Your visa is the document that grants you entry to the United States. It is attached to your passport. Your visa will show certain basic information: the type of visa, issue date, expiration date, visa number, and (for F-1 student visas) the school you are attending.
Most students are issued one of three types of visa: an F-1 visa, a J-1 visa, or an M-1 visa.
An F-1 visa is for full time, general academic or language school students.
A J-1 visa is for exchange students or scholars, who need to travel to the United States for specific educational resources that they cannot get in their home countries. There are certain restrictions on this type of visa, both in terms of eligibility and in terms of how it may be used.
An M-1 visa is issued to students attending non-academic trade or vocational schools. In order to file for an F- or M-class visa, you must fill out for I-17.
The United States government has specific requirements for foreigners who intend to enter the country. If you have a criminal record or are infected with a major transmissible disease such as cholera, you may be denied entry to the United States.
You must also demonstrate that you are able to support yourself during your stay, and that you intend to leave the United States after leaving school.
Student visas have their own special requirements. To receive a student visa, you must either know English well enough to study in a school where the instruction is in English, or show that the school you will attend does not require you to enter school already competent in English. So, if you are going to attend a school that teaches in your native language or which offers instruction in English, you may qualify for a student visa, even if your English is poor.
Whatever school you choose, it must be recognized as a legitimate school by the United States government. You must be enrolled in a full-time program, which has a well-defined goal (e.g., a degree or certificate, or some other academic or work-related goal).
When you apply for your visa, you will need:
- A passport valid for at least 6 months
- A recent photo, measuring 2 inches by 2 inches (5 cm x 5 cm)
- A visa application form (I-17)
- The application fee
- An I-20 issued by the school you are going to attend (IAP-66 for J-1 students)
- Diplomas, certifications, and transcripts from schools you have attended
- Any required test results (TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT)
- A financial statement from a bank, to show you have sufficient funding
- Your health records
If you intend to bring your family (spouse and children) with you to the United States, you will need to apply for visas for them, as well. An F-2 visa will be issued to family of an F-1 visa holder; a J-2 will be issued to family of a J-1 visa holder; and an M-2 will be issued to family of an M-1 visa holder. Note that if you hold a student visa, you and your spouse are not permitted to work in the United States. (There are exceptions for on-campus jobs, and there may be other exceptions, but, generally, you will be very restricted in your ability to work in the U.S.) You will need to prove that you can financially support your family in the United States. There may be more limitations and regulations about bringing your family with you, so it is best to check with the United States Embassy or Consulate in your country before applying.