U.S. Student Visa
To enter the United States as a student, you must have a student visa issued by a U.S. Consulate or Embassy outside of the U.S., unless you are a Canadian citizen.
The visa is your permission to enter the United States. Depending on where you plan to apply for the student visa, the visa application process can take a long time, so you should start your visa application as soon as you receive your I-20 Certificate of Eligibility (for F-1 visa) or DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility (for J-1 visa). For information about the Certificate of Eligibility, click here.
Note: If your husband, wife and/or children will join you as your dependents, they will each receive their own Certificate of Eligibility to apply for the F-2 or J-2 dependent visa.
Canadian citizens do not need to apply for a U.S. student visa. Instead, they apply for F-1/J-1 student status with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the U.S. Port of Entry. In order to do this, Canadian citizens must receive an I-20/DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility and pay the SEVIS fee before seeking admission to the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student.
Also, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires Canadian travelers to present a passport or other document which denotes identity and citizenship in order to enter the U.S. We strongly recommend that you obtain a passport before coming to the United States because a passport as the main form of identification will make your interaction with different offices in the U.S. much easier.
Visa application and interview appointment scheduling
The wait times for a visa interview appointment vary at each U.S. Consulate or Embassy, so applying as early as possible is encouraged. However, you should not schedule a visa appointment until after you receive your I-20/DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to ensure that you have all of the required documents for your appointment. If you schedule an appointment but do not have your COE yet, you will likely need to reschedule your U.S. visa appointment.
Each country’s U.S. Consulate or Embassy has its own procedures for scheduling a visa interview appointment and paying the DS-160: Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application fee. To familiarize yourself with these procedures, click here to go to the website of the U.S. Consulate or Embassy where you will be applying for the visa.
For information on what you need to bring to your visa appointment, visit travel.state.gov.
In addition to the items listed at the above mentioned website, we recommend that you also bring proof of LSU admission (like an admission letter or admission e-mail) as well as LSU financial offer letters that you may have received.
Note: You will be required to pay the SEVIS fee before you attend the visa interview appointment.
The visa interview will be the most important part of the process. You should remember that the person who interviews you does not have a lot of time, so the more organized you are for the interview, 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 country and other points to remember for the visa interview, visit NAFSA’s website.
Be advised that you should not buy your airline ticket until you learn that your visa application is approved.
Watch this 3-minute video for an idea of what you could expect when attending a non-immigrant visa interview.
After the visa interview
The standard amount of time that it can take the U.S. Consulate to process a student visa can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. You may be asked to leave your documents (passport, I-20/DS-2019, etc.) at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy and pick them up at a later date. In some countries, the documents will be returned to you by mail.
There are times when U.S. consulates and embassies may take longer to process visa applications, as in the case of additional administrative processing requirements. There are also certain times of year that visa application processing can take longer, like during June-August (the summer months in the U.S.) and in November and December when U.S. consulates and embassies are closed to observe major U.S. holidays.
If your visa application is approved and you receive the student visa in your passport, check the visa 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.
Note: You will need to have all of these original documents (I-20/DS-2019, visa, etc.) ready to show upon your arrival to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials upon entry to the United States.
Visa delays or denials
A visa delay is much more frequent than a visa denial. The consular officer who interviewed you must give you the reason for any visa delay, and there are many reasons why your visa application may be delayed. Sometimes the U.S. Consulate will need additional time to review your application (administrative processing) or will need additional information from you or even from your academic department regarding your program of study.
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. If your visa application is denied, the consular officer must tell you why it was denied. If he/she does not, please make sure to ask!
If your student visa is denied and you would like for International Services to provide you with 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. International Services may be able to provide you with suggestions on how to proceed.
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 (DHS).
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: You should be aware of the program dates listed on your I-20/DS-2019. If you see that you will not be able to receive the U.S. student visa in time to arrive on LSU’s campus by these program dates, you may be able to request that your admission is deferred to a future semester. (International Services does not have the capability to defer your admission in the LSU system, so you will need to contact the LSU admissions staff for assistance.)