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California Student Visas Attorney

How to Get a U.S. Student Visa

Student Applicants (for F-1 and M-1 visas)

If you are coming to the US to study this VISA is for you. If, on the other hand, you are coming primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study of (less than 18 hours per week), a Visitor Visa might be more suitable. If you plan on studying “full time” (i.e. more than 18 hours per week), you will, in fact, require a student visa.

When Do I Have to Apply for a Student Visa?

Students coming to the US are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide sufficient time for visa processing. Students may apply for their student visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Why? The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on the course of study and nationality of the student. Since this can take some additional time it is wise to begin the process early.

Students coming to the US should be aware that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. It is best that you keep in touch with your Embassy and Consulate to make certain than when the 120 days (prior) is reached that they then attend to your paperwork. You are the only one who “really cares” so you need to stay on top of your paperwork application. Your Consular officials may require the extra time in the 120 day “window” to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required for final approval.

US Department of Homeland Security Requirements

Students should be advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all beginning students who enter the US 30 days or less in advance of the course of their study start-date or report-in date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.

A new student who wants an earlier entry into the US (entering more than 30 days prior to the course start date), must qualify for and obtain a visitor visa to arrive earlier. A “prospective student notation” will be shown on your visitor visa and the you will need to make your intent to study clear to the U.S. immigration inspector at the port of entry. Then, before beginning any studies, you must obtain a change of classification, filing Form I-539, Application for Change of Non-Immigrant Status, and you must also submit Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security office where the application is made. The current additional fee of $140 US is required for this process. Keep in mind that you can not begin your educational studies until the change of classification is approved.

Continuing students may apply for a new visa at any time, as long as they have been maintaining student status and their SEVIS records are current. Continuing students also enjoy the freedom to enter the US at any time before their classes start.

You Need to Know about SEVIS and SEVP

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) is designed to help the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State better monitor school and exchange programs and F, M and J category visitors.

Exchange visitor and student information is maintained in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an Internet-based information and database system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students (both: F and M visa), exchange visitors (J visa), and their dependents (F-2, M-2, and J-2). The SEVIS system allows schools to transmit required information to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State (DOS) throughout a student or exchange visitor’s stay here in the US.

SEVIS generated I-20 Required for your Student Visa Application

All student Visa applicants must have a SEVIS-generated I-20 issued by an educational institution that is approved by DHS, which they will then submit when they are applying for their student visa. The consular officer will need to verify your I-20 record electronically through the SEVIS system in order to process your student visa application.

Other Required Documentation

Each applicant for a student visa must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained below:

  • Form I-20A-B,
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students or Form I-20M-N,
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students.

Additionally, you will need to submit a SEVIS-generated I-20 Form, which was provided to you by your school. Both you and your school official must sign the I-20 form. All students, as well as their spouses and dependents must be registered in SEVIS (the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), an Internet-based system that maintains accurate and current information on non-immigrant students and exchange visitors and their dependents (F/M-2 visa holders). Your school is responsible for entering your information for the I-20 student visa form into the SEVIS system. Students are required to pay an SEVIS I-901 fee for each program of study.

So then… (1.) – a completed application, (2.) – a Non-Immigrant Visa Applicant ( Form DS-156), together with (3.) – Form DS-158. Both “DS-Forms” must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157. Moreover, a separate form is now required for children, even if they are included in the parent’s passport.

Embassy Interview – Consular Section

A personal interview at the embassy “consular section” is required for virtually all visa applicants. An applicant’s waiting time for an interview appointment for can vary, so early visa application is strongly recommended. During the visa interview, a new ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be performed, as well as a digital photo. Some applicants might need additional screening, but will be notified if that is the case when they apply.


  • A passport valid for travel to the US and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States is required. If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application.
  • One (1) 2-inch by 2-inch photograph is required.
  • A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee, a visa issuance fee if applicable, and a separate SEVIS I-901 fee receipt. While all F-visa applicants must pay the MRV fee, including dependents, only F-1 principal applicants must pay the SEVIS fee.
  • Students who are authorized for Optional Practical Training (OPT) must have an I-20 endorsed for OPT, and provide a USCIS-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

All Student Visa applicants should also be prepared to provide:

  • Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended.
  • Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GMAT, etc..
  • Financial documentation that shows that you or your parents (who might be sponsoring you) have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your intended study.

Applicants with dependents must also provide:

  • Proof of the student’s relationship to his/her spouse and/or children (e.g., marriage and birth certificates.)
  • It is preferable that families apply for F-1 and F-2 visas at the same time. However, if the spouse and children must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder’s passport and visa, along with all other required documents at that later date.

    Entering the U.S. at a Port of Entry

    A Student or Visitor Visa will allow a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the US. Arriving applicants should be fully aware that a having a valid visa does not guarantee entry into the US. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have the on-site authority to permit or deny admission to the US. Student visitors must have their Form I-20 in their possession each time they enter the US.

    Before you depart for the US, students should review important information about ever-changing Admissions and Entry requirements, as well as information related to restrictions about bringing restricted or prohibited items with them. These restrictions are itemized on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website.

    Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the Special Registration program. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since this critical Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it is very important to keep it in your passport.

    Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay Time in the U.S

    Finding yourself “Out of Status…”

    Be very careful that you to not overstay your authorized stay date else you will be in violation of the US immigration laws. It is vitally important that you depart the US on or before the last day that you are authorized to be in the US on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Record). Failure to depart the US will cause you to be “Out-of-Status.” Additional information on successfully maintaining your immigration status while a student or exchange visitor can be found on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website.

    Upshot? – Staying in the US beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being “out-of-status” in the United States is a violation of US. Immigration Laws and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel / studies here in the US.

    Staying unlawfully in the US –even by ONE DAY– beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized results in your visa being automatically voided. If this happens to you, you are them required to reapply for a new non-immigrant visa –generally in your original country of origin / nationality.

    What is Required of Returning Students?

    All student applicants applying for renewals must submit:

    • A passport valid for at least six months.
    • Application Form DS-156, together with a Form DS-158. Both forms must be completed and signed. Some applicants will also be required to complete and sign Form DS-157.  Blank forms are available without charge at all U.S. consular offices and more easily available online from the U.S. Department of State Website.
    • A receipt for visa processing fee.
    • A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee for each applicant, including each child listed in a parent’s passport who is also applying for a U.S. visa, is needed.
    • A new I-20 or an I-20 that has been endorsed on the back by a school official within the past 12 months.
    • A certified copy of your grades from the school in which you are enrolled.
    • Financial documents from you or your sponsor, showing your ability to cover the cost of your schooling.

    Students Away from Classes More Than Five Months

    Students in or outside the US, who have been away from classes for more than five months, will likely need a new visa to enter the U.S.

    How long can I stay in the US on my F-1 Student Visa?

    When you enter the US on a Student Visa, you will usually be admitted for the duration of your student status. That means that you are welcome to stay as long as you are a full-time student –even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are here in America. For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed the following additional time in the U.S. before departure:

    • F-1 student – An additional 60-days, to prepare for your departure from the US or to transfer to another school.
    • M-1 student – An additional 30-days to depart the US. The 30-days is for you to prepare for departure and is permitted as long as the student maintained a full course of study and maintained status.

    Public School Attendance

    There are certain defined restrictions on attending public school in the US. Persons who violate these restrictions will not be eligible to receive another visa for a five year period.

    The public school restrictions apply only to students holding F-1 visas. They do not apply to students attending public school on derivative visas, such as F-2, J-2 or H-4 visas. The restrictions also do not apply to students attending private schools on F-1 visas.

    The Public School restrictions are:

    Students who attend public high schools in the US are limited to only twelve months of study.

    F-1 visas can no longer be issued to attend public elementary or middle schools (Kindergarten – 8th grade) or publicly-funded adult education programs.

    Before an F-1 visa for a public school can be issued, the student must show that the public school in the US has been reimbursed for the full, unsubsidized per capita cost of the education as calculated by the school. Reimbursement may be indicated on the I-20 Form. Consular officers will likely request copies of canceled checks or paid receipts confirming that reimbursement payment has been made.

    The complexities of JUST obtaining a US Student Visa (eg: all of the above…) demonstrates the need to obtain the services of a US-based attorney to advise you and to help you with your paperwork here in the US. If you are contemplating attending some of the marvelous higher education schools in California or the US, consider having an The Law Office of Andy Miri Immigration and Visa Attorney such as our very capable Student Visa Specialist: Andy Miri, Esq. be your legal representative here in the US. The Law Office of Andy Miri’s fees are affordable and our experience and guidance might save you the frustration of bumping into countless obstacles and bureaucratic road blocks that might make your educational quest a huge headache – or not happen at all.

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