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If American Universities Interest You, This Is What to Expect When You Apply for Your Visa

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

A diploma from a U.S.A. university shows that you have worked hard and learned a lot. In addition to getting accepted into programs at U.S. colleges, international students also have to physically get themselves to those colleges in the U.S. To accomplish that and to be allowed to take classes, foreign students must first obtain a visa. This article will help you understand what is involved in getting a visa and having it work for you.

In 2002, the U.S. implemented the use of biometric procedures to increase security and decrease the use of stolen or fraudulent visas. Visa processing times increased with these changes, but the U.S. Department of State recognizes that delays occur and attempts to decrease the wait time and make the application process as efficient as possible. However, delays are unpredictable. So if you are considering American universities for the next stage in your education, give yourself plenty of time and start your application well in advance of the date you want to arrive at your school.

What do these changes mean for you?
"Biometrics" is a fancy word for tracking physical characteristics that can be objectively measured (meaning they aren't up to someone's opinion). These traits are tracked in a database and are then used to verify your identity. Fingerprints are the most common type of biometric, and the U.S. now requires them for your visa application.

With biometrics and increased security, there are some things that will be required of you when you apply for your visa to attend a U.S. college. This takes some planning, a little time, and of course, a little cash. The first thing you need to do is check with the embassy or consulate to which you'll be sending your visa application. You need to find out how long it typically takes to complete a visa approval. This is important because in most cases, you will be required to attend an in-person interview with a consular officer. However, your visa cannot be issued more than 120 days in advance of the start date of your studies in the U.S.

Whether you are interviewed or not, you will be required to have your fingerprints taken. Your prints will be scanned into a database. If you refuse to be fingerprinted, your visa application will be denied. However, if you change your mind about it later, you application will be reconsidered.

There are other factors in getting a visa for enrollment in U.S. colleges

There is a visa application fee, and in some cases, there may also be a visa issuance fee. The standard application form is known as the DS-156 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application). If you are applying for a student visa that will enable you to apply to American universities, you also need to fill out and submit the DS-158 (Contact Information and Work History for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicant). In some cases, you may need to fill out and submit a Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application (a DS-157).

All U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are required to adhere to the same standards when issuing visas. Your visa will be machine-readable so that it can be scanned at any U.S. port of entry—your fingerprints will also be verified at this time.

All of your information will be kept in a Web-based system called SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System). SEVIS stores all the information gathered on international students and exchange visitors attending U.S. colleges. SEVIS enables you, your U.S. college, immigration officials, and the embassy or consulate where you applied to verify your lawful student status.

Continued U.S. college enrollment requires you to remember a couple of important things

Your visa may have an expiration date on it, but keep in mind that a visa simply allows you to ask for permission to enter the U.S. The visa "permission" expires on that date, so if you leave the U.S. and come back after that expiration date, you will no longer have "permission" to enter. You will have to get a new visa. Your visa's expiration date is entirely different from your authorized length of stay in the United States.

If your visa is accepted, you will be issued an I-94 (your Arrival/Departure record). This is a very important document, so be sure not to lose it. You will need it every time you leave or return to the U.S. The immigration control officer will record on this document your approved Duration of Stay. In some cases, this will be an actual date—although as a student, you will likely have the letters "D/S" recorded on your I-94. This stands for Duration of Status, and it means you can stay in the U.S. as long as you continue in your studies at American colleges.

If your visa expires during this period and you leave the country, you'll need a renewed visa to cross back over the border. So, it's important that if you head home, even for a few weeks, to check the expiration date on your visa to make sure you don't put yourself in a bind when it comes time to return.

Attending American colleges often requires additional security checks

Depending on a number of variables, you may be subject to additional security checks. The consular officer will let you know if this is necessary. The vast majority of visa approvals for students desiring to study at colleges in the U.S. are issued within 30 days of the application being submitted.

When you contact the U.S. embassy or consulate, they will let you know what you need to do and can assist you with any questions or problems you might have. You can also check out estimated wait times for visa processing at www.travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/tempvisitors_wait.php.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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