New International Student Guidebook Fall 2013
Step 2: HOW TO APPLY FOR A VISA
To enter the United States with your Form I-20 or DS-2019 to attend Sonoma State University, you must first make an appointment at the nearest United States embassy or consulate and apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa.
Before you apply for this visa, you should understand the process and the rules governing visas. Many visa applications fail. In some countries, most applications fail. Often it is because the student did not know the rules or was not prepared. We don't want this to happen to you. Please read what follows very carefully and write to us if you need more information on our school or your course of study.
MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FOR A VISA INTERVIEW
After you receive your letter of admission and form I-20 or DS-2019 you should contact the nearest US Consulate or Embassy to get instructions for applying for an F1 or J1 visa. It is important to apply for your student visa as far in advance as possible. Prior to attending an interview you must pay a $200 fee required by the US Department of Homeland Security to support the nonimmigrant data system for students and exchange visitors. You will find a copy of form I-901 enclosed with your letter of admission. This form must be completed according to the instructions on the reverse and submitted with your $200 payment.
You May choose One of the Three Ways to Pay This Fee
- By Mail: Mail according to the instructions on the reverse side. You will be mailed a form I-797 receipt within three days of processing the fee. Be sure to make copies of this receipt and keep it with your important papers.
- Electronically: You may also submit the I-901 at www.FMJfee.com with a Visa, American Express or Mastercard. You will receive an online receipt that you should print, copy and keep with your important papers.
- Western Union: Western Union can collect the SEVIS I-901 fee, in local currency, and electronically transmit the payment and data to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The properly completed Western Union receipt serves as immediate proof-of-payment for a visa interview. This option is available in any country where Western Union offers Quick PayT service. Please be sure to read the instructions for this method of payment on the SVP web site at www.ice.gov.sevis and bring a printed copy of the instructions and the sample Western Union form, from the website, to the Western Union agent in order to ensure correct processing of your payment.
You will need to complete the following form, which your Consulate or Embassy can assist you in obtaining.
You should prepare and bring the following documents to your visa interview:
- A passport valid for at least six months
- Form I-20 (sign the form under Item 11) or DS 2019
- School admission letter
- Barcode page of completed form DS-160
- One 2 by 2 photograph in the prescribed format
- Receipt for the visa application fee
- Receipt for the SEVIS fee (form I-797)
- Transcripts and diplomas verifying previous studies
- Financial evidence that show you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses for a year
- Any information that proves that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies in the US. This may include proof of property, family or other ties to your community.
- Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply for additional country-specific instructions
UNDERSTAND THE RULES
THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE may seem strange to you. The consular officer who makes the decision about your visa application may think of you as someone who plans to come to the U.S., permanently and you must prove that you intend to return to your country after completing your studies. U.S. law very clearly states that F visas may be given only to persons who intend to remain in the U.S. temporarily. This rule is the number one reason for denials of student visa applications.
The other important rules are: 1) You must have a definite academic or professional objective. You must know what you are going to study and where it will lead. 2) You must be qualified for the program of study. 3) You must be definite about your choice of schools. If you do not seem certain that you want to attend Sonoma State, you will not get a visa. 4) You must be adequately financed and have documents to prove it. (Except in the most unusual case when employment is particularly authorized on the Form I-20, you cannot plan to use employment as a means of support while you are in the U.S.)
U.S. Government officials are much more easily convinced by documents than by spoken statements. When possible, have papers to show your connections to your home country. The consulate officer will take a very legalistic view. In the U.S., it is considered important to be impersonal when administering laws. This is considered rude or improper in many countries, but not in the U.S., where the idea is to apply laws equally to all regardless of status or sex. Do not try to negotiate or discuss personal matters.
Be sure that your passport is valid.
Practice English conversation. Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do NOT prepare speeches! If you are coming to the United States solely to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country.
Speak for yourself. Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf. If you are a minor applying for a high school program and need your parents there in case there are questions, for example about funding, they should wait in the waiting room.
Be clear and definite about your studies. Be ready to say what you want to study and what kind of career it will prepare you for in your home country. Be prepared to explain why it is better for you to study in the U.S. than at home. If you need more information on the program to which you have been accepted, write to us before you apply for a visa. Know the program and how it fits your career plans. If you are not able to articulate the reasons you will study in a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study, rather than to immigrate. You should also be able to explain how studying in the U.S. relates to your future professional career when you return home.
With papers, show ties to your home country. If your family owns a business, take letters from a bank, describing the business, to the visa interview with you. If your family owns property, take the deeds. If you have a brother or sister who studied in the U.S. and then returned home, take a copy of your brother's or sister's diploma and a statement from an employer showing that they have returned home. If possible, show that an individual or company in your home country will give you a job when you return. If you cannot get a promise of a job, try to get a letter saying that you will be considered for a job, or that the company needs people with the kind of education you are coming to the U.S. to receive.
Do not emphasize any ties you may have to the United States or to family members in the United States. Your visa application is stronger and better if at least part of your financial support comes from your home country, even if most of it comes from the U.S. Of course if you are asked about relatives in the U.S. you must tell honestly who in your family is here in the U.S. and what your relationship to that person is.
As we mentioned above, under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas, such as student visas, are viewed as intending immigrants until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the United States. "Ties" to your home country are the things that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. If you are a prospective undergraduate, the interviewing officer may ask about your specific intentions or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country. Each person's situation is different, of course, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter, which can guarantee visa issuance. If you have applied for the U.S. Green Card Lottery, you may be asked if you are intending to immigrate. A simple answer would be that you applied for the lottery since it was available but not with a specific intent to immigrate. If you overstayed your authorized stay in the U.S. previously, be prepared to explain what happened clearly and concisely, with documentation if available.
Be brief. Because of the volume of applications received, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. Consequently, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point.
Additional documentation. It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you're lucky.
Not all countries are equal. Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the US as immigrants will have more difficulty getting visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the U.S.
Do not speak of working in the United States unless employment is authorized on your Form I-20. Your main purpose in coming to the United States should be to study, not for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students do work off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program. If your spouse is also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the U.S. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the U.S. Volunteer work and attending school part-time are permitted activities.
Maintain a positive attitude. Do not engage the consular officer in an argument. If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.
Read your Form I-20. Some of the rules you must obey are printed on it. Be aware of these rules--especially the requirement that you study full-time. Look at the date entered in item #5 for reporting to the school. You must apply for the visa in time to reach the school no later than that date. You may obtain the visa and enter the U.S. up to 30 days before that date.
Your spouse and children may apply for visas with you or they may apply to join you after you come to the US, but only if dependents are mentioned in item #7c of your Form I-20 or DS-2019.
Dependents remaining at home. If your spouse and children are remaining behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves in your absence. This can be an especially tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression that your family will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support them, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.