Amongst the U.S non-immigrant visas, student and exchange visas are also very demanded. Educational qualifications in the U.S are highly prestigious and this makes students across the world want to attend U.S institutions.
U.S Study and Exchange Visas
The United States visa system is very specific and detailed, categorizing every type of foreigners that wish to enter the country according to their purpose of entry.
The US is supportive of international education, welcoming foreign students and exchange visitors who prior to their entry to the US for study purposes must first obtain a visa. Educational qualifications in the U.S are highly prestigious and this makes students across the world want to attend U.S institutions.
However, before applying for a visa, students and exchange visitors must be accepted by their schools or program sponsor in order to be eligible and also fulfill the general requirements in order to obtain a study visa.
There are four types of US student visas depending on the specific reason the international student wants to enter the US:
- F-1 visa – for attending academic education starting from elementary to graduate school, including language courses.
- M-1 visa – for students enrolled in vocational and non-academic education, excluding language courses.
- J-1 visa – for studying when various organizations sponsor you.
- Q-1 visa – for participants in an international cultural exchange program (which also provides opportunities for foreign nationals to come work and train in the US)
The F-1 is a US visa for foreign students who wish to attend educational institutions in the US, of these levels:
- Private elementary school (non-U.S citizens are not allowed to attend U.S public elementary schools on an F-1 visa)
- High school
- University and college
- Other institutions, such as a language training program
The main condition to apply for such a visa, is that the applicant must already be accepted into one of the above mentioned educational institutions. And also proof that he or she has strong ties with his / her country and does not intend to further stay in the US upon graduation.
Citizens coming from countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program also need an F-1 visa in order to be allowed to study in the US.
F-1 Visa Requirements
As per every other type of visa, there are some special requirements of the F-1 visa too, which the applicant must fulfil in order to be able to obtain a study visa in the US.
Admission at an SEVP accepted institution
As aforementioned, the applicant must be accepted at an educational institution in order to be able to obtain the visa. Moreover, that institution must be accepted by the Student Exchange Visitor Program, which lists the schools, universities and other institutions that meet the conditions to accept international students.
Therefore, before applying at an educational institution, check if it qualifies under the SEVP.
Proof of having strong ties with your home country
You will have to prove that you have strong ties with your home country. If you have a family, partner / fiance / spouse, job, children, property in your home country, it will be easier for you to prove that you do not plan to remain in the US after you graduate.
Proof of Financial Means
You must show proof that you will have sufficient funds to cover your financial needs during your stay in the US. This could be a bank statement or if you have already won a scholarship which will partially / fully cover your needs you should submit evidence to prove that too.
You cannot attend a US educational institution if you aren’t proficient in English. Therefore, you must prove language proficiency by taking standardized English proficiency tests such as the TOEFL or the IELTS.
F-1 Visa Application Process
You can apply for an F-1 Visa 120 days prior to the start of your program, and no earlier.
Duly complete the DS-160 form online with the necessary information about your visa status.
Pay Visa Fee
You have to pay $160 for the F-1 student visa fee. Keep the receipt you get because you will need it later.
Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee
Your university will register you at the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) upon your admission. You will have to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee, which costs $200 for the F-1 visa.
Schedule an interview as soon as possible, collect the required documents and show up at the embassy or consulate on time. During the interview with the consular officer, he will ask you questions to try to find out whether you intend to return to your home country upon your graduation or not.
The M-1 visa is designed for students enrolled in vocational and non-academic education, excluding language courses. Students who wish to enroll in any studies as the ones listed below must apply for an M-1 visa:
- Technical courses,
- Cooking classes,
- Flight school,
- Cosmetology, and
- Any other course which is considered vocational.
And though the foreigners that come to the US under this visa are allowed to get a driver’s license, open a bank account and work under some certain circumstances, they are still not allowed to do the following:
- They are not permitted to work full-time out of campus
- They cannot complete their programs as part-time students
- They are not allowed to change their program or transfer to another institution after six months of beginning their program
- They are not permitted to continue higher education in the U.S to get any other type of degree
M-1 Visa Requirements
The requirements are just the same as for the F-1 Visa.
- Firstly, the applicant must be accepted at an institution that offers vocational courses that is under the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
- The applicant must have a high English proficiency and capable to financially maintain himself / herself during the whole stay in the US.
- Again, the applicant must prove having very strong ties with his / her home country and has no intention of remaining in the US after graduation.
M-1 Application Process
The M-1 visa application process is similar to that for F-1 visa as well. The applicant must submit the DS-160 form online and pay the visa fee which is again $160 and the SEVIS I-901 fee which is $200.
The applicant has to schedule an interview, collect the required document and show up at the embassy or consulate on the interview day.
The J-1 visa has been designated for students and exchange program participants, who belong to one of the groups listed below:
- Au Pairs
- Camp Counselor
- Government Visitors
- International Visitors
- Professors and Research Scholars
- Short-term scholars
- Specialists in different areas
- University students
- Secondary school students
- Work and travel participants
This visa does not have a limit on how many people can enter the US under this visa. The residents of countries under the Visa Waiver program also need to get a visa to the US if they are coming to the US as part of a program
There are specific requirements for each of the groups mentioned above, for both the applicant and the sponsor. The visa application fee is $160 whereas the SEVIS I-901 fee is $180.
J-1 visa validity
The validity of a J-1 visa varies from category to category and also on the holder. Upon visa expiration, the J-1 visa holder has 30 days to leave the US and go back to their home country. The holder is not eligible for a J-1 visa for another two years. However, he or she can enter the US on a Tourist or Business Visa.
Those who come to the US under this visa program cannot bring dependents to the US.
The Q-1 visa or else known as a Visa for Participants in an International Cultural Exchange Program, which gives the opportunity to adult internationals to come work and train in the US and also the opportunity to share their culture and traditions with people in the US.
Since the Q-1 visa programs are administered by USCIS, all procedures must go through USCIS. There is no cap for the Q-1 visa, therefore the applicant only has to fulfil the criteria to be eligible to get the visa.
Q-1 Visa requirements
This visa has requirements for both, the applicant who wishes to take part in a particular exchange program and the sponsor or employer:
- The main requirements for the applicant are:
- Must be over 18 years old.
- Must be skilled enough and knowledgeable to be able to communicate the cultural aspects of his / her home country
- Must show strong proof that upon the end of the Q-1 program, the visa holder will return to his / her home country
Whereas, the main requirements for the sponsor or employer of the Q-1 visa applicant are:
- Must be a registered business in the US
- Have an international cultural exchange program in their business
- Employ international cultural exchange participants to share their culture
- Has a person who acts as a liaison between the business and USCIS
- Organizes events to provide cultural exchange information from the participant
- Is able to compensate the Q-1 visa holder for their services while in the U.S, with the compensation being similar to what they would pay US workers in that position
- Is able to offer an appropriate working conditions to the Q-1 visa holder
Q-1 visa application process
The application process for a Q-1 visa includes both the applicant and the sponsor again. The process must be initiated by the sponsor who has to get e permission from the USCIS to hire the visa applicant.
The applicant must submit the form DS-160, and pay the application fee of $190. An interview must be scheduled as soon as possible. The applicant must show up at the embassy or consulate with the required documents.
The required documents include:
- Valid passport
- Photograph meeting Photo Requirements for a US Visa
- I-797 Form
- DS-160 confirmation page and code
- Receipts proving fee payment
- Visa interview confirmation letter
- Documents of applicant’s educational qualifications and previous work experience
- Proof that the applicant has strong ties with his/ her home country and intends to return after completion of the exchange program
Q-1 visa validity
The validity for a Q-1 visa is 15 months at most. However, if you have received a visa for a shorter period of time, once in the US, you and your sponsor can apply to get it extended. After 15 months you must return to your home country and you cannot apply for another Q-1 visa for another 1 year.
The Q-1 visa holder cannot bring dependents with to the US.