Getting a student visa

Visas are one of the most confusing and sometimes frustrating part of studying in the US. Depending on the type of student visa you need, whether you plan on having a job while you are working on your degree, and how long you plan to stay in the country, you may find that you need something different than the next person.

There are four major types of visas a student can be issued for study in the United States: F, J, B, and M. Here, we will cover what each type is used for, and two of the most common forms you will encounter when applying for a US visa.

F Visa:

In the United States, the F visa is a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue higher education (academic studies and/or language training programs) in the USA. F-1 visas are for full-time students; F-2 visas are for spouses or dependents of F-1 students. F-1 students must maintain a full course of study (in college, this normally means a student takes 12 hours of class per week).  This is the most common class of visa issued for academic purposes.

In the United States, the F visa is a type of non-immigrant student visa that allows foreigners to pursue higher education (academic studies and/or language training programs) in the USA. F-1 visas are for full-time students; F-2 visas are for spouses or dependents of F-1 students. F-1 students must maintain a full course of study (in college, this normally means a student takes 12 hours of class per week).  This is the most common class of visa issued for academic purposes.

J Visa:

The J visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, usually summer study programs. J-1 visas are for summer program students; J-2 visas are for the spouses or dependents of J-1 students. It may also be used for technical/practical training programs that are not offered in the student’s home country.

J-1 visa holders may remain in the United States until the end of their exchange program (as specified on form DS-2019). Once a J-1 visitor’s program ends, the visitor may remain in the United States for an additional 30 days, often referred to as a “grace period,” in order to prepare for departure. If the visitor leaves the United States during these 30 days, the J-1 visa will not grant re-entry.

B Visas:

The two types of B visa are the B-1 visa, issued to those seeking entry for business purposes; and the B-2 visa, issued to those seeking entry for tourism or other non-business purposes. In practice, the two visa categories are usually combined together and issued as a “B1/B2 visa,” and this is valid for a temporary visit for either business or pleasure, or a combination of the two. A B2 visa is sufficient for some summer study programs. It may also be used for brief US university campus visits.

The two types of B visa are the B-1 visa, issued to those seeking entry for business purposes; and the B-2 visa, issued to those seeking entry for tourism or other non-business purposes. In practice, the two visa categories are usually combined together and issued as a “B1/B2 visa,” and this is valid for a temporary visit for either business or pleasure, or a combination of the two. A B2 visa is sufficient for some summer study programs. It may also be used for brief US university campus visits.

M Visas:

These are issued to students who attend a technical or vocational school. This visa cannot be used for general or non-matriculated study—the program must have an end goal and require a full-time course load. With this type of visa, the student may not seek employment when enrolled in a higher education program—to do so requires a J visa. If a student is seeking an M visa, it will be necessary to supply evidence that they have enough funds to cover both tuition and cost of living for the duration of their technical program.

These are issued to students who attend a technical or vocational school. This visa cannot be used for general or non-matriculated study—the program must have an end goal and require a full-time course load. With this type of visa, the student may not seek employment when enrolled in a higher education program—to do so requires a J visa. If a student is seeking an M visa, it will be necessary to supply evidence that they have enough funds to cover both tuition and cost of living for the duration of their technical program.

Form I-20:

To get an F visa, you will need a Form I-20 issued in your name by the SEVP-certified school you intend to go to (they must accept you first). Normally, the school will send instructions and issue the Form I-20 with the original signature of your school’s DSO after the offer of admission has been sent and the enrollment deposit received. This I-20 must then be submitted to the U.S. embassy/consulate located in the student’s home country. The Form I-20, along with and copies of any other visas the student has are necessary for CBP to grant you admission to the United States. You must also have them with you when you arrive, so you should keep it in a safe place for access when needed (for example, when traveling through U.S. immigration). The form contains the SEVIS ID number, the beginning and end dates of the program of study and current term, requests for benefits and corrections, employment information, current status, and more.

Form DS-2019:

This 2-page form, which is produced by the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), is issued by the student visa holder’s sponsor for their exchange program. All F, M, and J visa holders get this form, and must sign the first page upon receipt. It is critical to keep this form in a safe place. Each one has a unique identifying number and blank forms are not issued. All people studying abroad in the USA will need this form.

The US visa process does not have to be confusing. Occam Education assists soon-to-be graduates and their families in the process of applying for a student visa. If you need assistance, please contact us for more information.