The appropriate visa required to enter the United States to study for a Master’s degree is the F1 student visa. Before you apply for an F1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate you must ensure that the school you wish to enroll in is a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school. This is mostly the case for all accredited schools. Among other things, your school will provide you with a document called “form I20”. This form details out everything about your program of study including the duration of study and means of funding. To obtain the form I20 from your school, you must first fill out the declaration of finance form.
- Declaration of Finances: Before the form I20 is issued to you, you will have to provide proof of financials to your school for them to verify that you can take care of your educational needs including tuition for at least the first year of your degree program. If you have been awarded any forms of scholarship, they will be deducted from the total amount of financials you will be required to prove. After submitting the declaration of finance, an original copy of the form I20 will be mailed you. This form also has a SEVIS ID that is uniquely assigned to the applicant. This SEVIS ID will be required when making your online SEVIS payment.
- SEVIS Fees: Once you are accepted into a U.S. school you plan to attend, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This is a web-based system used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to maintain information on all F1 students in the United States. Before the visa interview, you must fill an online form called “form I-901” and pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. Payments can be made by check, money order, or Western Union Quick Pay. The first two payment options must be done by someone with a bank account in the states or currently in the states. You will be set to go to your Visa Appointment 2 to 3 days after your payment has posted. And remember to print the I-901 Payment Confirmation online before going for your visa interview.
This is country specific and so I will not talk much about it. However, the most fundamental things to take with you for your visa appointment are:
a.Passport: This must be valid for travel to the United States and for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States
b. Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
c. Application fee payment receipt
e. Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20
f. Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended; and
g. Standardized test scores required by your U.S. school;
h. Your intent to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
i. How you will pay all educational, living and travel costs
Now, the duration of visa granted varies. I do not know what procedure the Consular follow to grant visas as well as the duration of stay. From other international students including myself, the visa granted covers up to the duration of stay specified on your form I-20. You will be able to re-apply for a new visa if you do not finish your program within the specified number of years. Some students are also given shorter visa duration than the duration of their program of study and are required to renew their visas as and when needed.
There is something called “Optional Practical Training (OPT)” which gives an international student the authority to stay and work in the U.S. for a year after your Master’s degree program. Students who pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education (STEM) courses are entitled to an extension of work authorization for additional 24 months. I will take more about OPT and STEM in a different section. It is possible to live in the states during your OPT period on an expired visa. However, in the event that you have to go to your home country during the OPT period, you will be required to obtain a new visa for re-entry into the United States.
NOTE: Please cross check with your local embassy to make sure that you have all the required documents. Do not only rely on this information. I will not be responsible for failure to do additional research before working on your visa processes.
It may be advisable to arrange your housing before leaving your home country except you have plans of where you will be staying for the first few days upon your arrival in the United States. Your school may provide you with a list of on-campus and off-campus apartments. Either of them is a good option. While on-campus apartments may be ideal, they may also be more expensive and may come with meal plans to purchase. Some dormitories do not give you the flexibility to cook your own meals. However, when opting for an off-campus apartment, consider its accessibility to campus, public transport etc. Especially in rural or suburban areas, public transport accessibility may be limited. You may join groups for incoming international students on Facebook to share ideas and learn more from others.
A major site for temporary apartments is Craigslist, they have listings in almost all the states. This website may be useful for your off-campus apartments search but you should also be very diligent as there may be scams on this website as well.
3. Getting Ready to Travel
Inform your school of your arrival date in the U.S. Get a few warm clothes when traveling around winter time (January ish). Some families (host families) volunteer to host international students for their first few days in the U.S., find out from the international students’ office if this service is offered in your school. Also, take some contact numbers from your school for emergencies such as getting stranded at the airport. Gather all the documents presented at your local embassy. You may be required to present them again for immigration purposes.
4. Arrival in the U.S.
You may be asked a few more questions at the airport by the immigration officers and asked to show your I-20 and other documents. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help at the airport when stranded.