Student Visas and Exchange Visitor Programs
What is a Visa?
A visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a U.S. port-of entry and request permission from the U.S. immigration officer to enter the United States. It does not guarantee entry into the U.S. Border officials at ports of entry have a high degree of discretionary power to allow or prohibit persons from entering the United States, but most often absent suspicious statements or actions by a person at the border or lack of required documentary evidence to support admission based on the particular visa issued, persons are regularly admitted without issue.
What Student and Exchange Visas are There?
U.S. immigration law provides two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. The “F” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue academic studies and/or language training programs, and the “M” visa is reserved for nonimmigrants wishing to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies.
In addition, the “J” and “Q” visas are available for exchange visitors, and the “H-3” visa is available for qualifying trainees.
Academic Students and M-Vocational Students:
Most non-U.S. citizens who wish to study in the United States will seek an F-1 (non-immigrant) student visa, but there are other visa types that are sometimes authorized for those who study in the U.S.
F-1 Student Visa: This visa is the most common for those who wish to engage in academic studies in the United States. It is for people who want to study at an accredited U.S. college or university or to study English at a university or intensive English language institute.
M-1 Student Visa: This visa is for those who will be engaged in non-academic or vocational study or training at an institution in the U.S
Foreign students seeking to study in the U.S. may enter in the F-1 or M-1 category provided they meet the following criteria:
- The student must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program;
- The school must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS);
- The student must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution;
- The student must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency;
- The student must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study; and
- The student must maintain a residence abroad which he/she has no intention of giving up.
The “J” exchange visitor program is designed to promote the interchange of persons, knowledge, and skills in the fields of education, arts, and sciences. Participants include students at all academic levels; trainees obtaining on-the-job training with firms, institutions, and agencies; teachers of primary, secondary, and specialized schools; professors coming to teach or do research at institutions of higher learning; research scholars; professional trainees in the medical and allied fields; and international visitors coming for the purpose of traveling, observing, consulting, conducting research, training, sharing, or demonstrating specialized knowledge or skills, or participating in organized people-to-people programs.
Q-International Cultural Exchange Visitor:
The “Q” international cultural exchange program is for the purpose of providing practical training and employment, and the sharing of the history, culture, and traditions of the participant’s home country in the United States.
What is the Process for Applying for a Visa?
In order to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you must first be admitted to a U.S. college, university, or Department of State designated sponsor organization. After you are officially admitted, the U.S. institution or program sponsor will provide you with the appropriate SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)-generated document (either an I-20 or DS-2019). This form must be submitted to apply for a visa. Your school or program sponsor should send you information after you are admitted with instructions about what information you will need to apply for and what fees are associated with SEVIS fees and nonimmigrant student visa processing fees. You can apply for your student visa before your program begins and this is suggested however most people do not apply for this visa more than 120 days before their study or program starts because the US embassy or consulate cannot issue an F-1 or M-1 visa more than 120 days before the actual start of the program in the United States (J-1 visas may be issued at any time). However keep in mind that in order to apply for a visa you must have already been officially admitted to the institution or program.
At some point after you apply you will be scheduled for a visa interview at the US embassy or consulate nearest you. This process depends on each embassy or consulate. At this interview you will take your visa-qualifying document (I-20 or DS-2019), financial support documents, proof of payment of the SEVIS and visa fees, and a completed visa application form.
When you are issued a visa to enter the United States you will not be allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start of the program if you are an initial entry student. Returning students do not have this requirement.
What is SEVIS?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is administered by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This system is an internet based system that the US government uses to maintain data on foreign students and exchange visitors. The US schools or programs that are allowed to enroll foreign students are those that have been approved by the School Certification Branch of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Most US institutions of higher and vocational training receive this approval but it is your responsibility to insure that the institution is an approved institution before you apply for a visa.
What happens when I arrive in the U.S.?
US immigration law governs the entry, stay, and departure of all visitors or immigrants to the United States, including students and exchange visitors. These laws also detail what persons are authorized or prohibited from doing while in the United States during their stay. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the main agency responsible for monitoring and enforcing immigration laws.
When you arrive to the US (at the port of entry), you will receive a Form I-94 (Arrival-Departure Card) and be required to complete this form before you enter within the US borders. This form is very important to you as it is the official record of your entry and stay in the United States and you should retain it in a safe place for the entire duration of your stay until the moment you depart the United States again.
What do I do when I arrive at the College, University, or Exchange Program? Para consultas en español
When you arrive to your college, university or exchange program you should immediately report to the office that is responsible for international students, scholars, or exchange visitors. This office is usually called the Office of International Student Services, Office of International Education or International Programs Office. It is this office that you must report your arrival within the SEVIS system. This is very important to do as soon as possible after your entry in the United States as failure to do so may result in you being in violation of your immigration status. This office will also be of assistance to you to secure housing, help with local needs such as doctors, and provide you with information on immigration laws and what you are authorized or prohibited from doing while in the United States.
How Our Immigration Law Practice Helps You:
The Law Office of Jeffrey Y. Bennett, LLC assists students and exchange visitors in obtaining positive immigration results in a timely, personal, and professional manner. We carefully review your individual circumstances and provide in-depth immigration law legal analysis to determine which options are available to you. We also provide guidance and help in gathering the necessary information and documents for your visa, prepare all of the necessary application forms, and also ensure that your final application meets all government requirements.
If you would like to understand more about the application process and to find out if you qualify for a student visa or an exchange visitor visa, please contact The Law Office of Jeffrey Y. Bennett, LLC for a consultation at 816-759-2776 or schedule an appointment using our online contact form at www.JYBennettLaw.com and click on Schedule an Appointment button located on the right hand side of the home page.
For more information or to Schedule a Personal Consulation Contact
Jeffrey Y. Bennett
The Law Office of Jeffrey Y. Bennett, LLC
1828 Swift Avenue, Suite 425
North Kansas City, MO 64116
Tel: 816-759-2776 English
Tel. 816-759-2777 Espanol
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