Student Visa

FAQ

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Overview

The United States welcomes foreign citizens who come to the U.S. to study. Before applying for a visa, all student visa applicants are required to be accepted and approved by their school or program. Once accepted, educational institutions will provide each applicant the necessary approval documentation to be submitted when applying for a student visa.

Visa Descriptions and Qualifications

F-1 Visa

This is the most common type of student visa. If you wish to engage in academic studies in the United States at an approved school, such as an accredited U.S. college or university, private secondary school, or approved English language program then you need an F-1 visa. You will also need an F-1 visa if your course of study is more than 18 hours a week.

M-1 Visa

If you plan engage in non-academic or vocational study or training at a U.S. institution then you need an M-1 visa.

More information about each of these visas and opportunities for studying in the United States can be found at the Education USA website.

U.S. Public Schools

U.S. law does not permit foreign students to attend public elementary school (kindergarten to 8th grade) or a publicly funded adult education program. Hence, F-1 visas cannot be issued for study at such schools.

An F-1 visa can be issued for attendance at a public secondary school (grades 9 to 12), but the student is limited to a maximum of 12 months at the school. The school must also indicate on the Form I-20 that the student has paid the unsubsidized cost of the education and the amount submitted by the student for that purpose.

For more information about F-1 legal requirements, visit the Department of State website.

Note: Holders of A, E, F-2, G, H-4, J-2, L-2, M-2 or other derivative nonimmigrant visas may enroll in public elementary and secondary schools.

Student Assistance, Finding a U.S. School

Students who hope to enroll in an American educational institution are encouraged to contact and visit Education USA.

Application Items

To apply for an F or M visa, you must submit the following:

  • A Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form. Visit the DS-160 web page for more information about the DS-160.
  • A passport valid for travel to the United States with a validity date at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person desiring a visa must submit an application.
  • One (1) 2"x2" (5cmx5cm) photograph taken within the last six months. This web page has information about the required photo format.
  • A receipt showing payment of your US$160 non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application processing fee, paid in local currency. This web page has more information about paying this fee. If a visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, depending on your nationality. The Department of State's website can help you find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
  • An approved Form I-20 from your U.S. school or program.tion.

In addition to these items, you must present an interview appointment letter confirming that you booked an appointment through this service. You may also bring whatever supporting documents you believe support the information provided to the consular officer.

How to Apply

Step 1

Pay the visa application fee.

Step 2

Complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) form.

Step 3

Schedule your appointment on this web page. You need three pieces of information in order to schedule your appointment:

  • Your passport number
  • Your MRV fee payment receipt
  • The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
Step 4

Visit the U.S. Embassy on the date and time of your visa interview. You must bring a printed copy of your appointment letter, your DS-160 confirmation page, one photograph taken within the last six months, your current and all old passports, and the original visa fee payment receipt. Applications without all of these items will not be accepted.

Supporting Documents

Supporting documents are only one of many factors a consular officer will consider in your interview. Consular officers look at each application individually and consider professional, social, cultural and other factors during adjudication. Consular officers may look at your specific intentions, family situation, and your long-range plans and prospects within your country of residence. Each case is examined individually and is accorded every consideration under the law.

Caution: Do not present false documents. Fraud or misrepresentation can result in permanent visa ineligibility. If confidentiality is a concern, you should bring your documents to the Embassy in a sealed envelope. The Embassy will not make your information available to anyone and will respect the confidentiality of your information.

You should bring the following documents to your interview:

  • Documents demonstrating strong financial, social, and family ties to your home country that will compel you to return to your country after your program of study in the U.S. ends.
  • Financial and any other documents you believe will support your application and which give credible evidence that you have enough readily-available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study and that you have access to funds sufficient to cover all expenses while you remain in the United States. M-1 applicants must demonstrate the ability to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire period of their intended stay.
  • Photocopies of bank statements will not be accepted unless you can also show original copies of bank statements or original bank books.
  • If you are financially sponsored by another person, bring proof of your relationship to the sponsor (such as your birth certificate), the sponsor's most recent original tax forms and the sponsor's bankbooks and/or fixed deposit certificates.
  • Academic documents that show scholastic preparation. Useful documents include school transcripts (original copies are preferred) with grades, public examination certificates (A-levels, etc.), standardized test scores (SAT, TOEFL, etc.), and diplomas.

Dependents

Spouses and/or unmarried children under the age of 21 who wish to accompany or join the principal visa holder in the United States for the duration of his or her stay require derivative F or M visas. There is no derivative visa for the parents of F or M holders.

Family members who do not intend to reside in the United States with the principal visa holder, but wish to visit for vacations only, may be eligible to apply for visitor (B-2) visas.

Spouses and dependents may not work in the United States on a derivative F or M visa. If your spouse/child seeks employment, the spouse must obtain the appropriate work visa.

Supporting Documents for Dependents

Applicants with dependents must also provide:

  • Proof of the student's relationship to his or her spouse and/or child (e.g., marriage and birth certificates)
  • It is preferred that families apply for their visas at the same time, but if the spouse and/or child must apply separately at a later time, they should bring a copy of the student visa holder's passport and visa, along with all other required documents.

Other Information

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

F-1 visa holders may be eligible for up to 12 months of optional practical training following completion of all course requirements for graduation (not including thesis or equivalent), or after completion of all requirements. OPT is separate from a student's academic work, and time for OPT will not normally be reflected during the student's academic program or in the completed study date. Students applying for an F visa to do OPT may present an I-20 with an original end of study date that may have passed. However, these I-20s must be annotated by the designated school official to reflect approval of an OPT program that extends beyond the end of the regular period of study. In addition, the student must have proof that USCIS has approved their practical training program or that an application is pending, either in the form of an approved Employment Authorization Card or a Form I-797 indicating that s/he has a pending application for an OPT program.

Validity of Student Visas After a Break in Studies

Students who are away from classes for more than five months can expect to apply for and receive a new F-1 or M-1 student visa to return to school following travel abroad, as explained below.

Students within the U.S.

A student (F-1 or M-1) may lose that status if they do not resume studies within five months of the date of transferring schools or programs, under immigration law. If a student loses status, unless USCIS reinstates the student's status, the student's F or M visa would also be invalid for future travel returning to the U.S. For more information see the USCIS website, and instructions for Application for Extend/Change of Nonimmigrant Status Form I-539 to request reinstatement of status.

Students - Returning to the U.S. from Travel Abroad

Students who leave the U.S. for a break in studies of five months or more may lose their F-1 or M-1 status unless their activities overseas are related to their course of study. In advance of travel, students may want to check with their designated school official, if there is a question about whether their activity is related to their course of study.

When the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration inspector at port of entry is presented a previously used, unexpired F-1 or M-1 visa by a returning student who has been outside the U.S. and out of student status for more than five months, a CBP immigration inspector may find the student inadmissible for not possessing a valid nonimmigrant visa. CBP may also cancel the visa after granting the student permission to withdraw the application for admission. Therefore, it is prudent for students to apply for new visas at an Embassy abroad prior to traveling to the U.S. to return to their studies, after an absence of more than five months that is not related to their course of study.

Interview Waiver for F, M, J (academic) visas

The Department of State (the Department) has waived, through December 31, 2021, the in-person interview requirement for F, M, and J visa applicants qualifying as secondary and university students, professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or specialists (“academic J visa applicants”) who were previously issued any class of visa, subject to certain conditions.  

The Department has also waived the in-person interview requirement for first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating countries, subject to the same limitations described above. 

The Department has also exempted from the requirement for collecting fingerprints, through the end of 2021, first-time F, M, and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of VWP participating countries who qualify for this proposed interview waiver.  

The Department authorized waiving the visa interview requirement for nationals of all countries, except for the People’s Republic of China and Nigeria. 

F, M, and academics J visa applicants that may benefit from the waiver are: 

  • Applicants who were previously issued any class of visa and who have never been refused a visa, unless such refusal was overcome or a waiver of ineligibility has been obtained. For example, if an applicant was previously refused under INA section 214(b) but subsequently issued a visa, they would be considered having overcome the prior 214(b) refusal.
  • First-time and returning student applicants who are citizens or nationals of VWP participating countries and who have no derogatory or potentially derogatory information and no prior ESTA denials.

 Interviews cannot be waived:

  • If an applicant was previously refused, unless such refusal was overcome or a waiver of ineligibility has been obtained.  As noted above, applicants previously refused under INA section 214(b) and subsequently issued a visa at a later interview would be considered as having overcome their prior refusal; 
  • If an applicant was previously denied ESTA as part of the VWP;
  • If there is any indication the applicant may be ineligible or potentially ineligible for a visa based upon derogatory information the officer has at post that the officer cannot resolve without an interview, including if the applicant is associated with an adverse lookout in the Consular Lookout and Support System that you cannot rule out;
  • If the applicant is not a national or resident of the country in which s/he is applying;
  • If the applicant is a national of a country designated by the Secretary of State as a state sponsor of terrorism; 
  • If a student IW applicant has a SEVIS hit, follow guidance at 9 FAM 303.3.  If you are not able to overcome the hit using the available records, you must interview the applicant to resolve the hit and the applicant does not qualify for interview waiver.  Document the decision as detailed in the existing guidance; or
  • If the adjudicating consular officer otherwise believes the applicant should be interviewed, for any reason.

The interview waiver process is not available for J visas for Summer Work & Travel, Au Pair and language training.

Drop box for F, M and J(academic) interview waiver: 

1. Complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) form and print the confirmation page. 

2. Pay the visa application fee here.

3. Use the online appointment system https://ustraveldocs.com/cr/index.html to register (Create Account), click on New Application/Schedule Appointment and enter the information requested. If you meet the F,M J (academic) qualifications, print the Appointment Confirmation Letter and take it to the branch of Correos de Costa Rica on the date indicated on the confirmation letter. You will also have to attach the following documentation:

    • Current, valid passport. ​​
    • If the applicant's current or previous visa was issued in another passport, include that passport as well. ​​
    • DS-160 electronic application form confirmation. ​​
    • Current 5cmx5cm photograph taken within the last six months on a white background with no glasses. For information on photo requirements, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/photos.html ​​
    • Visa fee receipt. ​​
    • If the applicant is not a citizen of Costa Rica, include a copy of the applicant’s Costa Rican residency card.
    • Form I-20 or DS-2019 (please make sure that the form is signed by the applicant is the appropriate space).
    • Receipt of SEVIS fee payment (if applicable). Please see www.fmjfee.com for more information.

4. The documentation for the application will be forwarded through Correos de Costa Rica to the U.S. Embassy. Applications with missing items will not be accepted.

5. If your visa is approved and you are a F visa applicant (with Costa Rican nationality), you will be required to pay the $68 F reciprocity fee at the Consular Section’s cashier. The F reciprocity fee cannot be paid in advance. If your F visa is approved, you will be contacted by the Consulate through e-mail with the instructions on how to pay the reciprocity fee.

Please note that consular officers always have the prerogative to require applicants to appear for interview. If the applicant requires an interview, the passport will be returned through Correos de Costa Rica with instructions to schedule an appointment. Additionally, applicants who do not meet the criteria to forward the documentation as interview waiver will be refused. The Consular Section will provide the instructions to the applicant to proceed with the regular appointment scheduling.

​If you need assistance with your visa application or want to learn more about obtaining a visa to travel to the U.S., please contact our customer service at: Callers in Costa Rica: Call 4000-1976, Callers in the United States 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday: (703) 745-5475.  To reach a customer service representative via email, please write to support-costarica@ustraveldocs.com. ​