Student Visas

Generally speaking, the process for Indian citizens to apply for a visa to study in the U.S. is straightforward, if you the necessary steps are completed in a timely and accurate manner. The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy offices welcome visa applications from international students. The U.S. Department of State issued 715,093 student, exchange, and vocational visas in the fiscal year 2010  and the worldwide acceptance rate was over 86%.


This page is meant to be a general guide to the visa application process. For official information on student visas, consult the website of the U.S. Embassy in India. Any information provided to you by the U.S. Embassy supersedes information on this webpage.


Types of Visas for U.S. Study

The two most common visas for U.S. study are the F-1 Student Visa and J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa. Please note you will not have to choose which visa to apply for. Your university or sponsoring organization will determine your visa type.


F-1 Student Visa: Most students pursuing full-time study at an educational institution recognized by the U.S. government will enter the U.S. on an F-1 Student Visa. Spouses or children accompanying F-1 visa recipients will travel on an F-2 visa. Please note that spouses are not able to work but may accompany and/or apply for their own visa to the U.S. to work or study.


J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa: The J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa is for students, visiting scholars or lecturers pursuing an exchange program. For example, Fulbright scholars and many students on short-term study abroad programs from Indian universities will travel to the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Spouses or children accompanying J-1 visa recipients will travel on a J-2 visa. Please note that spouses are able to work when permission is obtained in advance.


General Steps to Apply for an F-1 or J-1 Visa

 

  • Read the information provided by the U.S. Embassy on F-1 Student Visas and J-1 Exchange Visitor Visas.
  • Once you accept an offer of admission, your university or sponsor will require proof of funds (bank statements, scholarship offer letters, loan documentation, etc.) for the first year of study. This figure will be based on the cost of attendance listed on the financial aid webpage of the university. Please note you may use any combination of personal/family savings, scholarships and loans to fund your studies. If you will be taking dependents (children, spouse) to the U.S., you will required to show funds to cover their living expenses as well.
  • The university or sponsor will then send you the relevant certificate of eligibility form, the I-20 (F-1) or DS-2019 (J-1). If you are taking dependents, you will use the same certificate of eligibility form.
  • After receiving your I-20, complete the SEVIS I-901 form to register with the international visitor database. You will also need to pay the SEVIS fee ($200 for F visa and $180 for J visa) online using a debit or credit card. Note: spouses and dependants do not need to pay the fee if they are going to the U.S. on F-2 or J-2 visas. For more information about the SEVIS program, please see the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
  • After paying for your SEVIS fee, book an appointment for a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy within your jurisdiction. In India, students have to pay the visa fee at the designated HDFC bank, and then schedule their visa appointment online at https://www.vfs-usa.co.in/U.S.India/Index.html
  • All applicants for F-1 and J-1 visas are required to complete the new online DS-160 visa form. You can begin the application 120 days prior to your entry to the U.S. On the DS-160, you will be asked to upload a digital passport photo (use a proper photo following the instructions provided - i.e. not an informal Facebook profile photo). You should also save often, as the system times out after several minutes. Additionally, be sure to include all educational institutions you have attended since age 11 in the Education section, as well as your full criminal background if applicable. For more information, please note the U.S. Embassy provides a list of FAQs on the DS-160 form, as well as a YouTube video and FAQs.
  • After completing the form, you will be asked to take a print confirmation to your interview.
  • You may wish to prepare for your visa interview. Student visa applicants should be able to demonstrate three criteria to visa officers:
    • that you are completing a bona fide degree or study abroad program in the U.S.
    • that you have funds for the first year of your stay in the U.S. and a plan for the remaining years
    • that your activities are in line with the purpose (and in particular the non-immigrant intent) of the visa you will travel on

    Although the interview is not a document review, you may wish to take documentation to support these criteria, such as a letter of acceptance for your university and the funding documentation you submitted to receive your I-20 or DS-2019. Be prepared to describe your reasons for studying in the U.S., your program of study and why you ed this particular university, your long-term goals and how studying in the U.S. fits in with these goals, and your plans after you finish your degree program and return back to India.


    Visa applicants are assumed to be intending to immigrate to the U.S. and overstay their visas. You will therefore need to prove to the immigration officer that you do not intend to overstay your visa. You will be asked to demonstrate your significant personal, cultural or professional ties to India, the country to which you would presumably return after your studies.

  • Before your appointment, read the U.S. Embassy's information on security information and plan your journey to the Embassy. Gather the documents you need for your interview, such as your passport, appointment letter, I-20/DS-2019, MRV receipt, DS-160, photo, SEVIS receipt, etc.
  • Watch the U.S. Embassy's YouTube video on what to expect on arrival to the Embassy. You will go through security procedures similar to what you would expect at an airport. You may wish to take a book or magazine to read while you wait, but travel light, as you are not allowed to take electronics (iPods, phones, laptops, etc) into the Embassy.
  • You will then wait until your number is called for an initial processing procedure called intake. You will submit your visa application, passport and photo, as well as have your fingerprints taken. If your DS-160 is not completed correctly, you will be sent home and have to reschedule your appointment.
  • You will wait again until your number is called for your actual visa interview. Although the interview itself may only take a few minutes, you may be at the Embassy for a few hours in total.
  • You will leave your passport with the U.S. Embassy after the appointment. Expect to receive your visa and passport back within an average of 5-7 working days. Average visa waiting times are available online.
  • After you receive your visa, book your travel to the U.S.: F-1 visa holders may enter the U.S. 30 days prior to the start date on their I-20 and stay on 60 days following the date of completion of your program listed on the I-20. J-1 visa holders may also enter the U.S. 30 days prior to the start date on their DS-2019, but may stay on only 30 days beyond the date of completion listed on the DS-2019.
  • If for some reason your visa is refused, please see the information on the U.S. Embassy's website on visa refusals.
  • Finally, don't forget to read the tips before you go to the U.S. section of our website.

Dependents

Spouses and dependent children under the age of 21 may accompany F-1 and J-1 visa holders, if they qualify for and apply for F-2 and J-2 visas respectively. Taking spouses and children with you can be an enjoyable way to share your international experience. However, there will be some logistical and financial issues to take into careful consideration. You will be expected to demonstrate financial support for your dependents. Additionally, as described in the work section, F-2 visa holders may not take up any paid work in the U.S., unless they apply for their own work or study visa.

 

For any query on U.S. higher education, call us on our EdUSA toll-free hotline 1800-103-1231 between 2pm and 5pm (Monday-Friday)