visas.
If you are required to pay a visa reciprocity fee, you will be informed by the Consular official during your visa interview. Visa reciprocity fee amounts vary from country by country. To review the fees please visit the Department of State webpage here.
Step #9 Check your Visa Status on the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) webpage
After your interview, you can check the status of your visa on the U.S. Department of State Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) webpage here.
Alternatively, you can login to your portal on the Official U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Service or U.S. Travel Docs webpage (typically the same portal where you scheduled your visa appointment) for further information regarding the collection of your passport and visa following your approval.
Please note some Consular posts will deliver your passport and visa to a local post office or courier in your home country where you will be instructed to pick up your passport and visa via email. Other Consulates will allow delivery of your passport and visa to your residential address by courier. Please check your online portal and/or the Consulate’s webpage for further information regarding passport delivery.
Step #10 Receiving your Visa
Once you receive your passport with your visa inside, you will be able to enter the United States 30 days before the listed program start date indicated on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.
At the port of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection may question you further even if you have an approved visa. You should be prepared to present your signed and executed Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 along with supporting documentation proving the purpose of your trip, your temporary stay, ties to your home country, and ability to pay for your program of study and cost of living.
We hope this information was helpful. If you have further questions about the application process we encourage you to schedule a consultation with our attorneys.
Contact Us Today. Need our help? To schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204
- F-1 and M-1 Student Visa Information
- J-1 Visa Information
- J-1 Exchange Sponsors
- Paying your I-901 SEVIS Fee
- Searching U.S. Consulates and Embassies
- Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Certified School Search
- Official U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Service
- U.S. Travel Docs webpage
- DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application
- Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
- DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor J-1 Status
- U.S. Department of State Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) Visa Status Check
- Visa Reciprocity Fees
- Nonimmigrant Visa Fee Increases to Take Effect June 17, 2023
- Immigrant Visa Backlog Report
- DOS Visa Services Operating Status Update
- ImmigrationU Membership
- Success stories
- Youtube channel
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