U.S. Visa Requirements
Who Needs a Student Visa?
U.S. Immigration law says that if a person’s main purpose in coming to the U.S. is to study in a full-time program (18 or more hours per week), he or she must come on a student visa (F-1 or J-1).
UC San Diego Extension International Programs is authorized under federal law to enroll non-immigrant students. We issue Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to students who meet our admission requirements and who provide evidence of sufficient financial verification.
B visa holders (B-1 visitors for business and B-2 visitors for pleasure) are prohibited by law from enrolling in a full course of study and must apply for a change of status to F-1 or J-1 before beginning studies.
It is a difficult and lengthy process to change visa status from B-1 or B-2 to F-1 or J-1 after you enter the United States, and there is no guarantee that the change will be approved by the immigration service. In addition, a person who applies to change to F-1 status may not begin studying until the change is approved. Therefore, it is important that anyone who is planning to study full-time in the U.S. enter on a student visa.
What is the Difference Between an F-1 and a J-1 Student Visa?
Refer to the student visa comparison chart to help you determine which visa type you qualify for and best matches your study plans.
If you are in any doubt about which kind of visa you need, we recommend you ask either your local counseling source or the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. You can also contact our visa advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?
Apply for your visa appointment early! It is important to apply for your program several months before your travel departure date. However, keep in mind that student visas are not issued more than 4 months before the beginning of the program.
What is Needed to Apply for a Student Visa?
In general, all student visa applicants must submit the following documents and fees:
- A valid passport (valid at least 6 months beyond your intended stay in the U.S.)
- Form I-20 for F-1 student status or Form DS-2019 for J-1 exchange visitor student status.
- Visa application form DS-160
- Visa application fees (refer to the instructions on the forms for fee amounts)
- SEVIS I-901 fee (pay this fee online)
There may be additional requirements since each U.S. embassy and consulate sets its own interview policies and procedures regarding student visas. Therefore, students should consult embassy websites or call for specific application instructions. To find the U.S. embassy website in your city, go to this website: http://www.usembassy.gov
It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that you will receive a student visa. Also, because each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. For that reason, the guidelines listed above are general and can be abridged or expanded by consular officers overseas, depending on each student’s situation.
Helpful U.S. Visa and Immigration Links:
Preparing for Your Visa Interview:
You’ve been accepted at the school of your choice. You’re thinking about the courses you’ll take, the people you’ll meet, and the exciting things you’ll do… and then your heart sinks when you hear your friends describe the complexities of getting a student visa. Suddenly, you’re afraid: what if, after filling out forms and dreaming about your future, you can’t get a visa? Well relax; you very likely can get a visa. But there are two things you should do to increase your chances of a favorable decision: first, have all the required documentation; second, be prepared.
The visa process step-by-step
Step One: You must have a valid I-20 or DS-2019, which we will send to you after you have been admitted and after you have certified your available finances. When you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, check the following:
- Is your name spelled correctly and in the same form as it appears in your passport?
- Is the other information correct – date and country of birth, program of study, reporting date, completion date, financial information?
- Is it signed by a school official?
- Has the program start date passed? (the I-20 and DS-2019 forms expire and cannot be used after the reporting date).
Step Two: If your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid, you’re ready to apply for the visa. In order to issue your visa, the Consular Officer must be satisfied on three counts:
First, are you a student?
The officer will ask about your educational background and plans in order to assess how likely you are to enroll and remain in school until graduation. Be prepared to discuss the reasons you chose UC San Diego’s program, your study program at UC San Diego, and your career plans. Bring school transcripts, national examination results, and SAT or TOEFL scores (if these tests were required for your program) and anything else that demonstrates your academic commitment.
Second, are you or your sponsor financially capable?
Visa requirements differ from country to country, but generally the U.S. government wants assurances that you won’t drop out of school or take a job illegally. How can you show that you or your sponsor are able to finance your education?
- If you are paying for your own studies, provide evidence of your funding source (salary from employment, bank savings, etc.)
- Your chances are improved if your parents are sponsoring your education. If anyone other than your parents is sponsoring you, you should explain your special relationship with this person, who may be committing thousands of dollars to your education.
- Provide solid evidence of your sponsor’s finances. This assures the Consular Officer that adequate funds will be available throughout your program. If your sponsor’s income is from several different sources (such as salary, contracts or consulting fees, a farm, rental property, investments), have the sponsor write a letter listing and documenting each source of income.
Third, are your ties to home so strong that you will not want to remain permanently in the U.S.?
Laws generally state that you must demonstrate sufficient economic, family, and social ties to your place of residence to ensure that your stay in the U.S. will be temporary.
- Economic ties: These include your family’s economic position, property you may own or stand to inherit, and your own economic potential when you come home with a U.S. education. The Consular Officer will be impressed to see evidence of your career planning and your knowledge of the local employment scene.
- Family and social ties: How many close family members live in your home country, compared to those living in the States? What community or school activities have you participated in that demonstrate a strong connection to your town or country? What leadership, sports, and other roles have distinguished you as a person who wants to come home and contribute to your community in your country?
The information above outlines important steps for you to follow before you go for your visa interview. However, there is additional preparation you should undertake.
When applying for a student visa, it is important to demonstrate an academic plan that you have thought about and can articulate. The visa officer usually gets at this issue by asking you why you chose a particular university and why you chose “X” program at that university. They are not questioning the validity of the University or the program; they are trying to determine how clear you are with your academic plans and goals.
Before going for a visa interview, it’s quite important to gather information about the programs, courses and other details offered on the school website and have enough information about the school. Recently a student during a visa interview was asked, “What do you want to study at X university?” The student said, “Computer Science, software development.” The visa officer asked if X university had a software development program. The student was not sure. The student did not receive a visa. This shows how important it is for you to be able to articulate academic reasons for choosing the university and that specific program at the university.
Familiarize yourself with UC San Diego Extension before you go for your visa interview by visiting our website.
What if you’re refused a visa?
If your application is refused, the Consular Officer is required to give you an explanation in writing. You do have the right to apply a second time, but if you reapply, make sure to prepare much more carefully. The Consular Officer will want to see new evidence sufficient to overcome the reasons for the first denial.
If you have given careful thought to your educational goals and if you have reasonable career plans, the visa interview is an opportunity for you to prove that you’re ready to take the next big step in your education and in your life: study in the U.S.A.