Every year, thousands of students choose to study abroad, though they represent only one-hundredth of the total number enrolled at American institutes of higher education.
Such students are given a special form ofimmigration visa, and this remains legal for the duration of the education program, after which the student must either return to his or her home country or apply for permanent citizenship.
In this article, we will discuss the legal aspects and requirements of getting a university or college education in the US from another country, and how they coordinate with other immigration laws.
Types of student visas
US student visas fall into three categories:
- F-1 — The full-time student who wishes to enroll in an academic or language program must choose this class, which allows him or her to remain in the US for up to sixty days after the program ends. The I-20 form gives the date by which the student must complete his studies, and he is required to maintain a full-course load during that period.
- M-1 — Students taking part in a non-academic institution (not a language program), such as a vocational school, will want to choose this second type, which also qualifies them to participate in an Optional Practical Training program.
- B (a visitor visa), may be used by those who intend to spend only a brief period at a language institute. The individual who chooses this option may not take courses that count towards a degree or an academic certificate.
There are other additional types of student visas in the United States. Dependents of F-1 visa holders qualify for an F-2 visa — and if minors, they may attend public schools — while Canadian and Mexican border commuters can apply for an F-3, which allows them to attend classes at an American institution, but not to work there, while continuing to reside in their own countries. They can apply for employment under the Curricular Practical Training program.
Finally, there is the J-1 visa for those involved in cultural exchange programs, particularly if they are seeking a business or medical education in the US.
The Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)
If a student wishes to reside in the US for longer than his or her visa allows, then he must be accepted at a school approved by the SEVP, which is part of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement branch of the Homeland Security Department.
Applying for a student visa
An ID photo and a valid passport are required for a student visa. The school for which a foreign student applies must be registered with SEVIS (the Student & Exchange Visitor Information System). Regardless of how many programs he/she intends to take, each one requires a SEVIS I-901 fee. The student must also provide the appropriate documents, and if married, the spouse must also sign the application form. The next step is to submit forms D-156 (Non-Immigrant Visa Applicant) and D-158 to the Bureau of Consular Affairs (State Department), after which the applicant is interviewed, photographed and fingerprinted. Finally, the student pays his student visa application fee.
Applying to Universities
Now that you can identify what type of visa is best for your educational pursuits, you can work on seeking out the best universities. Give yourself time to really think about location and cost. Narrow down your search to five colleges then carefully read their admission requirements.
Prepare for any standardized tests, like the SAT or ACT. Consider enrolling in a preparation course that will help you score high on those admission tests. Scoring high on an SAT or ACT can help in obtaining a scholarship and getting accepted to your top college choice.