STUDENT VISA – THE INSIDE STORY
(The writer was a U.S. Visa Officer with the Consulate-General of the U.S.,
I want to try and explain the criteria we visa officers use to adjudicate
student visa cases, explain the recent procedural changes and dispel some
commonly-held student visa myths.
FOUR KEY CRITERIA
Applicants for student visas are required, by U.S. law, to meet four key
criteria before a student visa can be issued.
Section 214 (b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act states that all visa
applicants are intending immigrants until they prove otherwise. The U.S. law
puts the burden of proof upon the visa applicant to prove the applicant is
not an intending immigrant.
All student visa applicants must therefore prove that they have strong
economic, social and cultural ties to their home country, and that they
intend to return to India upon completion of their studies in the U.S.
Secondly, students must prove that they intend to and are academically
capable of completing a full course of study in the U.S.
Thirdly, students must demonstrate that they are capable of successfully
completing U.S. studies taught in English language.
And finally, students must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds
currently available to pay for the entire first year of study, and that
funds are or will likely be available for all additional years until the
course of study is to be completed. This includes tuition and fees, living
expenses, expenses of dependent spouses and children, and any other needs
like school books and health insurance.
Satisfying the first three requirements is generally very simple and
straightforward for students in India. Most all of our student applicants
have all or much of their family in India. Their parents, siblings, and
relatives live, work and attend school here, have property and land here and
have no current intention to immigrate to the U.S. It is of little doubt to
officers that the rich heritage and culture of India makes for a very strong
tie. Moreover, the large majority of our student applicants speak English,
have already obtained bachelor’s degrees at reputed universities in India,
have taken standardized tests like the TOEFL and GRE and have proven their
ability to succeed academically.
The fourth requirement is often the largest hurdle that students confront.
Living and going to school in the U.S. is a very expensive proposition.
Tuition, housing, food, healthcare, transportation, not to mention clothing
and entertainment, add up in a hurry. The high cost of higher education in
the U.S. (even by the standards of your average American student), is
compounded by the large disparity in incomes between an average American
college student’s family and an average Indian college student’s family. An
annual family income of three lakhs or the equivalent of about $ 6500, which
is very good by Indian standards, is far less than the cost of a single year
of university study at a U.S. educational institutional. Added to this
challenge presented by the high cost of education in the U.S. is the fact
that U.S. law prohibits all international students from seeking off-campus
work during the first year of study.
As a result, students who cannot afford the high cost of U.S. study
frequently succumb to financial pressure and take up un-authorized
employment during their studies, leave school altogether, or stay on to work
illegally in the United States. There are, however, numerous ways for
students to finance their U.S. education and prove their ability to pay
these high costs. By far, the best option is a full scholarship or
assistantship that covers an entire year’s expenses. While the students
still must show that they have or are likely to have funds available for all
subsequent years of study, students in this category are very rarely found
ineligible for a visa. There are also colleges that offer partial reductions
in their fees to some students. Although we value these much less than a
full scholarship or assistantship, they are still a good way to help
students show that they are able to finance their education.
Some students may also opt to pay for the first year’s or the first
semester’s fees in advance and provide a letter and/or receipt from the
university. This shows a student’s level of commitment and provides credible
financial evidence from the United States. We encourage students to explore
the viability of this option with prospective universities before applying
for a visa but we remind them that it is not a requirement in order to apply
for a visa. Beyond scholarships and paying tuition in advance, there are no
secret documents that can show proof of a student’s ability to pay. The
Consulate can only suggest what documentation is useful; the burden of proof
is on the applicant.
The visa interview has long been a source of mystery, confusion, and
nervousness (and myths) for students.
What questions will they ask?
Why did my friend get the visa and I did not?
Why didn’t the officer review all of my documents?
When conducting interviews, we visa officers are merely trying to determine
if the applicant meets the eligibility requirements for a student visa. We
have very little time to conduct the interview, and must assess quickly
whether the documents and answers establish the visa applicant’s
eligibility. The questions Consular Officers ask are based upon these
criteria and are designed to help the officer quickly determine a student’s
eligibility. Any documents submitted by a student, especially financial
documents, are only useful if they can be rapidly examined for the relevant
HOW TO APPLY
First, assemble the following documents:
A VALID PASSPORT
The fully completed and signed visa application forms (D-156, D-157,D-158).
One front-facing photograph, size 37 mm x 37 mm, and less than six months
Demand drafts for the appropriate fees.
Original I-20 from the university.
Original TOEFL scores and SAT/GRE/GMAT scores (as applicable).
For prospective master’s degree students, original undergraduate degree
certificate and marksheets (if the original degree or marksheets are
unavailable, please submit provisional certificates and/or photocopies);
bachelor’s degree students may show their most recent marksheets or
graduation certificate, as applicable.
PROOF OF FUNDS
Preferred documentation includes 6 months of bank records, employment
letter(s) of sponsor and/or chartered account statements. Students who have
obtained bank loans may also provide a letter from the bank stating the
same. Additionally, students who have pre-paid any fees may provide a
receipt and/or a letter from the university stating the same. Students
receiving aid from their prospective university that is not indicated on the
I-20 should provide a letter from the university stating the nature and
amount of aid to be provided.
OPTIONAL COVER LETTER:
Students with any special circumstances may also wish to provide an
explanation in the form of a cover letter.
It is important that students do not omit any recommended documentation. In
order to qualify for a visa. A student’s documentation must show that he/she
meets all the criteria as previously outlined. Also, avoid the common
pitfall of providing too much documentation – visa officers do not have the
time to sort through a package of documents that rivals the Mahabharata in
length! Do not submit incomplete, disorganized, and/or frivolous
Once the documents are in order, simply proceed to get a visa date and pay
your SEVIS fee. It is important to allow enough time before the prospective
university’s reporting date. We wish to remind all students that they may
not apply earlier than 90 days before the reporting date.
Officers have reported hearing several of the following myths when
conducting informational sessions for students:
1. There is a limit to how many student visas are issued each year, so if
you apply too late you will be automatically refused.
2. Anyone who is a medical doctor or is going to study medicine will automat
ically be refused.
3. You have to pay the tuition in advance in order to apply for a student
4. If you do not meet a minimum score on any of the standardized test, you
will automatically be refused.
You may have already guessed from the term “myths” that the answer to each
of these questions is an emphatic “NO!” There is no limit on how many
student visas are issued every year; there is no bar to visa issuance for
medical doctors; there is no requirement that any tuition fees are paid in
advance; and there is no minimum score for any standardized test. So the
next time you hear one, know that they are just that: myths.
A FINAL QUESTION THAT MANY STUDENTS HAVE:
What if I am found ineligible for a student visa after an interview?
Recent policy allows you to apply for visa as many times as you desire. This
application has to be made after 3 working days of denial.
However, students should only apply for a review if they have new
information to present.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE TWO THINGS:
(1) the burden of proof is on the applicant and
(2) to qualify for a student visa, a student must meet ALL of the criteria
as listed in this article.
Unfortunately, officers do not have the time at the visa window to give
counseling to individual students. If found ineligible, review your case
thoroughly. When you have new information to present and/or when your
circumstances have changed, please feel welcome to apply again.
As in years past, many bright and capable students from India will continue
to pursue higher studies in the U.S. and will continue to represent a valued
segment of college students in the U.S. We hope that the information in this
article will help in getting even more Indian students to American
Some procedures like paying the fees in HDFC Bank and getting a visa appointment has since changed
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