What Is an F-1 Visa?
The F-1 visa stamp in your passport is permission to apply to enter the United States in that visa category. Although your passport and I-20 must remain valid while you are in the U.S., it is okay to remain in the U.S. with an expired student visa. The visa expiration date is separate from your length of authorized stay in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. and/or its number of entries has been used, or if you have changed your nonimmigrant status while in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must apply for a new F-1 visa in order to return to the U.S. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. (Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa stamp to enter the U.S.)
How to Apply for an F1 Student Visa
Apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate in your home country, unless circumstances or travel plans make this impossible. It may be possible to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in a country other than your home country. This is called a “third country national (TCN)” application. Not all U.S. consulates accept TCN applications, and some allow TCN applications for limited situations; check with individual consulates, including those in Canada and Mexico, for TCN application policies. It can be risky to apply in a country other than your home country. For instance, if you apply for a new visa in Canada and encounter delays, you must remain in Canada for the length of the processing. You will not be able to reenter the U.S. until the new visa is approved.
Allow ample time for the visa application process. U.S. consulates require in-person interviews for most visa applicants. You are encouraged to schedule the visa interview appointment as early as possible. The U.S. Department of State maintains an excellent website on the visa application process, and you should study it carefully. You can also find information about how long it will take to get your visa. Students applying for initial-entry F-1 and F-2 visas may be issued the visas up to 120 days before the academic program start date as noted on the I-20.
Visa processing delays may occur due to enhanced security reviews that take into account your field of study, country of origin, and likelihood of returning home after completion of studies. Certain disciplines are considered “sensitive” by the State Department and are put on the Technology Alert List (TAL). The current TAL is not public information. Consult an ISS adviser for more information about potential visa delays.
At the consulate, include the following items:
- DS-160 Visa application. Complete the form provided by the U.S. consulate in the country where the application will be submitted. You will be charged a fee for the visa application.
- Receipt confirming payment of the $350 SEVIS fee, if applicable.
- Valid passport. Your passport must be valid for at least six months when seeking admission or readmission to the United States, unless your country has an agreement with the United States. For a list of countries under this agreement, see the list on the Immigration Customs Enforcement website. Your passport should remain valid throughout your stay in the U.S.
- Passport-size photos.
- SEVIS I-20 Form. If you are applying for a visa to continue studies at RCC, be sure that your ISS adviser has signed the travel validation section of the form within the past year. (Newly admitted students do not need a travel signature for the initial visa interview.)
- Financial evidence detailing source and amount of funding. Consular and immigration officers exercise considerable discretion in determining whether financial support exists and is sufficient to cover your entire period of stay. Prepare documentation that is thorough, consistent, credible and varied.
- Proof of admission to RCC. If you are a current student at RCC, you should provide official academic transcript and confirmation of enrollment. You can request these documents from the Registrar.
- Evidence of continuing ties (such as family, career, or property) to your home country. Visa applicants are presumed to be “intending immigrants.” Your visa will be denied unless you satisfy the consular officer that you will return home. Unfortunately, there is no single explanation, document, or letter than can guarantee visa issuance.
- Know information about Rockland Community College, especially the program you have been admitted to. If the consular officer asks, “Why did you choose RCC”, make sure you have a clear answer. For example, do not just say because of the location – that seems to not be enough. Understand the benefits of attending a community college and RCC in general.
- As RCC does is open enrollment, this may be held against you. Have a plan of what you are going to say. Know that you will be studying in an associate’s degree, not a bachelor’s degree. But, explain that you plan to transfer after graduating from here.
- Know your documents. Know who your sponsor is and how you plan to pay for College. Make sure to bring copies of your financial documents with you.
- Do not lie!
- If possible, dress up. Where a suit or a nice dress. You may be taken more seriously if you do this.
- Be confident. Do not hesitate with your answers. Make eye contact. Consular officers see between 150-200 applicants per day and make their decision on a 2-5 minute interview. If they believe that you are lying based on you being anxious they may decide to reject you.
- Make sure you have Evidence of continuing ties (such as family, career, or property) to your home country. Visa applicants are presumed to be “intending immigrants.” Your visa will be denied unless you satisfy the consular officer that you will return home. Unfortunately, there is no single explanation, document, or letter than can guarantee visa issuance.
U.S. Embassies and Consulates around the globe have produced short informational videos to help prepare people for the nonimmigrant visa application process. To find out what the process can be like, check out these links below!
- London, U.K. (3:09)
- Amman, Jordan (3:52)
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (7:01)
- Ankara, Turkey (2:35)
- Dubai, UAE (4:04)
- Manila, Philippines
- Mumbai, India (4:07)
These videos talk specifically about temporary intent:
- What Does Temporary Intent Mean, How to Apply from the Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas (6:11)
- Interview Tips From the Embassy in Seoul, Korea (2:09)
Check out these links for information just for students:
- Interview Tips From the Embassy in Seoul, Korea (2:09)
- F-1 FAQs from the Embassy in Hyderabad, India (5:06)
- A Guide on What Not to Do From the C
- Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany (6:27)
- Q and A with the Consulate in Hyderabad, India (31:30)
- More Q and A with the Consulate in Hyderabad, India (34:44)
- How to Apply for a Student Visa from the Consulate in Chennai, India (54:33)
- Student Visa Day at the Embassy in New Delhi, India (4:29)
Outside the country for more than 5 months
If you have been outside of the U.S. for more than five months and were not registered full time while abroad, your F-1 visa may be considered invalid, even if it has not yet expired. Being outside the country for more than 5 months will result in your being issued a brand new SEVIS I-20 and having to pay the $200 SEVIS fee again. You should consult your local US consulate to determine if you must obtain a new F-1 visa.