USA Study Visa Requirements : Process, Cost & Types of Visas

usa study visa requirements

In recent times, the demand for studying in the USA has increased. If a student has already got admission into the chosen university, applying for a Student Visa is the next indispensable step he needs to undertake to turn the dream of studying abroad into a reality.

As per the data shared by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 2,32,851 Indian students choose the USA to pursue their higher education in 2021. The number of Indian students in the USA boosted by more than 12% in 2021. Moreover, more than 55,000 Indian students and exchange visitors to the United States have been given student visas in 2021. This article encapsulates the US student visa requirements and related information to help students make an informed decision. 

Read More: Why Study in USA | Student Visa for USA

Types of Student Visas and their Basic Requirements 

The USA government offers three types of US student visas for Indian students, including J, M, and F.  Students should be cognizant of the fact that before applying for an M, J, or F student visa, they must apply and be accepted by a USA institution of higher education. Moreover, the institution should be certified by Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows international students to enter the US and study at institutions approved by SEVP. It is meant for full-time students. Students on F-1 visas are eligible to work off-campus on a case-by-case basis. They are allowed to work in special situations such as special student relief or severe economic hardship.

The basic requirements are a valid passport, academic transcripts, photographs, and financial stability evidence. The academic eligibility includes 12 years of schooling. Certificate of English language proficiency tests like TOEFL or IELTS is a prerequisite to getting an F1 visa. 

The visa application fee needs to be paid, and it is a non-refundable amount. Some basic requirements are that you need to have enough money to support yourself while studying without having to work and you may have to show health insurance to cover any medical expenses. The I-20 form will be issued by the designated university after offering admission so that the international students can apply for an F-1 visa. 

M-1 Visa

The M-1 student visa is granted to those applicants who are willing to join non-academic programs or vocational study or training in the school. An M-1 visa holder can apply for various vocational training programs and technical programs without a work permit till the completion of the course. Some of the official requirements for the USA study visa (M1) are: 

  • For an M-1 visa, students need to have sufficient evidence that proves that they have enough funds to pay the university tuition fee and manage the cost of living for the period of their intended stay. The financial records should be justified with proper documentation. 
  • All international applicants will need to complete and submit DS-160 (Also called Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application). 
  • A valid passport, with a validity date that stands valid till the completion of the course. 
  • Academic transcripts and past academic certificates and documents. 
  • Age should be more than 18 years. Students below 18 years are not eligible to apply for an M-1 visa. 
  • Must have appeared and cleared an English language proficiency test.

J-1 Visa

The J-1 student visa is meant for applicants who wish to get employed in various study-based exchange and visitor programs in the US. J-1 exchange visitors come to the US to study, teach and receive training for skills. It is specifically designed for applicants who need training. There are some official requirements that every J-1 exchange visitor needs to meet. Some of them are:

Be a foreign post-secondary student, worker, youth teacher, or individual with professional specialized and varied skills. 

  • The applicants must be above 18 years. Below 18 years applicants cannot apply for a J-1 student visa. 
  • Be proficient in the English language. Non-native English speakers need to take the English language proficiency tests. 
  • Applicants must be in good health. There should not be any health issues. 
  • There shouldn’t be any criminal record. The police verification reports should be clean and positive. 
  • Applicants must have an international driver’s license and experience of a minimum of 50 hours. 
  • Applicants should be okay with living 12 months away from home. One cannot return home within 12 months. 
  • Shouldn’t have lived in the US as an au pair in the past. 
  • A valid passport is important to apply for a J-1 visa.

Resources for USA Visa

N.B. 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. The U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation databases encapsulate and publish the list of accreditation status for all the USA institutions. Furthermore, institutions designated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to place participants in Academic Exchange programs (J visas) must be accredited. Recognition of course credits and degrees by other institutions and by the U.S. and international employers is linked to an institution’s accreditation. 

Also, it is indispensable to note that two separate USA government agencies take care of the international students’ arrival and status while studying in the USA. The State Department takes the onus for the visa application process and issuing the visa. Once a visa holder arrives in the USA, the responsibility of issuing and enforcing international student regulations is scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

How To Apply for the USA Student Visa

If a student wants to study in the USA and is not a citizen, the student will need to obtain a student visa. Applying for a USA student visa can be a tedious process, so students need to ensure to prep well in advance. There are numerous steps involved in the application process for a USA student visa. Thus, it is paramount to go through the instructions on the website of the embassy or consulate. 

USA Study Visa Process

  1. Once a student has been accepted by an institution, he would be enrolled in the SEVIS system and a SEVIS-generated document referred to as Form I-20 will be sent if he qualifies for an M or F visa. 
  2. Thereafter, the student is required to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee. It should be paid at least three days prior to submitting an application for a USA visa.
  3. After the payment of the SEVIS fee is made, the student is required to complete his USA student visa application. It is important to fill out the online visa application form DS-160. Along with this, the student would need to select the location from which he desires to apply. Moreover, he needs to attach and upload a suitable photograph in the desired format. 

Now, once the visa application is completed and submitted, a student would be required to keep the barcode, barcode number, and application ID number. These pieces of information are vital and required while visa interview appointments. 

  1. Then the student is required to pay the visa application fee. It is also referred to as Machine Readable Visa Fee or ‘MRV fee. Moreover, there are three distinct ways to pay the non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee:
  1. Online (you’ll need to print your receipt)
  2. Via phone (you’ll receive a fee confirmation number
  3. In-person at an approved bank
  1. Lastly, the student needs to schedule and attend a visa interview.

Read More: Part Time Jobs in USAPost Study Work Permit in USA

Visa Interview

To complete the USA study visa process, it is paramount to be on time for a visa interview – late applicants might require to reschedule for another day. In most cases, only applicants with a scheduled appointment will be allowed inside the US embassy or consulate. 

The purpose of the visa interview is for the consular office to scrutinize whether the applicant is qualified to receive a US student visa, and, if so, which visa category is best-suited for the applicant. The applicant should be prepared to answer questions linked to their English language skills, home country, their academic background, and furnish proof of their financial resources, and the programs in the US to which they have been admitted. Moreover, they may also be inquired about their plans upon the completion of their studies.

Furthermore, ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of the student’s application process. 

Upon the completion of the interview, the consular officer will tell you if your application requires further undergo administrative processing – this indicates that the waiting period for the student would increase. Moreover, the waiting period would vary based on your country. The student would be intimated on how and when their passport with the visa will be returned.

Essential Documents Required for M and F Visa 

To complete US student visa requirements, they should garner the enlisted documents before their visa interview to complete 

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States –  A student’s passport should be valid for at least six months beyond his period of stay in the USA (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). Each individual who requires a visa should submit a separate application, including any family members listed in their passport. 
  • Another crucial document during the visa process is Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Photo – A student is required to upload their photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, he or she must bring one printed photo in the format mentioned on the official website. 
  • Proof of application payment, if a student is required to pay before their interview. 
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status- For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students. 
  • Form I-20 – A student’s school will send them a Form I-20 once the institute’s official has entered his information in the SEVIS database. It is paramount for school officials and students to sign Form I-20. Moreover, all students should be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS). 

Note: Their spouse and/or minor children, if they intend to live in the USA with them, will each receive an individual Form I-20. 

Additional Documentation 

A consular officer will interview the student to examine their qualifications which is a part of US study visa requirements and may request additional documents, such as evidence of:

A student’s academic preparation, such as:

  1. Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates of their alma mater.
  2. Scores from standardized tests required by the USA schools such as the TOEFL, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, Duolingo, and more.
  3. Your intent is to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study.
  4. Verification of financial background. To check if the student can pay tuition, travel, and living cost.

US Student Visa Processing Time

The US visa processing time depends on the type of visa that you are applying for. It can take from 3 to 5 weeks for a US visa application to get processed. After the processing, that applicant gets the green light for their application, and the consulate will deliver the document. Furthermore, the delivery of the visa can take up to two other workdays.  

Moreover, processing wait time also does not encapsulate the time required to return the passport to applicants, by either the local mail system or courier services.

US Student Visa Fee 

The universities in the USA charge no additional fees for visa application. Students should consider the visa application fees within the estimated budget to study in USA. 

Fee Type

Cost in USD

Non-petition-based nonimmigrant visa

$160

Petition-based visa

$190

SEVIS Fee for F visa applicants

$350

Border Crossing Card Fees

$160

SEVIS Fee for M visa applicants

$350

SEVIS Fee for J visa applicants

$220

SEVIS Fee for special J visa categories

$35

Source: Travel.State.Govt

English Language Requirements for the USA Student Visa

For a student to apply for a student visa USA, they will be required to provide evidence of proficiency in the English language. This usually indicates passing an English language test to be able to prove their correspondence and communication skills.

Moreover, students should qualify for standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, LSAT, GRE, and GMAT.

Latest Updates on US Student Visa

April 22: First-time applicants will be prioritized for visa interview slots this year: US Embassy official. Read details here 

April 8: Changes in the US visa application system to offer interview slots to ‘genuine students’. Read details here 

Furthermore, the United States department of homeland security (DHS) added 22 new subjects to the STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training) program for foreign students.

It allows international students on an F-1 visa to stay in the US for 36 months and work in the field of study upon completing their education. After the new additions, there could be a surge in the number of students applying. Moreover, it will make more students eligible for STEM OPT extension.

What To Do If You Are Declined For An F1 Visa? 

After relevant information is reviewed, the application is denied or approved, based on standards established by US law. An application may be denied because the consular officer does not have adequate information needed to determine if the applicant should receive a visa. 

If denied a visa, in most cases the applicant is told which section of law it applies. 

Applicants are also advised by the consular officer if they should apply for a waiver of their ineligibility.

Student Dependent Visa USA

Spouses and children under the age of 21 who desire to accompany the applicant in the US for the duration of his or her stay require M2 or F2 visas. A spouse on F2 status is not eligible for enrolling in a full course of study but can vocational and recreational classes  Moreover, children on F2 status are eligible to attend elementary, middle or high school. These students may not enrol in a full-time course of study at a college. 

Furthermore, it is vital to know that the spouse and children of students cannot accept employment during their stay-period on the F2 visa.

If under any circumstances a candidate fails to qualify for a visa, he can reapply for the same in the future. If an applicant reapplies for a visa after being found ineligible, they must submit a new visa application and pay the visa application fee again. Moreover, if they were found ineligible under section 214(b) of the INA, they should be able to present evidence of significant changes in circumstances since their last application. 

The USA universities offer unparallel learning opportunities to students. With upGrad Abroad, students can leverage the blended courses. With a commitment to providing quality education at affordable prices, upGrad has launched study abroad programs. These programs enable students to study for one year online from home and then on-campus for the following years. 

Students can avail of the following benefits if they choose to study with upGrad Abroad:

  • Post Study Work Visa opportunities (up to 3 years) as accessed by graduates of standard Canadian degrees.
  •  Students will be guided by trained instructors to help them prepare for entrance and qualifying exams like IELTS, TOFEL, SAT, GRE, and GMAT to get their visa approval.
  • Fast-track courses that help students learn efficiently in a short amount of time.
  • Assistance with visas, scholarships & preparing admission documents. 

Cost of Studying in the USA

Studying abroad in the USA for international students can be a bit expensive. However, a promising job market and degree from a reputed US university can be rewarding beyond measure. Here are the most popular courses along with their cost of studying in the USA

  • Master’s in science: $30,000-$120,000 (INR 22,50,465- INR 90,01,860
  • PhD: $28,000 to $55,000 per year (INR 20,99,724 – INR 41,24,458) 
  • Engineering: $ 45,000 to $ 60,000 (INR 33,75,968 – INR 45,01,290)
  • MBA: $60,000+ yearly (INR 45,01,290+)
  • Bachelor’s in computer science: $30,000- $80,000 (INR 22,51,029 – INR 60,02, 744)
  • Architecture: $ 42,900- 58,920 (INR 32,18,971 – INR 44,19,946) 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I enter the United States more than 30 days in advance?

Students on F or M visas are not allowed to enter the United States earlier than 30 days before the start date of their program. If they desire to enter earlier than 30 days before their start date, they are required to separately apply and qualify for a visitor (B) visa.

After they are admitted to the United States by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials in visitor (B) visa status, it is indispensable to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status to student (For M) status prior to the start of your program. They may not start their course of study until the change of status is approved, and they may encounter lengthy processing times. Furthermore, they may also depart the United States and re-enter on your student (F or M) visa.

I was refused a visa under section 214(b). May I reapply?

Yes, a student can reapply for a visa if his visa is refused under section 214(b). Any ineligibility or refusal, under section 214 (b) is for that specific application, so once a case is wrapped, the consular section cannot take any further action. If a student feels there is additional information that should be considered linked to the visa decision, or there are drastic changes in the circumstances since his last application, he should reapply without further ado. Furthermore, to reapply, a student is required to complete a new application form, deposit the application fee, and schedule an appointment for a new interview.

However, for the year 2022, the US government has now made software changes to ensure students who have been denied a visa once in the summer-spring of 2022 are unlikely to seek another visa interview appointment again this year.

Can a student visit the USA with a Canadian student Visa?

If a student decides to visit the USA during their study in Canada, he may require a U.S. Visitor Visa based on their country of citizenship. However, citizens of certain countries may be able to visit the USA without a visa if under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

Can a student work in the USA with a student visa?

Yes, international students are allowed to work but there are some restrictions tagged along. Students with F1 visas are generally permitted to work on the campus of their university for up to 20 hours a week.

Moreover, F-1 students may also be eligible to work off-campus on a case-by-case basis. It is considered if the student is facing severe economic hardship or special student relief. Furthermore, for both F1 and M1 students, he needs to take prior permission from the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.

Who can sponsor for student visa in the USA?

For a USA student visa, the student is required to show sponsorship from family members, government, and grants from government or private organizations. A student can have more than one sponsor to demonstrate the total amount required. Moreover, it is paramount to prove that the students are capable of bearing the cost of studying in the USA and living costs in the USA.

What is an F2 non-immigrant visa?

The F-2 dependent visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows dependent spouses and children (unmarried, under 21 years old) of F-1 student visa holders to enter the USA.

What is the maximum validity of a US student visa?

When a student get F-1 Visa approved after the interview, visa stamp is typically valid for five years. However, there are times where the F1 stamp is expired in less than five years.

What happens when my student visa expires?

Foreign students in the USA with F visas must depart the states within 60 days after the program end date listed on Form I-20, including any authorized practical training. However, international students may request an extension through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

In case of failure to do so will result in being out of status. Visas of individuals who are out of status are automatically voided (Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and would not be allowed to enter the states in the future.

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