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Here’s What You Need to Know About the International Student Visa Approval Process

Knowing how to navigate the visa approval process can help you do everything possible to ensure your child attends the school of their choice. Being aware of all the details will prepare you and your child to navigate the process successfully.

Hopefully, your school is guiding you—even if you are working with an outside agency or counselor. Your school should be collaborating with you in a coordinated approach.

Parents, it may be tempting to manage the entire process for your child. But there are components of it—like the interview—that will be the sole responsibility of your child. Provide them with support and encouragement.

Required Documentation

Here’s an overview of the major documents needed to complete the international student via process.

  • Passport: This must be valid and include an expiration date 6 months beyond the intended period of study in the U.S.
  • Form DS-160: Include the visa application confirmation barcode page. This is required during the interview process.
  • Original Form I-20: This is a form issued by your school. The original form 1-20 must be signed by the school, as well as by parents and the student.
  • Photo Identification: Be sure your student’s photo ID picture matches the one uploaded at the time of the visa application.
  • Verification of funds document: You will be required to have the original document and may be asked to show a copy during the interview process.
  • Acceptance letter: Have a school admission acceptance letter or a contract on school letterhead.
  • Academic records: Keep multiple copies of documents on demand in case they are needed. These documents include test scores, transcripts, diplomas, and other identifying records.

Facilitating the Visa Approval Process

Here are a few things you and your child should know.

  • Students can begin their international visa application process online and register for the interview 120 days before the start of the school year.
  • Accurate dates must be reported on your I-17 form. (If your school opens on August 30, the student can’t apply until 120 days earlier.) Have these dates clearly listed.
  • Requested documents are mandatory. Obtain them in their original format—don’t rely on copies.
  • To start the international student visa process, go directly to the U.S. Department of State website for the DS-160 form. If you hire a service provider to work on this for you, that consultant will charge you a fee.
  • Understand what type of international visa is required. It’s likely an F-1, M-1 or J-1.
  • Follow instructions and answer questions honestly—in English only. Names may be spelled in their native alphabet.
  • Make sure to note the application number. That number differs from the form I-20 number because the documents are issued by separate agencies of the U.S. government.
  • The student has to report the use of professional assistance with their application. It’s perfectly acceptable to have official assistance, but the government wants to know the truth, and if the student will continue to need assistance during the process.
  • The I-901 fee must be paid before the visa interview. Prepare to pay the I-901 fee for the SEVIS student record with a credit card. Use form I-20 and a number that starts with N followed by 10 or 11 digits.
  • The I-901 fee supports the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)/ Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) system for international students and schools. Make sure to pay and print the receipt page. You can pay at https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/index.html.
  • Make sure all this information and documentation is prepared for uploading at one time. The student should sign and double check their list before it is submitted. Print the confirmation page, which includes the barcode—this acts as your receipt.

Visa Interview Strategies

Students, make sure you are prepared for the interview. A parent may help you get ready, but it’s up to you to complete that portion of the process. You should:

  • Take the interview seriously. Dress appropriately. Don’t respond with “I don’t know” to a question.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about why you want to study in the U.S., why you chose the school, what your future educational plans are, where you plan to live in the U.S., if you plan to return to your home country, and if you want to pursue permanent residency in the U.S.
  • Speak English during the interview; do not use your native language.
  • Don’t rely on parental help. Parents are allowed to be present at interviews, but they’re not allowed to speak for you.
  • Be prepared to respond to questions about residency. Some schools may not offer documentation pertaining to that. You may need to share a pending address.

Common International Student Visa Mistakes

A simple mishap can hold up the entire process. Make sure that the student does the following:

  • Completes the application in its entirety
  • Has applied for the right type of visa
  • Reports their complete home address, including the country name
  • Reports other years attending school in the U.S.
  • Enters numbers correctly (SEVIS identification number, date of birth, etc.)
  • Has original documents—not just copies—handy

Get familiar with the process and the seriousness of it all. Don’t hesitate to ask your school for assistance along the way.

Remember, securing a visa takes time. Knowing exactly what will happen—and appreciating the need for patience—will make the application process as simple as possible.