US Visas and Immigration: The Basics

Visa and Immigration – Process overview

Applying for a visa can be as stressful a job as applying to universities. Having been shortlisted by the University of your Choice, students must start the visa process at the earliest. The visa process can take approximately three months, so be sure to have time on your side. USA offers three kinds of visa for students who have been accepted by US universities: F-1, J-1 and M-1.

F-1: This is the most common student visa and majority of students studying in USA have gone on F-1 type visa. F student visa is given to study at an accredited college in USA or university. After a student has been accepted by a university for admission to full-time study, the school will send a document called an I-20 form to the student, which is used to apply for an F-1 visa.

J-1: Exchange visitor (J-1) visas are nonimmigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States. DS-2019 form is received from the organization sponsoring the student, which is used for applying for a J-1 visa.

M-1: Students wanting to pursue vocational programs are issued M student visas. These programs must be non-academic and there are a number of restrictions on students who are studying in USA on this visa, for instance, the student cannot change the major or the program of study than already indicated in applications. This visa lets the student to stay in USA for a period of one year, unless the visa is extended.

It is highly recommended to check if the university that the student has applied to is certified by ‘Student exchange and visitor program (SEVP). “Even when an institution is SEVP-certified and able to issue I-20 and DS-2019 forms for use in visa applications, it may not hold national or regional accreditation. Please check the aforementioned certification of the institutions you are applying to”, says Education USA.

Once form I-20 or DS-2019 is received from your institute, you are required to visit the following for detailed instructions:


Education USA advises, “It is important to note that two separate U.S. government agencies are involved with international student arrival and status while studying in the United States. The State Department is responsible for the visa application process and issuing the visa. Once a visa holder arrives in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security then takes over as the responsible agency for entry into the country, as well as issuing and enforcing international student regulations. Please read information from all three sources above before applying for a U.S. student visa.”

The entire application process can be summarized as below: Visa interviews typically are 10-15 long; therefore every effort must be made to explain why USA is the student’s preferred destination for higher education, how does the student plan to finance the higher education, and what the student’s career goals.