The View From Campus: Applying for a student visa during a pandemic

The past eighteen months during the Covid-19 global pandemic have upended many students’ study plans. But for those who have persevered, congratulations, you are almost there! The next step, getting your student visa, is perhaps the most nerve-wracking time for international students headed for the United States. The good news is with the right preparation, honest answers, and appropriate documentation you can give yourself an excellent chance of being granted a student visa.

Here is what you should do as U.S. consulates and embassies reopen after the pandemic:

1. Got your I-20?  

Make sure you have received the I-20 & admission letter from the college/university you plan to attend. You may have been accepted and received I-20s from more than one school. We recommend that you decide which institution you will attend before starting the visa process.

2. Check your passport

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your initial planned entry into the U.S. Your name on your I-20 must be spelled the same (and in the same order) as is listed on your passport.

3. Pay your SEVIS fee.

Students can pay this $350 fee online. You will need an e-receipt for the next steps in the process.

4. Complete the Visa Application Form.

You will need most of the following items to complete this form (online DS-160 (non-immigrant visa application):

Passport

SEVIS ID (from your I-20 form)

Address of the college you will attend (usually on the I-20)

Travel itinerary to the U.S. if you have made arrangements already

Admission letter from the college you will attend

Proof of funding – bank statements, scholarship award letters, etc.

Dates of your last 5 visits to the United States (if any)

Profile names on your social media accounts over the last 5 years.

After completing the online DS-160 application, print off the DS-160 Bar Code page. You will not need to print the entire application.

Plan ahead!

You can schedule your visa appointment up to 120 days in advance of the start date listed on your I-20 (when your new school requires you to be on campus). Because this summer there is two years’ worth of international students seeking visas to enter the United States, in some countries there may be a substantial wait time to get an appointment, and, more importantly, to process your application. The good news is that student visa applicants are given priority, even in countries where U.S. consulates are open for emergency appointments only.

Schedule your visa appointment at the U.S. embassy/consulate nearest you.

Using this site you’ll learn whether you can make your appointment online or by telephone. You will also need to pay the visa application fee (approximately $160, the price varies slightly per country).

Attend a Visa Session at an EducationUSA Advising Center in your country.

EducationUSA works closely with the U.S. consular officers that conduct the visa interviews. At these sessions (which may still be held virtually this year) they will make it clear what they are expecting from successful student visa applicants, and the kind of questions they will ask.

Enjoy the experience.

A few years ago our friends at the U.S. Embassy in London put together a great video to help ease your fears, Mission: Possible – Get Your U.S. Student Visa.

Talk to your friends

Are any of your former classmates studying in the U.S. now? Ask for their advice about their interview experiences and ask for their recommendations. You can also check out how successful students help demystify the student visa process.

Breathe, relax, and be honest.

You have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources to get to this visa interview. Try not to be too nervous. You are almost there. Answer the visa officer’s questions honestly – Why did you pick the particular college you want to attend? How are you funding your studies? What are your plans after you finish your studies?  You may not know the exact answer to this last question, but be thinking about how you might answer that question.

Good luck to you as you take this important next step!

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