Applying for an Initial F-1 Visa

New F-1 students are eligible to apply for an F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad after receiving the original Form I-20 from MUSC.

Visa interview wait times and processing times are highly variable and depend on the specific consulate, volume of other applicants, and the visa applicant’s individual circumstances. For some applicants, it may only take a few weeks to get a visa interview and for the visa application to be processed. For other applicants, the process may take several months. For this reason, you must begin the visa application process as soon as possible after receiving your Form I-20. Also, you should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your F-1 visa.

With the COVID-19 global pandemic, all US embassy/consulate locations are operating at a severely reduced capacity. Some US consulate locations remain closed altogether. This means that the availability of visa interview appointments is greatly reduced and that visa application processing times are much longer. Therefore, it is extremely important that you plan ahead to allow for any delays at the consulate as a result of COVID-19 modified consular operations.

Please be aware that issuance of the Form I-20 from MUSC does not guarantee that you will receive an F-1 visa. MUSC has no control over the outcome of your visa application. Issuance of any US visa is at the sole discretion of the US Department of State.

There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the specific US embassy/consulate where you intend to apply.

US Embassy/Consulate

Your first step is to locate the specific US embassy/consulate where you will apply for your visa. Visit US Embassy to view a listing of all of the US embassy/consulate locations.

Once you have identified your specific consular location, you must refer to your specific consulate’s website for further instructions on the visa application process. Each consular location operates differently, so it is important that you refer to your specific consular location for instructions.

It is recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of citizenship. Applying for a visa at a consulate in another country is somewhat riskier and can take a bit longer. Visa refusal is more likely when applying for a visa in a country which is not your home country (called a “third” country). This is because the consular officer must take extra measures to verify your relationship to your home country. If you do choose to apply for a visa in a country other than your country of residence, you should contact the consulate where you plan to apply and ask if they will accept an application from a “third country national.” Some consulates may put limits on the number of third country national visa applications that they will process.

Online Visa Application

In most circumstances, nonimmigrant visa applicants must complete the Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. While completing the Form DS-160, you will be required to upload your photo. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements on the US Department of State website. Once you have completed the DS-160, print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.

You will likely be required to pay a fee for the Form DS-160. You may be required to pay this fee when you complete the online application, or you may be required to pay the fee when you appear for your visa interview. This fee is in addition to the SEVIS I-901 fee.

If you have dependent family members who have received F-2 Forms I-20 from MUSC, each dependent family member must also complete the Form DS-160 and apply for an F-2 visa.

Visa Interview

A personal interview is required as part of the visa application process. You must schedule your visa interview as soon as possible after completing the Form DS-160.

Refer to the website of your consulate for specific information on exactly what you need to bring to your visa interview. Because each prospective student’s personal and academic situation differs, consular officers may ask applicants applying for the same type of visa for different documents. In general, you should bring the following documents to your visa interview:
• Passport (valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US)
• Form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page
• Visa application fee payment receipt (if you are required to pay before your interview)
• I-901 SEVIS fee receipt
• Form I-20 signed by you
• Financial documentation indicating sufficient funding to support you and any dependents
• Additional documentation as indicated on your specific embassy/consulate’s website

During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive an F-1 visa based on your purpose of coming to the United States. You are responsible for establishing that you meet the requirements under US law to receive an F-1 visa. You must demonstrate that your primary purpose of coming to the US is to engage in an academic program of study. You may also be required to explain how this program of study fits into your career plans when you return to your home country. You must also demonstrate strong ties to your home country and that your intent is not to immigrate to the US.

Visa Processing & Issuance

Specific visa processing time varies depending on the consulate, location and time of year. The visa process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Visit the US Department of State website to view estimated visa processing wait times. Note that these published wait times are simply estimates and not guarantees.

Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. Applicants are advised of this requirement when they apply. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case, though most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview.

If your visa application is selected for administrative processing, you must inform CGH so that we are aware of any delays that may prevent you from beginning your program on time. If your application is selected for administrative processing, please notify Erin Huley.

If your visa application is approved, you will receive an F-1 visa foil stamp affixed to your passport. Your specific consulate will provide you with instructions on how to submit your passport for visa stamping and how you will receive your passport after the visa has been issued. Please note that it may take a few weeks for you to receive your passport with the visa stamp after you have been notified of the approval of your application. Again, you should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your passport containing the F-1 visa.

Canadian Citizens

Citizens of Canada do not need a visa to enter the United States. If you are a Canadian citizen, you can apply for entry to the US in F-1 status directly at the port-of-entry. However, you are still required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee prior to traveling to the US.

Canadian students must have the following documents when traveling to the US:
• Valid passport
• Valid Form I-20
• SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt
• Financial documents (showing how you will pay all education, living and travel costs)