Student Visas

The United States offers international students the most exciting, rewarding and comprehensive array of study options in the world.  In fact, international students who choose to study in the US have almost unlimited study choices at top institutions that have earned high ranking in the world-class education system.  Moreover, students who successfully complete their US study are highly sought-after “next generation” professionals by employers worldwide. 

However, if you want to attend an academic program or English language program at a U.S. college or university, you will first need to obtain an F-1 student visa, which is required for any foreign student that has been accepted to a U.S. university or college, high school, or another academic institution (for instance, an English language training program).  Getting your visa to study in the United States takes time, but it is a surprisingly easy procedure that is well worth the effort of building your future. 

The requirements for an F-1 student visa are very specific. In order to be considered for a student visa, you must have accepted a place at an American university, have enough money to complete the proposed course, be sufficiently prepared for studying in America and intend to leave upon completion of the course. Most of this will be determined during your interview with a Consular Officer. 

Below are some guidelines to help make your student visa application process smooth and successful: 

1.  Student Acceptance at a SEVP Approved School  

Before you can apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for an F-1 visa, you must first apply to and be accepted by a SEVP approved school.  After a college, university, or English language school has accepted you for admission to full-time study, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You must also pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. 

Next, the school will send you a document called an I-20 form, which is the application for an F-1 visa, to present to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview.  You will read and sign this form. Make sure that the name and spelling on your passport is exactly the same as the name and spelling on your application for acceptance to the school and that the school has entered your name as it appears on your passport on the I-20.  If your spouse and/or children intend to reside with you in the United States while you study, they must also obtain individual Form I-20s, but they do not pay the SEVIS fee.  

2.  How to Apply for F1 Visa  

There are two easy steps to apply for a visa:  

(a)  Complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160)  

The United States is using a new non-immigrant visa application form DS-160 that should be completed online. This form replaces all of the other forms.  You must print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.  You will also upload your photo as part of completing the online Form DS-160, which must be: 

  • In color
  • Sized such that the head is between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches (22 mm and 35 mm) or 50% and 69% of the image's total height from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
  • Taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
  • Taken in front of a plain white or off-white background
  • Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
  • With a neutral facial expression and both eyes open
  • Taken in clothing that you normally wear on a daily basis 

If your photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo that complies with the above requirements.  

(b)  Schedule an Interview  

You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine.  For new students, F-1 visas are issued up to 120 days in advance of your study start date. However, you will not be allowed to enter the United States in F-1 status earlier than 30 days before your start date.  Continuing students may renew their visas at any time, as long as they have maintained student status and their SEVIS records are current, and they may enter the United States at any time before their classes start. 

International student visa applicants usually receive priority by the Embassy or Consulate, so if your program of study will begin soon, you should to explain this when applying for your visa.  Note, however, that all applicants’ names have to be submitted for a security clearance, so it is crucial that you apply for your visa well in advance of the date your studies begin. If possible, apply three months before you plan to travel to the USA. This will give you extra time if there are delays at the embassy, or if you wish to appeal a decision in the event of a denial.  

3.  Preparation for Interview  

(a)  Pay the non-refundable visa application feed.  There is a US$200 fee, which supports the cost of the computer system used to record your stay in the United States (SEVIS). You must pay the SEVIS fee at least three days before the date of your visa interview.  You will also need to pay an additional US$160 for the visa application fee.  Bring a copy of your receipts to your visa interview. 

(b)  Gather the following required documents:  

  • SEVIS I-20, which is provided by your University/school. I-20 form must be signed by you and school official (Graduate school/International students office).
  • Online Nonimmigrant visa Electronic Application, Form DS-160.
  • Passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States
  • One colored photograph (if online upload fails) 2 X 2 inches square for each applicant, showing a full face, without covering head, against a light background.
  • Original TOEFL scores and SAT, GRE, GMAT scores (as applicable). Students going to the United States to earn a Bachelor's degree should bring their most recent mark sheets or graduation certificates.
  • Students going the United States to earn a Ph.D/MS degree should bring their original undergraduate degree and mark sheets/transcripts.
  • Spouses and minor children accompanying the student to the United States should bring marriage certificates, wedding photos, and birth certificates with them to the interview, to prove the relationship between themselves and the principal applicant.
  • A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee.
  • The SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.  

(c)  Collect additional documents to establish that you are qualified, including:  

(i)  Financing  

First and foremost, you will be required to prove that you have the means to finance your education.  This is no easy task because education expenses in the US are significantly higher than in most countries.  To show that you have an adequate, demonstrable financial support to live and study in the United States, you will need to present a solid financial plan for your studies before you can pass your F1 visa interview.  Specifically, you will have to submit proof of liquid assets sufficient to pay for the entire first year of education and living expenses, as well as proof of readily available funds to cover the remaining years(s) of studies. 

The amount you have to show comes from Part 7 on the I-20, which shows the exact amount of funding you must have available to cover the first year’s expenses.  The total amount includes tuition and fees, living expenses, expenses of dependents (if applicable) and other expenses.  You must prove that you have immediate funds available to cover this amount.  If you are going to a two-year program, then you must also show that funds are or will likely be available to cover the same amount for the second year.  For example, if you are a prospective Master’s student for a two-year program and the total amount in Part 7 of the I-20 includes $5,000 for tuition and fees, $5,000 for living expenses, and $500 for other expenses(books and supplies), then you must prove that $10,500 is immediately available to you.  Additionally, you must show that another $10,500 is or will likely be available to cover the second year. 

To establish your financial resources, you should bring to the Consulate: 

  • Original tax returns for the past 3 years
  • Original bank records (bank statements) for the past 3 years, and/or fixed deposit statement of your parent or sponsor.  While anyone may sponsor your education, the Consular Officer will be more convinced if your employer, parent or close family member finances your studies.
  • Pay slips, employment letters 

There are no specific documents that prove a student is able to pay for his/her education.  These are only suggested documents.  A visa is not assured if you have any or all of these documents.  

The U.S. Consulate discourages applicants from bringing property deeds or certified copies of financial documents.  You should only bring financial documents that can support you (or your sponsor’s claim) that your studies in the U.S. will be fully funded.  Likewise, large sums of money in bank accounts may not be sufficient proof of financial support, because money can be moved around easily. When providing information about your bank accounts, ask someone at your bank for a letter that states how long the account has existed, and what the average balance in the account has been. That should convince the visa officer that you and your family have a long and stable history of business at the bank. 

Visa applications are generally stronger if the financial support comes from family, employers, or institutional sponsors located in Ukraine.  So if your parents will pay for your education, be ready to document how your family gets its income. Bring a letter from your parents' employers stating what they do, how long they have worked at those organizations, and how much they earn.  When visa officers see information that is contradictory or does not make sense, they do not grant visas. If your family can only show enough income to support you in the United States, the officer will become suspicious.  

(ii)  "Intent to Return"  

Most student visa applications are approved. The most common reason for a student visa application to be denied is that the person applying for the visa has not proven to the Visa Officer that they will return to their country when they complete their studies in the U.S.A. 

To determine your "intent to return" home, the visa officer will ask you a series of questions about your connections to your home country and about your study plans. Your job is to demonstrate not only that your family has the ability to pay for the first year of your proposed stay in the United States and that you have realistic plans to finance the remainder of your education, but also that you will not remain in the U.S. after your visa expires.  You must bring any documents that might help demonstrate why you will return to Ukraine (family connections, job offers from prospective employers in your field, etc).  

(iii)  Academic Credentials  

You should bring with you: 

Original degree certificates from all institutions you have attended, along with mark sheets (you may still apply if you have not yet received your degree certificate.  However, make sure to include your mark sheets and provisional certificate if available. 

Relevant standardized test scores required by the educational institutions (such as TOEFL, MCATs, LSATs, GRE’s, SAT’s, GMAT’s, etc.)  If your university does not require that you take certain tests such as TOEFL or GRE, you should get a letter from the university stating the same.  However, the Embassy strongly recommends that all student visa applicants provide standardized test scores.  

4.  Attend the Visa Interview  

During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa.  Below are a few examples of F-1 Visa interview questions: 

  • Why did you choose to study in the US instead of joining the workforce in your home country?
  • Why did you choose this school and why is it the best school for you?
  • What are your test scores (GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL), your grade point average, and your overall performance as a student in the past?
  • How are you funding the entire duration of your education, including tuition, room and board, transportation, and all other expenses?
  • After you graduate, will you return home or will you stay in the United States? 

Your consular officer may ask these questions in different ways, but they are all asked for the same purpose - to be sure that you qualify for the F-1 visa, as stated above. If these questions are answered in a satisfactory manner, the consular officer can approve your application. 

Be prepared to give your information quickly and completely. If you are unable to answer the questions in English, and the visa officer does not speak Russian or Ukrainian languages, you can ask for an interpreter. Speaking English is not a requirement for a student visa. In fact, thousands of students come to the United States each year to learn how to speak English. 

Calmly state your education plans concisely and clearly.  The visa officer needs to know your specific objectives, both academic and professional, for studying in the United States.  You must explain clearly why it is better to study your specific field in the United States than to study at home.  You should also be able to describe exactly what you will study and for what career your U.S. studies will prepare you. 

If you are going to the USA to learn English and then earn a degree, you should explain your complete program of studies.  It is not enough to just say, “it is better to study in the United States.”  Instead, you have to give valid reasons why it is better for you.  Visa officers like to hear honest, direct responses to questions, and they react negatively to applicants who give vague answers, memorize a speech, or make overly solicitous comments about how great the United States is. 

You should also be able to explain in detail why you chose to study at a specific school and be able to give information about that school and where you will live (dormitory, host family or apartment). 

If you plan to return home to complete university studies after studying English, bring proof of your student status in Ukraine. A letter from a university professor supporting your study plan will be helpful. Young people around the world are often unsure of their plans, but in your visa interview it is best to give definite answers. If you seem unsure about what you will be doing, the visa officer may believe that you are really going to the United States for reasons other than education. 

Grades make an enormous difference. If your marks are below average, be ready to provide explanation on how you are going to succeed in the United States. A letter from a school director or teacher, or from your U.S. admitting school stating that the proposed program of study in the United States makes sense and explaining your good prospects for success can be helpful. If there were special circumstances (such as a death or illness in the immediate family) that contributed to the poor grades, have the school explain those special circumstances. 

After your F-1 visa is approved, you will be informed when your passport with visa will be returned to you.  

5.  Entering the United States  

An F1 visa allows a foreign student to travel to any U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States.  However, no visa guarantees entry into the United States.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to deny admission to the United States.  If you are allowed to enter, the CBP official will provide an admission stamp or paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record). 

When you enter the USA on a student visa, you are admitted for the duration of your student status. That means you may stay as long as you are a full time student, even if the F-1 visa in your passport expires while you are in America. For a student who has completed the course of studies shown on the I-20, and any authorized practical training, the student is allowed an additional 60 days to prepare for departure from the USA or to transfer to another school. 

It is vital to maintain the student immigration status while you are a student.  Failure to depart the United States on time will result in you being out of status. Under U.S. law, visas of travelers who are out of status are automatically voided (by Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act).  If you had a multiple entry visa and it was voided due to you being out of status, it will not be valid for future entries into the United States.  Failure to depart the United States on time may also result in you being ineligible for visas you may apply for in the future.  

To remain in the US, you will need to re-enroll in a higher program, transfer to another school to receive a new I-20 form, or apply to change your visa status.  

6.  Work During Studies  

International students studying on F-1 status visa are eligible to work on campus up to 20 hours a week while school is in session, and can work full time during vacations/scheduled breaks. Students are eligible to begin employment immediately upon being admitted to the United States in F-1 status.  However, the spouse of a student cannot work if they have travelled on a dependent visa. If they will be seeking employment, the appropriate work visa is required. 

After completing certain degrees (for instance, Masters of Science) the student gets Optional Practical Training (OPT), under which the student is allowed to work full time for up to 29 months while in U.S. on a study visa.  However, a student can also apply for H1B visa (work visa) during or after the completion of OPT, and subsequently a student can apply for Green Card (permanent residency). 

Professionals with 7-8 years of work experience after completion of graduation can also apply under the student visa.  Such professionals can apply for MBA, PhD and all other Masters programs under the study visa category and subsequently get OPT for up to 29 months.  Further, during or after the completion of OPT, such professionals can also qualify for H1B visa and subsequently they can qualify for Green Card.  

7.  F-1 Visa Denials  

If your F1 visa application is denied, the reason and section of law you are denied under will be given to you in your paperwork. Some applications are denied because the applicant failed to provide necessary information or supporting documentation as required. Sometimes, however, you can be found ineligible for other reasons. 

Of course, if you do not meet the F-1 Visa Qualifications as stated above, you can expect to be found ineligible. For example, if you do not sufficiently demonstrate that the strong ties to your home country will influence you to return home after your stay in the US, you will be denied under INA section 214(b), Visa Qualifications and Immigrant Intent. 

Other common reasons for denial include Fraud or Misrepresentation, Unlawful Presence in the United States, Health-related grounds, Criminal-related grounds, or Security-related grounds. 

In such cases, you will have to consult with U.S. immigration lawyers, who will review the situation to see if any waivers may apply to reverse such denial. 

Frishberg & Partners 2022