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All About Student Visas

Student Visas

All About Student Visas

Education is a key that unlocks opportunity – it allows people to achieve their greatest hopes and build the life of their dreams. But education is unfortunately not equally available to people across the globe. Thankfully, student visas are available to foreign nationals who hope to study and learn in the United States (U.S.). But, who can apply for student visas and how? And what are the requirements?

At Nanthaveth & Associates, we believe that knowledge is power. We want our clients to understand their options and the possible paths available. In this article, we discuss student visas, including who can apply, what types of visas exist, and what steps are required to acquire a visa. Keep reading below!

Most importantly, if you have any questions about student visas, the best choice is to talk to an immigration attorney. An expert immigration attorney can help you unlock your dreams. Nanthaveth & Associates is located in Austin, Texas and offers free initial consultations. Contact us today!

Who Can Apply for Student Visas?

Any student technically can apply for an educational visa – with one important requirement. Applicants must already be accepted to an SEVP-approved institution before applying.

What is an SEVP-approved organization? It’s any school, university, or other institution that is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, or SEVP. After receiving an acceptance and choosing where to attend, students must discuss their specific visa requirements with their school or organization of choice.

What Types of Student Visas are Available?

All student visas are considered “nonimmigrant.” That means that they are temporary visas contingent upon an educational or exchange program. The visas will expire after the completion of the program or experience. Thus, those studying and visiting the U.S. through a student visa must leave by the date specified (it is typically shortly after completion of studies). Otherwise, a person risks violating their visa, which can have terrible consequences in the future.

A student must apply for the visa that applies to their specific SEVP-approved institution. The State Department lists detailed educational eligibility categories for each visa type on its website. We’ve listed each visa type below.

F Visas

F visas are the most common type of student visa. These visas are available to university students, high school exchange students, and private elementary school students. They are also available to adults attending seminary or specialty language programs.

F visa recipients cannot work off campus during their first academic year. After completion of studies and/or course work, the visa holder must leave the U.S. within 60 calendar days.

M Visas

The most restrictive student visas are “M” visas. These are most commonly available to those in vocational training programs. Some other non-academic training programs (not counting language) are also eligible. As with J visas, the program must be SEVP-approved.

M Visas are contingent upon a student’s vocational program. Thus, after completion of their vocational studies, the visa holder must exit the U.S. within 30 calendar days.

J Visas

Finally, the J visa is available to students in specialized exchange programs. These programs include work-study, trainee programs, and any apprenticeships. This visa program promotes “cultural exchange,” encouraging on-site training and unique experiences for foreign trainees. The USCIS states the program’s purpose is to help foreign nationals  “teach, instruct or lecture, study, observe, conduct research, consult, demonstrate special skills, receive training, or receive graduate medical education or training.” For example, some recipients of J visas are au pairs, research assistants, visiting professors, and camp counselors.

Unlike F and M visas, J visas require sponsorship. This means that a person’s exchange program, in addition to being approved by the State Department, must also sponsor their visa. Once accepted into a program, applicants should discuss sponsorship requirements with their institution in order to properly coordinate their application.

After completion of studies, training, or cultural experiences, J visa holders must leave the U.S. within 30 calendar days.

What is Required to Apply for a Student Visa?

Below, we’ve listed the basic steps required when applying for a student visa. You’ll also find essential support documentation. Remember that the best resource for your student visa application is a skilled immigration lawyer. In fact, proper legal counsel will ensure your application is timely and correct.

Application Steps

  1. Step One: Apply for acceptance into an SEVP-approved program and/or institution. In the case of universities, a student will likely apply to several places. Once accepted, applicants should discuss their visa requirements with their school or institution. That institution will issue a Form I-20, which you must submit along with the rest of the visa application.
  2. Step Two: Register your information with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (also known as SEVIS). There is a required fee that all applicants must pay. For F and M visa applicants, their institution will submit their Form I-20 via the SEVIS. J visa applicants’ institutions will register as sponsors through SEVIS and applicants will also receive their DS-2019 form on the system.
  3. Step Three: Apply for your student visa! After completing steps one and two, it’s time to officially apply for your specific visa. In order to do this, applicants must submit Form DS-160, which is the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.
  4. Step Four: Complete all visa requirements. These will include any biometrics appointments, medical screenings, follow-up paperwork, and the visa interview itself. Remember to also bring a hard copy of all required documentation to your visa interview. The interview’s purpose is to help your interviewer determine if you are eligible for the visa, as well as identify any bars to eligibility.

Required Paperwork

In order to prove visa eligibility, student visa applicants must bring certain documentation to their visa interview. For example, such paperwork includes your DS-160 application, personal identification cards or documents, and proof of payment for your visa application. Further, applicants must submit any hard copies of forms provided by their institutions (Form I-20 or DS-2019).

Finally, be prepared that your visa interviewer may request additional documentation after your interview. Such information may be required to help determine eligibility and make a final decision. The State Department reports that requested additional documentation could include:

  • Academic documents, like diplomas, degrees, or transcripts from institutions attended;
  • Any standardized test scores (SAT, TOEFL) submitted to your university or other academic institution (if required);
  • Evidence of ability to pay for your education experience; and/or
  • Proof that you will leave the U.S. after program completion.

Talk to an Experienced Visa Lawyer in Austin

If you are considering apply for a student visa, or are hoping to help your child attain one, the best ally is a qualified and experienced immigration attorney. Education is far too important to leave to chance. A simple error on application paperwork can easily lead to delay, denial, and heartbreak. Immigration attorneys know how to help foreign nationals achieve their educational dreams through student visas. Thus, let the expert legal team at Nanthaveth & Associates help you achieve!

The lawyers at Nanthaveth & Associates passionately serve the Austin area every day. Our team provides top-tier legal representation and services to our clients, ensuring that every person receives the help they need. For your comfort and convenience, we provide free initial consultations. We hope contact us today to schedule a time to speak with an attorney. We’re ready to work with you!