It’s May 1, the date when incoming international students submit the first round of paperwork to kick off the process to obtain a U.S. visa to study at Fletcher. Most will work closely with Carol Murphy, our International Student Advisor. But in the Admissions Office, we’re also fortunate that Christine came to Fletcher from a position where she was the visa expert. So, for all our international students, here’s Christine’s explanation of the steps of this complicated process.
You’ve been admitted and you have decided to enroll! You are excited about starting your studies in the United States. You are already starting looking at housing and talking with students on the Admitted Student Facebook page. But wait! There is one more big step that you, the international student, need to take: applying for a visa.
Some of you may be familiar with the process already and know terms like I-20, SEVIS, liquid and available funds, and I-94 card. But for those of you who are new to all of this, I am here to help!
THE VISA PROCESS
- Certification of Funds: Your first step is to complete the Certification of Funds form. It is extremely important that you follow the directions exactly and provide all the needed materials so it does not delay the visa process. As you already know, the form is due today, but please note that you cannot apply for a visa more than 120 days from the start of the school term.
- The I-20: Once your Certification of Funds has been approved, the International Student Advisor will issue the I-20. This document will contain your SEVIS number, available funds, and school information. You must have this with you when you attend your visa interview, when you enter the United States, and when you arrive at Fletcher.
- Pay the SEVIS fee: The SEVIS fee can be paid online via credit card for most countries. There are a few restrictions, though, so if you have questions, check first with the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you. If you are traveling with dependents (spouse or children), you will NOT need to pay a SEVIS fee for them. The fee is only for the student.
- Complete the DS-160 with photograph: You will complete the form online, pay the DS-160 fee, upload a passport-sized (two inches by two inches) photograph and print the form to bring for your interview. If you are traveling with dependents, a form and fee will needed for EACH of them. I recommend you complete the DS-160 at least two days before your interview.
- Schedule an Interview: Once you have received your I-20, paid the SEVIS fee, completed the DS-160, and obtained photographs, you can schedule your interview with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. Most interviews can be scheduled online, however please check with your specific consulate or embassy. Many of the consulates have a website to answer questions about how they approach the process, such as this one from the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai.
- Prepare for the Interview: The interview is one of the most important parts of the visa process. The consular officer will approve or deny your visa based on your answers and preparedness during the interview. Make sure that you are prepared to answer questions like: Why do you want to study in the United States? Why can you not study in your home country? What do you plan on doing after you have completed your studies? Do you have any relatives in the United States? Where do they live? It is important that you are honest with the officer, but you do not need to share more information than what is directly asked of you.
- Make sure you bring to the interview: your passport, I-20, DS-160, photographs, Certification of Funds and supporting documents, test scores, acceptance letter, and any other pertinent information.
- Obtaining Your Visa: Once your application has been approved, the visa officer will take your passport from you so that they can put in the visa stamp. The process varies by consulate or embassy, so make sure you ask how long it will take and how you will get your passport back. The Department of State offers information about visa wait times by country on its website.
- Travel to the United States: You are finally on board and about to touch down on U.S. soil! On the airplane, you will fill out an I-94 card. Don’t be fooled by its small size: this is THE most important document to have with you. If you lose this, it is extremely costly to replace, takes a lot of time, and can jeopardize your visa standing. Once off the plane, you will go through immigration and customs. An immigration officer will check your documents (make sure you pack everything listed above in the interview section in your carry-on), stamp your passport and I-94, and let you through. Welcome!
The visa process is complicated, so make sure that you ask questions to the International Student Advisor, Carol Murphy, or the consulate/embassy. Become familiar with the Student Visas website and your consulate/embassy website.
Safe travels and we look forward to meeting you!
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