Acing Your F1 Visa Interview
Your guide to getting a visa for full-time study in the USA.
If you are looking to study in the US at a bachelor’s or master’s level, you know that getting into the program is just the first hurdle. The key—and the biggest one at that—is making sure you get a visa TO the US.
The F1 visa is the primary visa type for US-bound international students. Getting such a visa comes with many restrictions, and can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience. Having said that, over a million international students were accepted to study in the USA last year. Additionally, we are here to help! Below, we’ve outlined some of the key factors to follow while preparing for the process:
Make sure to pick a full-time program: The purpose of the F1 is to secure a visa for degree-seeking studies. A part-time program suggests that you’re not in the US primarily to study. It’s important then, to make sure you choose a full-time program. This is typically 12 credit hours per year for undergraduates and 9 hours per year for graduate students. In simple terms, you must ensure that your weekly in-class time accounts for at least 12 hours or 9 hours, respectively, depending on whether you want to pursue an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.
Confirm that your target universities are accredited: In order to make sure you have no issues with airport immigration, make sure your university is accredited. US officials can turn away students who got accepted into a program and got the visa, simply because the university they were accepted at (and got a visa for) is not accredited. Lack of accreditation means that the university is not awarding you a recognized degree, which implies that you are entering the US on a false pretext, even though you believe you’re getting a valid degree. Every college or university in the US belongs to a regional accrediting board. Make sure you verify this by finding out which regional bodies have accredited your prospective schools, and also confirm this by visiting the relevant accrediting bodies’ official sites.
Prove that you can pay for at least 1 year of tuition and other expenses: If you can’t pay, you can’t stay. While that may seem harsh, it’s the simple rule followed by the US embassy and the airport immigration authorities. The government expects you to demonstrate through bank statements that you have funds to cover your education for one year. Proving that you’ve received scholarships also helps, but isn’t enough. The point here is to clearly prove that you can afford your study, even if your scholarship is taken away.
Demonstrating non-immigrant intent:Many students come to the US on an F1, do a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT), stay on a skilled-worker visa (H-1), and may move on to getting permanent residency. However, that is not the F1 visa’s official intent. Its purpose is solely to bring you to the US to study full-time, acquire a degree, and go home. Don’t ever suggest to an Embassy officer that you’d be open to living in the US after you get your degree and OPT, as such an indication could lead to a visa rejection. Instead, demonstrate your extensive ties to your home country, the property your family owns, the work you’re doing back home, and so on.
Showing the connection between your degree and professional goals: Embassy officers are always curious about why you picked the program you picked and what you’re going to do with it when you return to your home country. Be thoughtful about this when picking a program. You’ll need to explain why you picked it (perhaps because you have 2 years of work experience in the field and wanted a US degree to give you a competitive advantage. Or maybe a US degree will help kickstart your career ambitions).
Here are a few more do’s and don’ts for when you are at the interview:
Bring all the documents relevant (and irrelevant): You’ll be surprised how often they ask you for something related, but not on the list. You can never have too many bank paperwork forms or tax forms.
Follow the process thoroughly: Read the instructions carefully and make sure to complete all the forms, photo requirements and pay instructions in the sequence requested.
Have good answers to the topics outlined above: What’s the connection between the degree and your professional goals? Is the program accredited and full-time? What are your plans when you come back to your home country?
Over-rehearse:Resist the urge to memorise your answers. It’s fine to have notes on what you want to say and skim that before you go in (we wouldn’t recommend carrying that list of notes with you, though). But do not have pre-memorised answers.
Resist the urge to memorise your answers.
Beg: On occasion, officials reject your petition. Usually it’s because they question whether you’re actually going to a full-time program, or whether you really have the money. Once they say no, asking for a changed decision does nothing. Say thank you, walk away, and get working on what to do next. You are allowed to apply again during that same year. More often than not though, if you’ve done the paperwork right and can speak confidently about why you’re going to the US and what you’ll do with your degree, you’ll be fine.
International students have to equip themselves with a strategic thought process when planning to go to US for their studies—all things that domestic US students don’t have to worry about. While that can seem challenging, consider it an advantage. Having to to be this thoughtful and prepared puts you on a path to a successful career and future.
Good luck for your interview, and your future education plans in the US!
About the Author: Mishri Someshwar is a marketing director at a Washington DC-based association. She is a native of Bangalore, India and moved to the US in 2003 to attend college at American University in Washington, DC.