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Immigration and Visa Information for New Students

You’ve made it through the first big step and have been accepted to UB! However, before you can enter the United States from outside the country, you must apply for a U.S visa.

On this page:

What do I need to do to come to the United States?

To come to the United States to study, you will need to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Most international students come to the U.S. on F-1 visas, while some come on J-1 visas. However, there are some other visa categories that permit studying (e.g., H-1B, H-4, L-2, E-2, etc.). So some of you may have a different type of visa.

Your visa category will determine many aspects of your life in the U.S. (e.g., your studies, employment, vacation, travel). While most students will have to follow F-1 immigration regulations, some will follow other regulations.

You cannot study for a degree on a tourist (B-1/2) visa or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Therefore, you should not enter the U.S. as a B-1/2 or on the VWP if you plan to study.

Canadian students do not need to apply for a U.S. visa.

How do I apply for a student visa?

To apply for a student visa, you will need to follow these 9 steps:

Step 1: Obtain a Form I-20 (or DS-2019 for J-1 students).

To do so, you will need to show that you have sufficient funds to pay for a U.S. education. This involves providing financial documents that indicate the amount of money required for one year of study in your chosen program.

Step 2: Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee.

You can pay the fee online by mail or by Western Union.

  • How much is the SEVIS fee? The SEVIS fee is $200 for F-1 students and $180 for J-1 students. Exception: J-1 students on certain U.S. government-sponsored programs (e.g., Fulbright) do not need to pay the fee.
  • Who has to pay the SEVIS fee?
    If you have an “Initial” I-20 (or “Begin New Program” DS-2019) and are applying for a visa to come to the U.S. for the first time to study, you must pay the SEVIS fee. Students already in the U.S. and transferring or changing programs or degree level might not need to pay the fee. If you already paid the SEVIS fee, please visit SEVIS I-901 Fee to find out if you need to pay it again.

For more answers to questions about the SEVIS fee, please read SEVIS I-901 Fee Frequently Asked Questions.

We do not recommend applying for a visa at a U.S. consulate outside your country of permanent residence unless you are residing outside your country or cannot apply for a U.S. visa in your country.) Visit its website to find out what you need to do to apply for a student visa.

Don't forget to print the application confirmation page to bring to your interview.

When you upload your photo, be sure it conforms to the photograph requirements.

Additional instructions for the Nonimmigrant Visa Application can be found here.

Step 5: Make a visa appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate closest to your home.

Make an appointment as early as possible.

Check the wait times for interview appointments and be sure to allow sufficient time.

F-1 visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days before your course of study start date. However, you will not be allowed to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student more than 30 days before your start date.

When your visa is issued, you may also be required to pay the Reciprocal Visa Issuance Fee. Check the Visa Reciprocity Table to see if you are required to pay this fee.

Step 7: Prepare all the documents required for your visa interview.

  • Passport — must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the U. S. (unless exempt by country-specific agreements).
  • If more than one person is included in your passport, each one must submit a separate visa application.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Application fee payment receipt (if you are required to pay before your interview)
  • Photo — uploaded when you completed the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160. Note: If the photo upload failed, you must bring one printed photo as specified in Photograph Requirements.
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status — For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20A-B [or Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status] — issued by the school and mailed to you

If your spouse and child/children under the age of 21 intend to reside in the U.S. with you, they will also receive a Form I-20 (or DS-2019 for dependents of those holding a J-1).

Additional documentation

Check your U.S. embassy or consulate’s website to find out about additional required documents. Examples include:

  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees or certificates from schools you attended
  • Test scores required by U.S. school (e.g., TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT)
  • Evidence of your intent to depart the U.S. upon completion of your course of study
  • Financial documents showing your ability to pay for your U.S. education

Strong Ties

Document your intentions of returning home by showing that you have “strong ties” to your home country and reasons to return home after graduation. Strong ties can include family, future job, financial assets, property you will inherit, etc. Explain how your education will qualify you for jobs that are in high demand in your country.

Step 8: Prepare yourself for your visa interview.

Know what to expect during the interview.

  • The interview will likely be conducted in English.
  • The interview will be very short (probably 2–3 minutes).
  • You will be interviewed alone. No family members, friends or representatives can be present.
  • You will be asked short, rapid questions.
  • The consular officer will make a decision as soon as the interview is finished.

Know what the consular officer is looking for during the interview.

  • Evidence that you have the ability and intention to be a full-time student at UB
  • Evidence that you have adequate financial resources to pay for your educational and living expenses
  • Evidence that you intend to go to the U.S. only to study — not to work illegally
  • Evidence that you do not intend to immigrate to the U.S.

Know what the consular officer expects from you.

  • Honesty
  • Short and direct answers, not a memorized speech
  • English language skills to succeed in a competitive university
  • Forms and documents as specified on the U.S. embassy or consulate’s website.

Know what kinds of questions you might be asked during the interview. Be prepared to answer them quickly and confidently.

  • What is/was your secondary school (or university) GPA (grade point average)?
  • Did you apply to local universities? If not, why not? If yes, why aren’t you going to a local university?
  • How many U.S. schools did you apply to?
  • How many U.S. schools accepted you?
  • Why did you apply to UB?
  • Why did you choose UB over the other universities?
  • What do you want to study? OR What’s your major?
  • Why did you choose this major?
  • What do you expect to get out of your education?
  • What are the job prospects for this major in your country?
  • Do you intend to stay in the U.S. after graduation and work?
  • Do you have any family in the U.S.?
  • Do you have family members who studied in the U.S. and then returned to your home country?
  • How do you and your family intend to finance your education in the U.S.?

Step 9: Attend your visa interview.

Make a good impression during the interview.

  • Come to the interview well-groomed and dressed neatly. A suit or formal dress is not required.
  • Bring all required forms and documents to the interview.
  • Organize your documents neatly and logically. If the consular officer asks for a specific academic document, test score or financial document, you should be able to pull it from your file/organizer quickly. If you have to search for it, the consular officer may think you are disorganized and not ready to study in the U.S.
  • Don’t memorize your answers. Instead, prepare well and give short, direct answers. Speak clearly and with the appropriate volume.
  • Do not argue. Maintain a positive attitude. Be friendly and courteous.

How long will it take to get a student visa?

One cannot accurately predict visa application processing times due to background checks, special visa processing procedures and scrutiny of individuals studying in “sensitive fields.” If applicants are subject to additional administrative processing, their visa application processing will take at least 60 days longer.

For more information, please visit Study in the States and EducationUSA.