Prospective students applying to academic programs should start contacting schools at least a year before they plan to start their studies. Most students submit between five and ten applications to many schools. After a student has been accepted to a school, the school will issue a Certificate of Eligibility form, more commonly called a SEVIS I-20. The school will complete this form. This form is the school’s official statement to the US government that the student has
-submitted all the correct documentation to the school,
-meets the qualifications for admission to the school
-has been admitted for a full time course of study.
Once the student receives the Form I-20, he/she should review the document and should there be any mistake, the student should send it back to the school for correction. If the student is under 18 years old, he/she should get the Form I-20 signed by a parent or guardian.
After receiving the Form I-20, the next step in the application process is to apply for a student visa (if the applicant is outside the US.) or apply for a “Change of Status” (if the applicant is already in the U.S.). It is recommended to start the student visa application or change of status process as far in advance as possible, but note that F and M visas will not be issued more than 120 days before the start-date as found on Form I-20.
Applying for a Visa or a Change of Status
Students applying to change their status will deal directly with USCIS. He/she should file Form I-539 Application to Extend or Change Non immigrant Status.
If a student has entered the US on a visitor visa and wants to change status to F-1 or M-1, he/she has to wait for the change of status application to be approved before starting the course of study else the application will be denied.
Applying for a Student Visa at a U.S. Consulate
A prospective student with a Certificate of Eligibility (SEVIS I-20) from a US school can apply for an F-1 or M-1 visa at a US consulate in his/her home country. The student must be physically present in order to apply.
Students generally can apply for a student visa up to 90 days before registration will begin at their school. Considering processing delays, it is better to apply as soon as possible within that 90-day period. Some consulates do accept student visa applications before the beginning of the 90-day period, to allow time for security clearances and other delays. Students have to contact the local US consulate regarding its application procedures. Many consulates insist on advance appointments. Just getting an appointment can take several weeks, so applicants should plan properly.
Once the student gets in touch with the consulate, he/she will have to complete the visa application.
–Form DS-160. This form should be the electronic “e-form application.” available at https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/.
–Form I-134, Affidavit of Support: Those students who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the US should submit evidence that an interested person will provide support.
Form I-134 is used to ensure that while the foreign student is in the US, he/she will not become a public charge. The person who signs Form I-134 on behalf of the foreign student is called the “sponsor”. By signing Form I-134, the sponsor agrees to assume financial responsibility for the foreign student in the event that the student becomes unable to meet his/her living expenses.