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Preparing For Your F-1 Visa Interview

This information is for prospective students who plan to enter the United States for the first time to study. For information on bringing dependents to the U.S., returning to continue studies, or renewing your visa, or for more details on how to apply for a student visa, refer to travel.state.gov.

Steps to prepare for your F-1 Visa Interview

Step 1

Contact your local U.S. Consulate or Embassy to ask about how to get an F-1 international student visa. View a list of Consulates and Embassies.

Step 2

After you receive an I-20 form from the school that you want to attend, follow the U.S. Embassy/Consulate's instructions to schedule an interview for your F-1 student visa. It is important to apply for your student visa as far in advance as possible. Many consulates recommend that appointments be made no more than 120 days from the intended date of travel, but some can make earlier arrangements for interviews.

Step 3

Complete the Nonimmigrant Visa application DS 160 form and pay the application fee by following instructions on your local U.S. embassy or consulate's website.

Step 4

If your I-20 is marked for "initial" attendance (see #3 on your I-20 form), you will also need to pay the I-901 $200 SEVIS fee.

If your country of citizenship or country of birth is Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria or The Gambia, you must pay the SEVIS by money order, Western Union Quick Pay or certified check drawn from a U.S. bank. All other prospective F students also have the option to make a credit card payment.

Third party payments are acceptable - meaning someone else can pay your I-901 SEVIS fee using the same methods of payment. For students who cannot pay the fee by credit card, third party payers are also restricted from paying the fee by credit card.

To Pay By Mail

  • Obtain a Form I-901 "Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants", download the Form I-901 at www.FMJfee.com OR ask for the form by phone at 1-800-870-3676 (inside the U.S.)
  • Complete the Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly how it appears on your I-20 form.
  • Prepare a check, international money order or foreign draft (* drawn on U.S. banks only) in the amount of $200 USD, made payable to "The Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement."
    *Many foreign banks are able to issue checks or money orders drawn on a U.S. bank. You may therefore obtain a check from a bank chartered or operated in the United States, a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. bank, or foreign bank that has an arrangement with a U.S .bank to issue a check, money order, or foreign draft that is drawn on a U.S. bank.
  • Mail the completed I-901 and payment to the address listed on Form I-901.
  • You may print the payment confirmation from www.FMJfee.com. The printed confirmation will serve as proof of payment for the I-901 SEVIS fee.

To Pay Online

  • Find the Form I-901 at www.FMJfee.com.
  • Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly how it appears on your I-20 form.
  • Print a copy of the online receipt.
  • Be sure to make copies of your receipt, and keep it with your other important immigration documents.
  • You must bring the receipt of fee payment with you to the interview. If you have lost the receipt, the Visa Officer should be able to view your payment history in the database.
  • If you are transferring schools, extending your program, applying for an F-2 dependent visa, or have paid this fee and been denied a visa within the last 12 months, you do not need to pay the $200 SEVIS fee.

To Pay by Western Union Quick Pay

Step 5

Prepare and bring to your visa interview the following:

  • A passport valid for at least six months
  • Form I-20 (sign the form under Item 11)
  • School admission letter
  • Completed visa applications (DS160)
  • Two 2"x 2" photographs in the prescribed format. See the www.travel.state.gov website.
  • A receipt for the visa application fee
  • A receipt for the SEVIS fee. If you have not received an official receipt in the mail showing payment and you paid the fee electronically, the consulate will accept the temporary receipt you printed from your computer. If you do not have a receipt, the consulate may be able to see your payment electronically if your fee payment was processed at least 3 business days before your interview.
  • Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study.
  • Any information that proves that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies in the U.S. This may include proof of property, family, or other ties to your community.

10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

1. Ties to Your Home Country

Under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas, such as student visas, are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States. "Ties" to your home country are the things that bind you to your home town, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. As a prospective undergraduate, the interviewing officer may ask about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country.

Each person's situation is different, of course, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter which can guarantee visa issuance. If you have applied for the U.S. Green Card Lottery, you may be asked if you are intending to immigrate. A simple answer would be that you applied for the lottery since it was available but not with a specific intent to immigrate. If you overstayed your authorized stay in the United States previously, be prepared to explain what happened clearly and concisely, with documentation, if available.

2. English

Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do NOT prepare speeches! If you are coming to the United States solely to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.

3. Speak for Yourself

Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.

4. Know the Program and How It Fits Your Career Plans

If you are not able to articulate the reasons you will study in a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study, rather than to immigrate. You should also be able to explain how studying in the United States relates to your future professional career when you return home.

5. Be Brief

Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point.

6. Additional Documentation

It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you are lucky.

7. Not All Countries are Equal

Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the United States as immigrants will have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.

8. Employment

Your main purpose in coming to the United States should be to study, not for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students do work off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program. If your spouse is also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the United States. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the United States. Volunteer work and attending school part-time are permitted activities.

9. Dependents Remaining at Home

If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression that your family will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support themselves, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.

10. Maintain a Positive Attitude

Do not engage the consular officer in an argument. If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.

Also, go to the Education USA webpage, http://educationusa.state.gov/. You will find many helpful suggestions, plus locate the nearest Education USA Advising Center.

Good luck at your visa interview!