Applying for Student or Scholar Visa
Tips for Planning Ahead
Locate the US Embassy or Consulate that is nearest to you.
Review their requirements to apply for the visa you need. Requirements may vary slightly in different locations. Information can be found on the U.S. Embassy Web site.
Find out what fees are required and how to pay them.
Note that in addition to the visa fees, there may be additional interview or service fees, including the SEVIS fee (one-time fee paid by Dickinson College for new students and scholars). Use only official US Department of State sources for fee information to avoid scam artists.
Acquire and complete the necessary forms.
- Letters of admission and invitation
- I-20 (for F visa) or DS-2019 (for J visa)
From U.S. Department of State:
- Nonimmigrant visa application (Form DS-160)
- Consult US Embassy or Consulate for additional forms
Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the anticipated date of entry to the U.S.
Check that the data on the I-20 or DS-2019 (e.g., spelling of name, birth date) matches with your passport. Notify Dickinson immediately of any mistakes. NOTE: Dickinson will use only your first given name and your family name on visa forms. Middle names are not required. Also, the Department of State has advised schools to omit (leave out) dashes "-" in names.
Obtain identification photographs.
The U.S. Department of State has specific photo requirements.
Gather financial evidence that shows sufficient funds to cover tuition (if applicable) and living expenses during the period of stay.
These would include income tax records, bankbooks and/or statements. If your sponsor owns a business, additional business documents will be required (e.g., registrations, licenses, etc.). The amount of funds you are responsible for appear on your I-20 or DS-2019.
Schedule the appointment for an in-person interview with a consular officer.
Most consular offices require use of an online scheduling system that you can access from their websites. Consult Visa Wait Times from the U.S. Department of State to help you determine your best target date. The site shows AVERAGE wait times. Do not procrastinate in making your appointment in case a problem arises with your application.
Preparing for your Visa Interview
Proving home ties
All applicants for nonimmigrant visas are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the U.S. "Ties" to your home country are the things that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. The officer may ask about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country. Each person's situation is different, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter that 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 U.S. previously, be prepared to explain what happened clearly and concisely, with documentation if available. If you or a family member (parent, brother, sister) has applied previously for an immigrant visa to the U.S. (H and L visas are two examples), the officer can view the previous applications as proof that you intend to move to the U.S. permanently. You must be prepared to explain why your intent has changed since that application.
Be prepared to:
- Demonstrate as many ties as possible to your home country
- Describe why you wish to study or teach at Dickinson College
- Explain how your time at Dickinson will lead to future opportunities
- Discuss the possibility of finding work after returning home (letters from potential employers, prospects for future employment or further study, etc.)
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!
Speak for yourself
Do not bring family members with you to the interview. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf. If you are an undergraduate and need your parents in case there are questions, for example about funding, they should remain in the waiting room.
Because of the volume of applications received, 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. You will likely have only 2 to 3 minutes of interview time.
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.
Not all countries are equal
Unfortunately, applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many visitors have remained in the US 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 U.S.
Spouses, children and other dependents
If your spouse is applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the U.S. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the U.S. Volunteer work and attending school part-time are permitted activities. If your spouse and/or 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 US in order to support themselves, your 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.
Maintain a positive attitude
Do not engage the consular officer in an argument. If you are denied a 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.
Seeking Additional Help
Education USA provides helpful resources in the visa application process. These services are available for free or a modest fee. Be wary of any other advisers or consultants proposing they can obtain a visa for you for a significant fee.
Special Note: Canadian citizens do not need to apply in advance for visas to enter the U.S. but must be prepared to show the documentation outlined above at the U.S. border. U.S. immigration officers will put the entry stamp on the I-20 or DS-2019 and have the visitor complete a form I-94. The officer will stamp the I-94 as either F-1 or J-1 and give it to the visitor as evidence of legal entry to the U.S. in student or scholar status. Canadians who have dual citizenship with another country are eligible for this type of entry ONLY if the Canadian documentation is presented. Therefore, you should present your Canadian passport and notify Dickinson in advance to ensure your Canadian citizenship is printed on your I-20 or DS-2019.
Sources: Gerald A. Wunsch, Esq., 1997, member of the Consular Issues Working Group, and a former U.S. Consular Officer in Mexico, Suriname, and the Netherlands; Martha Wailes, Indiana University; Kristin Crosby, Bates College; U.S. Department of State; NAFSA.