F1 Visa - Complete Guide on How to Get a USA Student Visa

If you want to study in the US and are not a US 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. This article will explain in full detail everything you need to know on how to obtain a USA Student Visa.

F1 Visa - Complete Guide on How to Get a USA Student Visa

Each year, many international students apply to US schools to study full-time in the US. But to attend school in the States, you need a US student visa. Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. You must have a student visa to study in the United States. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F visa or an M visa

This international student visa allows you to reside temporarily in the US to attend an approved school, language program, or academic exchange program. The F1 visa is a student visa that is given to international students who want to attend educational institutions in the United States. It covers levels from elementary school to university and graduates school, including other degrees. Your student visa ends once you complete your program. At that time, you must depart the US. As of 2020 362,896, F-1 Student visas were issued and in 2021, there were 1,169,464 students in the United States on F and M visas.

Furthermore, the United States government offers three student visa types including F, J, and M.

  • F Student Visa: to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at an English language institute
  • J Exchange Visa: for participation in an exchange program, including high school and university study
  • M Student Visa: for non-academic or vocational study or training in the United States

Moreover, before you can apply for an F, J, or M student visa, you must first apply and be accepted by a U.S. institution of higher education that is certified by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP). However, in this article, we will be focusing on the F-1 visa.

Do I Qualify to Apply for an F1 Visa?

To qualify to even apply for an F1 visa you must meet several strict criteria to receive the visa, including:

  • Get admitted into a SEVP accepted institution. The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has a list of schools, universities, and other institutions which meet the conditions and accept international students. It is recommended that before applying to your preferred schools or universities, you should first check the SEVP and see if those institutions are listed there.
  • Be enrolled as a full-time student.
  • Have strong ties to your home country. If you don’t prove and submit documents that you have strong ties to your home country and intend to go home after your educational program ends, it will be more difficult to get an F1 visa.
  • Proof of sufficient financial support. You should prove that you have sufficient funds in your bank accounts to cover the expenses of studying and living in the United States. This does not mean that F1 students are not eligible for scholarships. You are encouraged to apply for scholarship funds and organizations to lower your financial burden.
  • Be proficient in English. Although speaking English is not a requirement for a student visa,  it will be a requirement for your university admission. You must prove that you can speak and understand English at a level that enables you to enroll in an academic program. Students can prove their language proficiency by taking standardized English proficiency tests such as the TOEFL or the IELTS.

USA Student Visa Process

Meanwhile, here's the step-by-step application process for the F1 visa:

Be Accepted at a SEVP Approved School

Before you can apply for your F1 student visa for the USA, you must apply to and be accepted by a school approved by the SEVP. Your chosen institution’s international student office will send you an I-20 form, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Without this form, you will not be able to apply for an F1 student visa and attend your interview. This form needs to be kept safe, as you’ll need it for your visa interview.

After you get your Form I-20, you can start the usual application process. This includes filing the DS-160 form online with the necessary information about your visa status. Some American universities may also offer you assistance and advice with the visa application process so don't hesitate to come to them with your questions. Check out our guide on how to study in the United States.

Register for SEVIS and pay the fee

When you are admitted by the SEVP institution, your school immediately registers you in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). To have full registration, there is a SEVIS I-901 fee. This means the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System need to have your fee before the DS-160 is completed. For the F1 visa, this fee is $200.

Complete the visa application and pay for an online non-immigrant visa application (DS-160 - $160)

Applying for the F1 student visa may vary depending on the U.S. embassy or consulate you are dealing with. You will be required to pay a non-refundable visa application fee. There is an online visa application available, which allows you to complete and print the Form DS-160 to take to your F1 visa interview. You’ll also need to upload a photo of yourself that meets specific requirements and provide any other requested documents.

Schedule an appointment for a visa interview

After filing the DS-160 form and paying the fees, you will need to schedule your F1 visa interview with the U.S. embassy or consulate. This needs to be done at the U.S Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. The interview is a mandatory step before you get your student visa. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early since there might be delays due to the heavy workload of the US Embassy. When you schedule it, you will receive an interview appointment letter which you will need later on in the application process.

Attend the student visa interview

Before you go to attend your interview, you should prepare your file with the required documents for students.

The following documents are required for your F1 visa interview:

  • A valid passport
  • The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160
  • The application fee payment receipt
  • A passport photo
  • A Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F1) Student Status (Form 1-20)

Additional documents may be requested to prove your eligibility for the F1 student visa, including academic transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates. Test scores such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT may also be requested, as well as proof of your intent to depart the U.S. after your program is complete and proof of your financial stability.

Your F1 visa interview will determine whether you are qualified to receive an F1 student visa for the USA. Assuming that you have prepared the appropriate documents and meet all of the F1 visa requirements, your visa will be approved at the discretion of the consular officer. When you go to attend the student visa interview, the questions will mostly revolve around your reasons for going to the US and the institution you are going to. The interviewer will try to assess whether you intend to return to your home country after you complete your degree.

You may be required to pay a visa issuance fee. Digital fingerprint scans will be taken for records. Your passport will be taken so that you can get your visa and you will be informed when you can get it back, either by pick-up or in the mail. At your interview, you should receive a decision on your application. Based on your answers the consular officer will approve or deny your student visa application. You need to convince him or her that you plan to return to your country after your years of study in the United States.

USA Student Visa Validity

When your visa is approved, it might be for the full time that you will be in school in the US, or for less. However, if your study program takes 1 year to graduate, the Embassy will most likely give you a visa that is valid for 1 year If your degree program is 2 years and you only get the visa for 1 year, you should then later apply to renew it. In this case, it is the best option to renew the F1 visa. The validity of your F1 visa is for as long as it is stated on your I-20 form and I-94 form which are given to you when you enter the United States.

F1 Visa Processing Time

The time it takes to get your F1 visa can vary from just a week to a couple of months, depending on the complexity of your case. In most cases, you will get a response on this visa immediately after the interview. 

At the end of the visa interview, the interviewer might congratulate you for getting the visa or will provide you with a document letting you know the reason for denial. This is because the processing of this type of visa happens before your interview. The interview is the last step for the US Embassy to assess whether they should issue the visa.

US visas for dependents (F2)

If you have any family or children that will need to accompany you during your study time in the US, they will have to apply and be approved for an F2 visa. Contact your chosen university before they issue your I-20, and inform them of any children under 21 or a spouse that will be joining you in the US. You will then be sent their I-20 forms along with your I-20. Your university may need proof that you can support yourself as well as any dependents before sending you the paperwork.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, if you are declined for an F1 visa you are usually able to apply again, but you will need to start the process from the beginning. You won’t need to pay the SEVIS fee again, but any applicable fees will need to be paid a second time. You’ll be told the reason that you were denied, and if you can amend any issues, you may have a better chance next time around. Common issues for a rejected application include lack of financial proof to support yourself while in the US, incorrect documents, and failure to explain your answers during your interview.

You can re-apply three times in a year, but if you are struggling to get your application accepted then you should speak to consular officers about your situation before applying again. Keep in mind that visa issuance is not guaranteed. Never make final travel plans until you have your visa approved. If your visa is denied, you will be given a reason based on the section of the law which applies to your ineligibility. Filing a waiver of ineligibility is possible in some cases.