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I remember a period of dormancy in the months of May and June, after picking Columbia University and packing my bags from NIT Trichy.* This dormancy ended when I had to begin preparing for my visa interview. Like any diligent student, I combed through dozens of questions and answers on Facebook groups and student forums, practiced speaking in front of the mirror, and hoped for the best.

storyMost of my memories from that summer are hazy, but I remember sitting in an auto rickshaw on my way to the U.S. consulate and thinking, Oh no! I forgot to take my transcripts. I had a neat checklist and everything. Yet, I somehow missed a critical component. I made my father travel all the way and give it to me before my interview began. In the end, they did not ask me for it (nor did they ask for most of the documents I carried with me).

Still, I was right to be scared. And, you’re right to be scared now if your interview is a few days away. Some students do get rejected, and that is devastating. All the work you did until now might seem obsolete if this doesn’t go well.

However, you need to understand that this is not like the H-1B lottery, where the odds of getting selected are out of your control. There are clearly laid out guidelines when it comes to visa interviews, and as long as you are aware of them and abide by them, there is no reason you won’t get your visa. We’ll go through all of them in this chapter and ensure you’re well prepared to inch closer to your dream. You’ve got this!

First, what is a visa? Great question!

A visa is a promise of intended activity by a foreign national upon a host nation’s soil. It is an official document that is usually stamped or glued onto the foreign national’s passport. A visa is strictly defined to make sure that you, as a visitor, remain in the host country only for as long as the specified intention/situation holds.

For example, the visa category B1/B2 is a visitor’s visa offered to non-U.S. citizens who seek to enter the country temporarily either for business (B1), tourism (B2), or both (B1/B2).*

For the most part, the U.S. offers two main categories of visas defined by immigration law:*

  • Immigrant Visas: Offered to foreign nationals who seek to live permanently in the U.S. Examples include IR1, CR1, EB1, EB2, etc.

  • Nonimmigrant Visas: Offered to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis—for tourism, medical treatment, business, temporary work, study, or other similar reasons. Examples include F1, B1/B2, M1, H1B, O1, etc.

statsFamily based immigration accounts for 65% of all the immigrant visas issued each year.* Second to that are the Employment-Based Immigrant Visas (EB category). Every year, the U.S. immigration law has provisions that make approximately 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas available to qualified applicants.* This type of visa is usually given to foreign nationals who seek to immigrate based on their job skills. (For example, Melania Trump entered the U.S. on an EB1 Einstein Visa.*)

Now, let’s shift our focus to the nonimmigrant visas, as that is the means through which you can enter the U.S. to pursue your higher education.

danger This chapter was primarily written for international students planning to pursue their studies in the U.S. on an F1 visa. If you don’t belong to that archetype, please use other guides that are tailored for your situation.

All About That F1

The F1 student visa is a nonimmigrant visa.

It is offered to foreign nationals who wish to enter the U.S. as students to attend their dream universities. You are eligible to obtain this visa only if you are enrolled in a program or course of study from a U.S. accredited university that ultimately awards a degree, diploma, or a certificate upon successful completion. It is generally provided for up to five years, however it is valid only until 60 days after the end of your academic program (assuming you don’t apply for an OPT, which we’ll come to soon).*

In your first academic year on an F1 visa, you are allowed to work on-campus, but you cannot work off-campus. However, after the first academic year, you may seek three types of off-campus employment opportunities, as laid out below.

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