Apply for a Student Visa

Center for International and Cultural Education

One of the first steps in coming to Gustavus will be applying for your student visa.

Degree students will apply for an F-1 student visa, and will need a Form I-20 from Gustavus to apply. Exchange students will apply for a J-1 student visa, and will need a Form DS-2019 from Gustavus to apply. 

Please carefully follow all instructions and prepare for your visa application. It is best to apply early! This is a guide to the process.

Visa application process
  • Obtain Form I-20 (for F-1 degree students) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 exchange students). Gustavus will mail your I-20 or DS-2019 after verifying your information and documentation of funding. You will need that paper I-20 or DS-2019 with an original signature from your DSO (designated school official for F-1) or RO (responsible officer for J-1) to apply for a student visa.
  • Pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Visit FMJfee.com to complete SEVIS Form I-901 online. Pay the SEVIS fee with a credit card or through Western Union Quick Pay. The SEVIS fee is $350 for F-1 students and $220 for J-1 students. Print your receipt, as you will need that receipt at your visa interview to prove that you payed the SEVIS fee. Study in the States has more detailed instructions, including an online tutorial. If you are currently an F-1 or J-1 student already in the U.S., then you should ask the DSO or RO at your school to transfer your SEVIS record to Gustavus, and you will not have to pay the SEVIS fee again.
  • Go to the U.S. Department of State website for general information about applying for a U.S. visa and applying for an F-1 Student Visa or applying for a J-1 Student Visa.
  • Go to the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you intend to apply. You should apply for your F-1 or J-1 student visa at the U.S. consulate where you live. Closely examine the specific instructions about applying for an F-1 or J-1 student visa at that consulate, as the process varies by consulate.
  • Pay the visa application fee. Save the receipt. The fee is $160. The process for paying the visa application fee varies from consulate to consulate. Examine the website of the Consulate where you intend to apply for specific instructions about paying the visa application fee, as the process varies by consulate.
  • Obtain a visa photograph. We recommend that you use a professional visa photo service to ensure your photo meets all the visa photo requirements. Eye glasses are not allowed in visa photos. You will upload your digital photo while completing the online Form DS-160. 
  • Complete Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. Answer each question honestly and accurately. Ask Jeff Anderson, your advisor, if you are unsure how to respond. You may use his name an address as your contact in the U.S. on Form DS-160. After you have submitted the DS-160 online, you must print and keep the DS-160 confirmation page for your visa interview. You do not need to print the full DS-160 application.
  • Schedule an appointment for your visa interview at the U.S. Consulate where you intend to apply. Closely examine the specific instructions about scheduling an appointment at that consulate, as the process varies by consulate.
  • Prepare and organize all documentation for your visa interview. Be prepared to access any document quickly during the interview.
  • Prepare for visa interview questions. Read the tips below to help you prepare.
  • Attend your visa interview. When you arrive for your appointment, a consular official will electronically scan your fingerprints. You may be nervous for the interview, but if you have prepared, your interview should go well and you will most likely be approved for an F-1 or J-1 student visa.
You must bring the following documents to the visa interview:
  • Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 (with your signature).
  • Receipt for your I-901 SEVIS fee payment.
  • Receipt for your visa application fee payment.
  • Printed Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrat Visa Application confirmation page.
  • Passport valid for at least six months after the date you plan to enter the U.S.

The visa interview is your opportunity to tell the consular officer about your plans while in the U.S. and what you will do when you have completed your studies. You should be prepared to show the following:

  • Evidence of intent to return to your home country after completion of studies (see tip #1 below).
  • Evidence of financial resources to meet expenses (see tip #2 below).
  • Evidence of English ability sufficient for course of study (see tip #3 below).

 Tips for applying for your F-1 student visa (from NAFSA association of international educators):

  1. Intent to return to your home country. Under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas, such as an F-1 or J-1 student visa, are viewed as “intending immigrants” (who want to live permanently in the U.S.) until they can convince the consular officer that they are not. You must therefore be able to show that you have reasons for returning to your home country that are stronger than those for remaining in the U.S. "Ties" to your home country are the things that connect you to your home city, homeland, or current place of residence: job, family, owning a home, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc. The interviewing consulate officer may ask about your specific plans or promise of future employment, family or other relationships, educational objectives, grades, long-range plans and career prospects in your home country. Each person's situation is different, of course, and there is no magic explanation or single document, certificate, or letter that can guarantee visa issuance. You will want to be able to explain clearly the reasons you will return home after completing your degree and how your degree will lead to a career in your home country. This is the most important part of your visa interview.
  2. Evidence of financial resources to meet expenses. You must prove that you have the financial resources to pay the cost of the college you are attending. You may include bank statements, statements of income, assets, receipts for tuition paid, etc. You will need to show documentation of funding for at least the first year, in the amount indicated as "personal funds", on your I-20 or DS-2019. It also can be helpful to show that you will be able to fund your education beyond the first year.
  3. English. Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English. Before the interview, you may wish to practice responding to possible interview questions in English, with a native speaker or a friend or advisor who speaks English well. But do not prepare speeches, or scripted responses, or memorize responses to possible interview questions! Even though it can be good to have an idea in advance of how you will respond to questions, or practice your responses somewhat, the most important thing is to be honest and be yourself, which will make your responses more natural. If you have a TOEFL or IELTS score report, you should bring that with you.
  4. Speak for yourself. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family, and a more positive impression is created if you are prepared to speak on your own. Parents or family members generally do not accompany an applicant into the visa interview. You may check with the consulate about their waiting area and any special rules or procedures for family members who accompany you prior to the interview.
  5. Know the program and how it fits your career plans. If you are not able to explain the reasons why you will study in a particular program in the U.S., you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study, rather than work or stay in the U.S. You should also be able to explain how studying in the U.S. relates to your career goals and employment prospects when you return home. Gustavus is a liberal arts college, so you will take a broad range of different subjects, as well as a major. Your I-20 or DS-2019 will show your anticipated major or majors, which the consular officer will be able to see. That is merely a reflection of your current thinking. It shows the consular officer that you have a major in mind. You may or may not have an opportunity to talk about your major, but it could be good preparation to read more details about the major and Gustavus academics in general in the Gustavus Academic Catalog. Please know that you may change your major later. Normally Gustavus degree students officially declare a major by the end of their second year. If you plan to attend graduate school in the U.S., after completing your degree at Gustavus, that is fine to tell the consular officer.
  6. Be brief. Because of the large number of applications they receive, all consular officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick interview. They must make a decision, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. What you say first, and the first impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to the officer's questions short and to the point, responding precisely to the consular officer’s questions.
  7. Prepare and organize documents. It should be immediately clear to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they mean. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you are lucky.
  8. Different Requirements for Different Countries. Applicants from countries suffering economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the U.S. long-term often have more difficulty getting visas. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the U.S. Applicants should be well prepared to show intent to return to their home country (see tip #1 above).
  9. Employment. Your main purpose in coming to the U.S. should be to study, rather than for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students work on or off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental (secondary/optional) to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly explain your plan to return home at the end of your program. 
  10. Maintain a positive attitude. You may be nervous, but if you have prepared, your interview should go well and you will most likely be approved for an F-1 student visa. Do not have an argument with the officer. If you are denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring to overcome the denial, and try to get the reason you were denied in writing.