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A Guide to Student Visas for America

America is one of the most popular study destinations for international students, but its Visa process can be difficult to navigate. Fortunately, we are here to help clear things up and make your transition to America a little bit easier!

Please note: it is extremely crucial that you apply for your visa well in advance of the date your studies begin. If possible, apply three months before you plan to travel to the USA!

The USA issues different types of visas to students:

A full-time student would receive an F-1 or M-1 visa.

Your spouse and children would receive F-2 or M-2 visas.

An Exchange Visitor would receive a J-1 visa. Exchange Visitors come to the USA for consultation, training, research or teaching, or for an approved Au Pair or temporary work position.

Last Year 362,896 F-1 Student visas were issued and there are currently 1,169,464 million students in the United States on F and M visas!

Your school or university will send you a form confirming that you have been accepted at an institution authorised by the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Service (USCIS) to enrol non-immigrant students (the I-20 for an F-1 visa or the DS-2019 for a J-1 visa.) You will read and sign this form. You will then need to make an appointment for a visa interview and to pay some required fees. Under a revision in the regulations, Student Visas can be issued up to 120 days before the date on your form I-20.

Each U.S. Embassy has a website providing instructions on how to make an appointment for a visa interview and other information on the visa application process. The website for the Embassy in your country can be located at: http://www.usembassy.gov/

“Intent to Return”

Most student and exchange visitor visa applications are approved. The most common reason for a student or exchange visitor application to be denied is that the person applying for the visa has not proven to the Visa Officer that they will return to their country when they complete their studies in the U.S.A. This rule is called Section 214.b.

To determine your “intent to return” home, the visa officer will ask you a series of questions about your connections to your home country and about your study plans.

Tips for Your Visa Interview

  • Wear a business suit or dress
  • Be specific when you answer questions
  • Bring bank statements or proof of employment
  • Provide details of your study plans
  • Stay calm and be professional
  • Tell the truth!

Useful Links

How to Identify and Avoid Student Visa Scams

You can get in serious trouble if you’re found entering the country through illegitimate means. Unfortunately, international students often fall prey to fraudulent visa agents.

The problem is more prevalent in countries like Canada and the UK where students are allowed to work off-campus.

We have compiled a list of red flags to look out for:

The University is not accredited, or does not exist

This seems obvious, but even applying to an unaccredited university can get you in serious trouble, as it is against most visa laws. The World Education Services suggest avoiding applying to universities when “not being able to find comprehensive information about classes online, not easily locating information about student organisations or alumni, and not being able to make direct contact with various relevant personnel.”

To read our article about the importance of accreditation, click here.

They claim you won’t have to attend classes

If an agent assures you that you can simply work without attending classes while on a student visa and there is a job offer waiting for you, this is a major red flag.

In most countries, you must be enrolled in a full-time course as an international student in order for your student visa to be valid. Plus, employers rarely offer jobs or sponsor those without a qualification or a legitimate student visa.

Their promises differ from official websites

Always check official embassy and university websites. If the website claims that you cannot work off-campus or that you can only work a certain number of hours but your agent is telling you otherwise, they are probably lying.

Also, check the application fees for both your visa and university so the agent can’t fool you into paying more than you should.

Unconditional offers

Another red flag is when an agent guarantees you admission to a particular university before you even apply. There is no institution that will do so before you’ve even applied or sent in any of your documents.


This is not so much a red flag, but keep in mind that you will not be able to claim ignorance if it turns out that the school you enrol in is not a legitimate institution. Students can be deported if it is determined that they were part of a scam, even if they are the victim.