To actually enter the United States as a student, you need a student visa issued by the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country.
The visa is your permission to enter the United States. Be advised that the visa application process can take a long time, so you should start your visa application as soon as you receive your I-20 (for F-1 visa) or DS-2019 (for J-1 visa). For information regarding the I-20 or DS-2019, click here.
Exchange students will apply for a J-1 visa as will some government/company sponsored-students whose sponsors require the J-1 visa; all other students will apply for an F-1 visa (please remember what type of visa you have: either J-1 or F-1). Do not be alarmed if the dates on your visa do not cover the entire time that you want to study. The dates on the visa indicate the period of time in which you are allowed to enter the United States. The visa does not state anything about the length of your stay in the U.S. after your arrival.
If this is the first time that you enter the U.S. as an F-1 student, it is essential that you enter the U.S. using the I-20 that was used to apply for your F-1 visa. (The school’s name on the I-20 also should be listed on your visa stamp.)
If you travel with your husband, wife and/or children, they will each receive their own F-2 or J-2 visa. Your spouse and/or children are considered your dependents.
Before you can start the visa application process, you will be required to pay the SEVIS fee.
You will need to familiarize yourself with the visa application procedures in the country where you are applying for your visa. Click here to consult the website of the embassy or consulate where you will be applying for the visa.
The visa application form is called DS-160: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application; please click here for more information about the DS-160.
All new visa applicants are required to make an appointment, so you need to contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. Some embassies and consulates allow you to book your visa appointment online. Most have telephone services in place which will help you schedule an appointment. You will likely have to pay application fees and visa fees prior to your appointment.
DO NOT set a visa appointment before you receive your I-20/DS-2019 as you may not receive the documents prior to your appointment. If this occurs, you will have to reschedule your appointment, causing further delays.
The waiting time for an interview appointment can vary, so applying as early as possible is strongly encouraged. It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that you will receive a visa. For information on what you need to bring to your visa appointment, click here.
In addition to the items listed at the above mentioned website, we recommend that you also bring proof of admission to Louisiana State University (admission letter) and any letters indicating that you have LSU funding (i.e., scholarship, assistantship, tuition award, etc.), if you received LSU funding.
The visa interview will be the most important part of the process. Remember that the person who interviews you does not have a lot of time so the more organized you are, the better the process will go.
NAFSA: Association of International Educators has put together a list of tips for your interview. One of the most important aspects of the visa interview is evidence of sufficient ties to your home country. For additional information about ties to your home for your home country and other point to remember for the visa interview, visit http://www.nafsa.org/resourcelibrary/Default.aspx?id=8643.
It is advisable that you not buy your airline ticket before your visa application is approved.
You may be asked to leave your documents (passport, I-20/DS-2019, etc.) at the consulate or embassy and pick them up later. In some countries the documents will be returned to you by mail. The time to process your visa can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks (or even a few months!), so the earlier you take care of this matter, the better. When you receive your visa in your passport, check to make sure that all the information on the visa stamp is correct: the spelling of your name, your date of birth, the type of visa (F-1 or J-1), etc.
Remember that you should have all of these documents (I-20/DS-2019, visa, etc.) ready to show again when you arrive in the United States.
In most cases, students will be able to obtain their visas as quickly as possible. However, there are times when consulates and embassies may take longer to process the visa applications, for example if additional administrative processing is required or during certain times of year (June-August: summer months in the U.S.; November and December: major U.S. holidays observed by U.S. embassies/consulates).
A visa delay is much more frequent than a visa denial. The person interviewing you must give you the reason for the delay, and there are many reasons why your visa may be delayed. Some visa applications require further administrative processing after the visa interview. Sometimes your course of study may require more investigation, and some individuals from specific countries may have to undergo special security-clearance procedures. Unfortunately, International Services (and LSU) cannot get involved in these types of administrative processes or security clearances since they are done by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It is possible that these administrative processes could add 4-6 weeks to your visa processing time. In rare cases, clearances can take up to 6 months or more. NOTE: Pay close attention to the program dates listed on your I-20/DS-2019. If you see that you will not be able to receive your visa in time to arrive on LSU’s campus by the program dates, you should contact the LSU Admissions Office to request an update of your admission to a future semester. International Services (IS) at LSU does not have the capability to defer your admission in the LSU system.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there are cases in which a visa is denied. The most common reasons for a visa denial are failure to prove sufficient ties to your home country and/or failure to provide sufficient evidence of financial support. The visa officer must tell you why your visa application was denied. If he/she does not, please make sure to ask! If your visa is denied, and you’d like IS to provide some advice or suggestions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include in your e-mail the date and location of your visa interview, as well as all the details regarding the reason that the consular officer gave you for the denial. IS may be able to provide you with suggestions on how to proceed.
If you encounter these difficulties, don’t lose hope. Try to find out as much as you can from the person who interviewed you about what you can do to improve your chances for getting a visa next time or expediting the process. And remember: Patience is the key to success. It is of no use to you to become angry or upset, or to start an argument. Keep in mind that you want to overcome this obstacle as quickly as possible and that you need the help of the person who interviewed you.