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Step-By-Step Student Visa Process: Affidavit of Support, I-20 Form, and Visa Interview

USA student visa example

So you’ve been accepted to college in the States and have been asked to submit a lot of confusing paperwork.  Don’t worry! Here is what you need to know about the affidavit form of financial support, I-20 form, and your visa interview.

 

Why Do I Need All of these Papers?

As you probably know by now, the United States doesn’t just let anyone into the country.  They have some of the toughest immigration and travel visa restrictions in the world.  Before you can enter the USA, they will want to make sure that you have the financial means to support your stay – which is where the I-20 form comes in.

The I-20, aka the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, was created by the US Department of Homeland Security.   It is part of their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).  SEVP uses the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to keep track of foreign students.

Here is how it works:

Step 1: You get preliminary acceptance to the college.

Step 2: You accept admission.  You will need to contact the school’s International Programs Officer regarding your visa.

Step 3: You submit an Affidavit of Support form to the college.

Step 4: Once approved by the college, the college sends you an I-20 form.

Step 5: You pay the 1-901 SEVIS fee.

Step 6: Bring your I-20 form with you to your student visa application interview

Of course, it may not be as simple as these six steps.  For example:

  • Some colleges require a deposit along with your Affidavit of Support before they will give you an I-20 form.
  • You will have to get official bank statements and currency exchange rates.
  • You may have to pay to have the I-20 form shipped to you.
  • You may be required to fill out other forms when requesting your I-20.

 

Affidavit of Support for College Students

Before a school will give you an I-20 form, you will be required to fill out an Affidavit of Support.  This form basically shows that you have enough funds to cover the costs of your stay in the United States.

Each institution uses its own terminology for the Affidavit of Support.  You may hear…

  • Financial Resources statement
  • Declaration & Certification of Finances
  • Undergraduate Sponsor Statement
  • Form I-134

You can see an example of an Affidavit of Support form here.

It obviously isn’t enough to list how much money you or your sponsor (which will probably be your parents or guardians) have.  You’ve got to prove that the funds are really there by verifying them with a third party (your bank). Until your Affidavit of Support is completed, your final admissions won’t be complete.

 

Affidavit of Support for Scholarship Students

Here is something that comes up often when filling in the Affidavit of Support for college:

The college wants me to list the full tuition amount, even though I am on scholarship!

Don’t worry!  Just because the college wants you to list the full tuition amount, it doesn’t mean that you will be paying that amount.  Your scholarship offer is still binding.

In some cases, you may be required to show documentation related to your scholarship when submitting your Affidavit of Support.  This is especially important if your bank funds aren’t enough to cover the full tuition amount but are adequate when the scholarship is factored in.

The bottom line?  Just fill out the forms as instructed.  You won’t lose scholarship money because of the Affidavit of Support form.

 

I-20 Form

Once you’ve submitted your Affidavit of Support and it is approved, the school will give you an I-20.  You can only get an I-20 form from certified schools.  Large universities will typically have an international office just for taking care of this task.

The I-20 form is basically a paper version of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).   The info on the I-20 form gets entered in the system so the US government can keep track of your student status.  There’s no need to get freaked out by this.  The government isn’t tracking your movements or exact whereabouts – it is just making sure that you are still a student so you can keep your visa.

 

Here are some of the things which will be on your I-20 form:

  • Student tracking number (SEVIS ID number)
  • School code
  • Details about school program
  • How the student will meet expenses
  • Biographical info (name, birthdate, citizenship, etc.)

Your I-20 form is very important (that’s an understatement!).  You will need it for paying your SEVIS fee, for the visa interview, and for entering the United States.  When traveling out of the United States, you’ll also need your I-20 to re-enter the USA.  Don’t misplace or forget your I-20 form!

 

Paying Your I-901 SEVIS Fee

Now that you have your I-20 form from the school you want to attend, you need to pay your I-901 SEVIS fee.

To pay the fee, just go to https://www.fmjfee.com/i901fee/.  From there, you can click the payment button.  With the exception of a few countries, the fee can be paid with credit cards.

If you decide to go to another school, you are able to transfer your SEVIS payment to a new record.  Just be warned that this can take a while to go through, so make sure you request the fee transfer at least two weeks before your visa interview.

You Need a Receipt of your I-901 SEVIS Fee!

Make sure you print a receipt of your SEVIS fee payment.  You will need to bring this to your visa interview.  It is very easy to print the receipt from the website.

 

Student Visa Interview

After getting your I-20 and paying the SEVIS fee, you are ready for your visa interview.   The interview will take place at the American embassy in your country.  It can take a while to book a visa interview, so be sure to request it at least 4 weeks in advance.

Bring with you to the student visa interview:

  • Form I-20
  • Receipt of SEVIS fee payment
  • Printed Form DS-160, “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application,” confirmation page
  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months after you plan to enter the USA)
  • Two visa photos of yourself, according to passport photo requirements
  • Receipt for visa application fee
  • Letter of acceptance to the college
  • Any additional documents required by the Visa office in your country

For more info on student visas: USA Visas Study and Exchange Info

To apply for a student (non-immigrant) visa: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/

 

Yes, all of these papers can forms can be a bit overwhelming.  There’s no need to despair though!  You’ve made it this far and it’s only a bit more until you are in the United States studying.

 

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