The COVID-19 pandemic has changed international travel in the short term. But that does not mean you should cancel your study abroad plans. Though further spread of the virus may fluctuate and change policies, this is what you need to know.
- The US government has begun limiting travel from certain countries. India is not on the list at present, but it may be added in the future. Anyone entering the US, on any visa, should be prepared to self-isolate or enter a quarantine unit for 2 weeks.
- As universities open to online instruction for the short term, the US government has eased international student restrictions on the hours of classroom work needed to maintain visa status.
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has currently suspended routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services. It is unknown when F-1 student visas will open again.
- Most American universities are working with international students on a case-by-case basis to facilitate exceptions. If you already have your acceptance to a university, you probably have additional time to take your admit. If you are working on your application, you might find extensions for admissions tests, including the GRE and TOEFL exams.
- Some universities have postponed summer-term enrollments but are processing I-20 forms for fall-term as per usual.
What Does This Mean for Indians Planning to Study Abroad in the US?
Remember that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t last forever, even though governments need to impose temporary limitations to ensure public health and safety. You shouldn’t stop planning for the future. You can still get the education you want at a top American university.
If you already have an admit and plan to attend, get your study abroad loan and work with your school to secure your I-20 form. As you cannot currently apply for your F-1 student visa, ensure you know how the school with work with you to get you to campus when you can travel safely to the US.
When USCIS opens visa processing again, you will want to be first to submit your F-1 visa application to avoid long wait periods. Ensure the university has your information, including your loan sanction letter, so you have your I-20 form ready.
Though dates will change, and exceptions will inevitably be made, follow the standard visa application procedures as much as possible.
How to Get Your F-1 Student Visa in India
Most international students enter the United States on an F-1 student visa. Students who have full government or university funding may apply for J-1 visas, though these are less common.
To apply for an F-1 student visa from India, you must first have:
- A confirmed admit to a recognized US university.
- The university-issued I-20 form showing how you’ll pay the full Cost of Attendance.
- A passport that will not expire until six months after your course ends.
Each university has its own process for issuing I-20 forms. But they all require you to show how you will pay for your time in the USA. Before showing immigration officials your finances, you’ll send proof to your school.
US universities typically request bank and investment statements, sanction letters or letters from sponsors or family members offering personal loans. For most students, the critical element is the sanction letter.
You can secure a loan sanction within three days without paying processing fee with Leap Finance. Start the fully online application here.
Where Do You Apply for Your American Student Visa?
Everyone begins the visa application process online by completing the DS-160 application form.
Before you can schedule an interview, you’ll need to pay the $160 fee via electronic funds transfer, mobile payments, or at some banks. You will use your receipt number to complete the scheduling process.
Two appointments must be scheduled:
- An appointment at a Visa Application Center to have your photo and fingerprints taken. This must be done at least 24 hours before the interview meeting.
- An appointment at an embassy or consulate for your interview.
F-1 student visa interviews can be done in:
- New Delhi
Changes to interview location aren’t permitted after you submit the DS-160 application, so choose carefully.
When Can You Apply for Your F-1 Student Visa?
F-1 student visas are issued up to 120 days before courses begin, but you can apply before this date.
A good tip for Indian students is to check the interview wait time for the nearest embassy. Try to schedule your interview for 120–125 days before classes start as processing only takes a few days after this.
If your timing is right, you will have four months to prepare your travel and accommodation but remember that F-1 student visas only allow for entry 30 days before the beginning of your course.
What Will You Need for Your Visa Interview?
In addition to your passport, university acceptance documentation and I-20 form, and proof of visa application payment, you will also need a photograph meeting USCIS standards and supporting documents which you will bring to your visa interview.
Supporting documents fall into three categories:
- Your eligibility and ability to study, such as GRE scores, admission letters, proof of previous degrees or related experiences.
- Your ability to pay for your course and living expenses, including scholarship and sanction letters, proof of sponsorship, and evidence of any non-liquid assets you might be able to access if needed.
- Your intent to return to your home country including job offers, familial and property ties to home, or other responsibilities you must return to.
In every case, it’s a matter of demonstrating that you’re capable of completing your studies, financially able to do so and that you don’t intend to remain in the US once your course and training are complete.
COVID-19 Tip for Studying Abroad and F-1 Visa Applications
American universities are working with international students and adjusting deadlines to ensure you’ll be able to make it to your course when universities reopen. Now, more than ever, it’s essential to ensure you’ve got everything you need to secure your F-1 visa as quickly as possible when that happens.
Leap Finance works online, without the need for collateral so you can avail the loan you need in a matter of days — while maintaining social distance. Once you’ve got your sanction letter, you can submit it to your university in the US to get your I-20 and be ready to go.