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EAC / Preparing for Departure / Visas FAQ
Most Frequently Asked Questions About Student Visas
Visa Application Process
Q:

What do I need to apply for a student visa?

A:

• SEVIS I-20 or SEVIS DS-2019 which should be send to a student by the institution or placement organization (the form should be completed and signed by a school official).
• A completed non-immigrant visa application form in English (DS-156, DS-158 and DS-157 (for men of age 16-45). The DS-156 requires one full-face color photograph (50mm by 50mm).
• A passport valid for at least 6 months after your proposed date of entry into the US. It must contain at least one blank page to affix a visa.
• The application fee for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa is $100, payable in cash in Russian rubles. The application fee is non-refundable. This fee should be submitted to Pony Express (http://www.ponyexpress.ru) at the time the application is turned in for delivery to the Embassy. For office locations please visit:
http://www.usembassy.ru/consular/wwwhfede.html. You will be charged additional fees for the shipment. • Evidence (receipt) of US$100 Student/Exchange Visitor (SEVIS) processing fee payment: this fee is required of students from all countries. The fee must be paid to the US government before you apply for a visa. More information is available at https://www.fmjfee.com/index.jhtml.

Other supporting documents may include:
• transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended
• letters/certificates showing that you won any academic awards in secondary school/university
• letter of admission from US college/university
• scores from standardized tests (TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.)
• financial evidence that shows that you have sufficient funding
• your old passport bearing earlier visas and entry stamps indicating the date on which you returned to Russia (for those who have traveled to the US previously)

More information on this issue is available at
http://moscow.usembassy.gov/consular/consular.php?record_id=reqvdocs

Q:

How long does it take to get a visa?

A:

You are encouraged to apply for the visas as soon as you're prepared to do so. Please keep in mind that the Embassy is able to issue your visa 120 days or less in advance of the program start date indicated in your I-20 or DS-2019. If your major belongs to a "sensitive field" of study (i.e. physics, biology, chemistry, architecture, urban planning, etc.), it might take you longer to obtain your visa in comparison to those who are in humanities. For average wait times for visas in Moscow, check: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/tempvisitors_wait.php

Q:

What is SEVIS?

A:

SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. It's an Internet-based system that contains data about students and works between schools and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Q:

What is a Biometric Program?

A:

Beginning December 9, 2003, the biometric program is introduced at the US Embassy in Moscow. It involves scanning of the two index fingers. All nonimmigrant visa applicants over 14 and younger than 80 must provide scanned finger images that will be linked to other identifying data collected from applicants.

Q:

Where can I get more information on visa issues?

A:

US Embassy - http://www.usembassy.ru
US Department of State - http://www.travel.state.gov
Tel: (495)-258-2525 ($1.60 per minute)
If you miss an appointment e-mail consulmo@state.gov to request a new one.

Q:

Does SEVIS I-20 or SEVIS DS-2019 guarantee that I'll receive a visa?

A:

A SEVIS I-20 alone is not considered sufficient financial documentation and does not guarantee that you'll be granted a visa. You MUST bring appropriate supporting financial documents to the embassy and you MUST prove to the interviewing officer that you are a serious, qualified student.

Q:

How can I prove I have funds to cover educational expenses? Can I bring my money to the embassy and show it to a Consular Officer?

A:

• It's a BAD idea to bring cash to the embassy. This looks very suspicious and can give the impression that you are trying to bribe the Consular Officer.
• There are 2 kinds of financial certification documents for those students who are paying by themselves:
• employer's statement (a statement from your or your parents' employer showing last year's total income)
• bank statement (if you or your parents have a bank account). The statement should carry the bank seal and be signed by a bank official. A bank statement is the most "respectable" financial certification. PLEASE NOTE: You need to show availability of funds OVER TIME.
• Certification of financial support from a source in the United States is only essential for immigration visas. However, it can be helpful to have the following with you:
• scholarship letter (if applicable)
• sponsorship letter (if you are supported by a sponsor in the US)

Q:

Do I need to bring any medical forms?

A:

You are not required to show proof of medical insurance if you're applying for an F-1 visa. Students applying for a J-1 visa can be asked about medical insurance because US law requires all J-1 visa holders to obtain medical insurance before they enter the US; this is usually handled through the placement organization giving the grant.

Q:

How many days ahead of my school start date (as listed on the I-20) does a visa normally allow you to enter the USA?

A:

A student with an F-1 visa may enter the US no earlier than 30 days before the reporting date on I-20. Students applying for initial-entry F-1, F-2, and M-1 and M-2 visas may now be issued those visas up to 120 days before their academic program start date (as compared to 90 days under previous regulations). J-1 and J-2 visitors may be issued visas at any time before the beginning of their programs.

Q:

Where can I get an I-94 Form (Arrival/Departure record)? To whom should I give this form?

A:

• An I-94 is issued when you enter the US. This form indicates the date and location of the person’s entry, the visa classification and length of stay. For most students there will not be a specific date but the letters “D/S”, meaning duration of status.
• An I-94 is a very important document and you should always keep it together with your passport and your I-20.

Q:

What does "duration of status" mean?

A:

One's "duration of status" is the time in which the person maintains the legitimate status of "student." This includes the study period, a practical training period (if approved by the BCIS) of up to 12 months for F-1 visa holders or 18 months for J-1 visa holders. Students are expected to depart from the U.S. within: 60 days after completion of studies or any OPT for F-1 and 30 days for J-1.

Q:

How and when can I bring my dependents?

A:

The spouse and/or children of an F-1 student can enter the US under F-2 status and may stay for the same length of time as the F-1 person. When applying for a visa, your dependents must present their own SEVIS I-20 form, and also documents verifying that they'll have adequate financial support (for the exact amount of money see the requirements of a particular school). They can apply for visas at the same time you do; or they can apply later (you have to request your college to send them an I-20). They're expected to bring a copy of your I-20 and visa in this case. An accompanying spouse or child of J-1 holders should each present a SEVIS Form DS-2019 issued in his or her own name by the same program the main J-1 visa holder is enrolled at. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow is currently accepting copies of the DS-2019 issued for the J1 holder for J2 applicants, but students should check with their schools and the Embassy to confirm which document is needed.

Q:

13) How should I behave during the interview? Which questions are asked during the interview?

A:

Both J1 and F1 visa applicants are subject to interviews at the Embassy.
• Be confident, sincere and willing to answer any question. Be yourself and DO NOT LIE.
• Be ready to describe your academic program and the kind of career or job it will help you get after return to your home country.
• You will be asked to prove that you can finance your education and that you will return home after the program. These are normal questions and you should be prepared to answer them with clear arguments.

Q:

For what reasons can they refuse to issue me a visa?

A:

You will be denied a visa if:
• You fail to demonstrate the intention to return home after completion of your studies
• You don't have adequate financial support
• You don't seem to be qualified for the proposed program of study (for example, you have very poor English)

Q:

Will I be denied if I took part in the green card lottery?

A:

Not necessarily, but whatever you do, BE HONEST about your participation. The Consular Officer will check computer records and, if you lied, you will definitely be denied a visa.

Q:

Can I change my visa status once I'm in the US?

A:

Theoretically yes, but there are many restrictions (first of all, ask your Foreign Student Adviser). To initiate the process you must file a petition with the DHS. Beware that changing status usually takes many months.

Q:

What should I do if I fall out of status?

A:

Contact your Foreign Student Adviser for specific instructions concerning reinstatement.

Q:

If my visa expires, how do I renew it?

A:

The visa is an entry document only and needs to be valid only at the time you enter the USA. It does not need to be renewed if you stay in the USA. If you need to extend your I-94, contact your Foreign Student Adviser; this is routine and they do it frequently. If you overstay your duration of status and do not get a new I-94, you risk getting into trouble with the INS and not being able to receive another visa in the future.

If you leave America and your visa is no longer valid, apply for a new visa at an American embassy abroad. NOTE: Applying for a new visa can be difficult in a country other than your home country; this depends on your country of origin. You may be told to go to your home country and re-apply there.

Differences Between the Two Types of Student Visas
Q:

What is the difference between an I-20 and a DS-2019 form?

A:

An I-20 is a certificate for F-1 applicants in which the school declares that you've been accepted for a full course of study and you seem to be a bona fide student. The DS-2019 form serves similar purpose for J-1 applicants who receive grants or special status from either from their government (i.e. Russian) or the US government directly or through non-governmental placement organization. Both forms should be registered in SEVIS.

Q:

What is the difference between F-1 and J-1?

A:

F-1 is designated for students in academic and language study programs. The J-1 category includes exchange students, teachers, scholars, researchers, etc. who come to the US under an educational exchange program. J-1 students must be financed, at least partially, by the US or home government or be part of an exchange program. Please note that F-2 visa holders cannot engage in full time study.

Q:

If I have a J-1 visa can I travel to the US to take part in conferences within 2 years after returning home?

A:

Yes, you can if you obtain a B-1/B-2 visa. You may not apply for a work or immigration visa during this period.

Employment
Q:

Can I work on/off campus if I have F-1 or J-1?

A:

F-1 students may work up to 20 hours/week on campus (including on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus) or at an off-campus location that is educationally affiliated with the school without special permission. An F-1 student may be authorized to work off-campus on a part-time basis after 1 year of full academic studies. For off-campus work, F-1 holders must obtain permission from the Designated School Official and/or DHS (Department of Homeland Security). An F-2 visa holder may not accept employment.
Employment while in "J" exchange visitor status depends upon the terms of the program. Participants in programs that provide for on-the-job training, teaching, research, or other activities that involve paid employment may accept such employment. Participants in programs that do not involve work may not accept outside employment. J-2 spouses and children may accept employment with authorization from the DHS. Employment will not be authorized if this income is needed to support the J-1 principal alien.

Q:

How many hours may I work?

A:

Up to 20 hours per week during the academic year and up to 40 hours (full time) during vacations and summer.

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