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Getting a visa to study in the US

Studying in the US is a goal for many international students for research and career opportunities, either while still in America or upon returning home.

 In fact, there are currently over a million international students studying in the United States.  India and China are by far the two largest contributors, with 47% of all students for the 2015-2016 school year.  

The visa application process can be confusing though, especially when English isn’t your strong suit.  We at TransparentCareer have laid out each type of visa used by international students, and the application process for each visa.

F1 Visa– These are the most common type of visas, and are used for bachelor and graduate school degrees, as well as training programs in the English language.  The first step is to check whether the university you’re interested in is verified by the United States government – you can’t get an F1 visa for non accredited universities. Take a look here to see if your school is verified. The first step is to apply to universities where you want to study.  Upon acceptance, the university will provide you with a form I-20.  Keep in mind – you can’t transfer once you select a school.  Make sure it’s the right fit for you!  You’ll then have to go to the site of the US embassy closest to you, and pay a non refundable application fee.  Find the embassy closest to you here.

You’ll then have to prepare for an interview – the sooner you can set this up the better.  The interviewer will require proof of intent to return to your country after you complete your education (such as family, home job offer) as well as a passport and the form I-20 provided by your school.  The interview will also require proof of financial sufficiency to fund your education.  If you need advice on how to finance your education, take a look at this guide.  Depending on your school you may also have to provide test scores such as the SAT, GMAT, or GRE.  

J1A Visa– J1A visas are for those looking to temporarily stay in the US for a work or culture exchange program, such as to be an au pair, international camp counselor, or for specific medical training.  To be accepted, you have to be sponsored by a nonprofit or government organization.  You can find a list of all approved organizations here.    After applying and being approved by an organization, they’ll provide you with a DS-2019 form to fill out.   Then you have to apply for a J1A visa at your nearest US embassy.  A Sevis I-901 fee must then be paid (sometimes by your sponsor), along with a Nonimmigrant Application Processing Fee of $160.  You must then schedule an appointment with the embassy, giving plenty of time in case anything goes wrong.  Bring along the DS-2019 form provided by your sponsor, as well as your passport, a 2×2 photo, and any additional documentation that may be required depending on the nature of your program.  You can find the types of documentation on the J1A government site.

M1A Visa– This is visa for vocational training in the US.  There must be a specific program/school when you apply for the visa, and you’ll have certain requirements and forms you might have to fill out for the school before applying for a visa.  You aren’t allowed to work while studying in the US, so you must prove to the school that you have enough money to stay in the US while getting your training.  If approved by the school, they’ll give you a form I-20 to fill out, which you’ll need next when you set up a meeting at your nearest US Embassy.  You’ll also have to pay an application fee, and bring your passport, a photo (with rules provided by your consulate), a DS-160 form, and a DS-157 form if you’re a male between the ages of 16 and 45.

H1B Visa- H1B work visas are for those that have completed a higher form of education and want to work in America – it’s the most common way for foreign students to stay and work in the US after graduation.  These visas have to be filed by your employer, so if you’re hoping to stay in America after graduation you should start the job search as soon as possible. Approvals are done through a lottery system, and start to fill up quickly after the government’s fiscal year starts – typically October 1.  You may file up to 6 months in advance, so filing as close to April 1 as possible is ideal.  There are a total of 85,000 visas issued this way each year, and the first 20,000 are reserved for those with master’s degrees or higher levels of education.  The remaining 65,000 are available to those with bachelor’s degrees, along with those that didn’t make it past the first round with a master’s or higher level of education.   

A lot of controversy has stirred up around H1B visas recently after the election of Donald Trump, who has claimed on numerous occasions that he wants to get rid of people who got into the US unfairly.  According to Forbes, the top 10 companies that sponsor H1B visas received 25,000 visas in 2014, which is nearly 30% of all issued H1B visas.  Of these 10 firms, half were firms based in India, typically working with call centers.  Trump and others supportive of a crackdown claim that firms are submitting multiple applications for one person in order to game the system.  236,000 applications were received last year for the 85,000 positions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there were 236,000 applicants.  While we haven’t seen what a Trump presidency will look like yet, stopping people from abusing the system may provide more opportunities for foreign students looking to work in the US after graduation.   

Questions? Comments?  Reach out.

Looking to stay in the states after graduation?  You’ll need to get a great job first.  TransparentCareer offers free data on career pathing, salary negotiation, and compensation.  Sign up for free here.