A student visa is a non-immigrant class visa that permits international students to travel to the US to study at Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified universities or colleges. The SEVP is a Department of Homeland Security program which records essential information about international students. The program also provides approval and oversight to certified institutions along with advice to both institutions and students about visa status as an international student and how to maintain eligibility.
When applying for your student visa, you must prove that you can afford tuition and living expenses in the US. Some examples of financial sponsors for students are grants, family members, government organizations, and private companies.
To apply for a student visa, you first need to be accepted by a SEVP-certified US institution. Once you are accepted, you then need to choose which type of student visa best fits with your situation, as each has its own specific conditions and requirements.
What Are the Different Type of Student Visas?
The type of student visa you need to apply for depends on the program you are enrolled in and your tuition sponsorship.
Here are the two most common student visa types for international students in the US:
F-1 STUDENT VISA
This is the student visa most students apply for, and permits you to study at SEVP-certified institutions. The main conditions for F-1 visas are:
- Students can work on campus without a work permit, but need a work permit to work at an off-campus job or internship.
- Dependents of F-1 students cannot engage in work, but are permitted to enroll in part-time study programs.
- F-1 students who have graduated are eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) to work or train in the US for up to 12 months after graduation. An additional two years can be requested for graduates of STEM-related degrees.
- If there are no extensions, F-1 students are required to depart the US within 60 days after their program is complete.
J-1 STUDENT VISA
With a J-1 student visa, you can engage in work- and study-related exchange programs at US colleges and universities. The institute you have applied to must be certified by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
J-1 visas have the following requirements:
- Participating in any work (both on campus and off) requires a work permit.
- Dependents of J-1 students are permitted to work and study both part time and full time.
- After graduating, J-1 students are eligible to apply for Academic Training (AT) opportunities in a field related to their study.
- J-1 students must return to their home countries within 30 days of the end date of their program, if there are no extensions. The student must also live in their home country for two years after returning before being able to return to the US.
You can learn more about each type of student visa at State.gov. If you need support, Shorelight advisors are always ready to assist you with student visa help, including student visa requirements, application assistance for students, how to sponsor a student visa, F-1 visa sponsor requirements, and more.
Can I Get Sponsored on a Student Visa?
Yes, you can! When you apply for a student visa, you are permitted to receive financial support for your studies from scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, grants, or loans from your university or college, government, or personal sources such as friends or family.
You may be required to personally provide confirmation of the source that is sponsoring your student visa. Depending on the sponsor, you may need specific forms to disclose the sources of your financial support.
What Forms Do I Need for Student Visa Sponsorship?
Depending on your student visa, you need to obtain an I-20 or DS-2019 form — F-1 visas require the I-20 form, while J-1 visas require the DS-2019 form.
After your university or college confirms your payment has been received, they will send you your I-20 or DS-2019. J-1 students need to coordinate with the Responsible Officer from their program sponsor to receive their DS-2019 form, while F-1 students receive their I-20 from a Designated School Official.
Your I-20 or DS-2019 form each include important information for your degree, such as the program you plan to study, program start and end dates, your funding sponsors, and other personal information you provided while applying. The I-20 or DS-2019 forms are very important, as they are proof of your enrollment at a SEVP-certified institution.
When your I-20 or DS-2019 is issued, the same information is entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). SEVIS is an online SEVP database that stores and maintains information about international students. As part of the student visa application process, you need to pay a fee known as the I-901 SEVIS fee (covered later in this guide). To learn more about the SEVP and SEVIS, visit ICE.gov.
You can always reach out to your Shorelight advisor for more information about your I-20 form or general academic support.
What Is a Designated School Official?
A Designated School Official, also known as a DSO, is a dedicated representative from SEVP-certified institutions who is responsible for assisting international students with visa paperwork and processes. They act as a connection between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the university hosting international students.
Each university you apply to has its own DSO who helps you during the application process and during your time in the US. This includes providing information about the university, course details, and enrollment requirements to stay in compliance with your student visa requirements. DSOs are also responsible for recording and maintaining your information on SEVIS.
DSOs are a valuable point of contact when applying for your student visa as they can guide you through each step of the process. If there are special requirements from the institution, a DSO can help you understand how you can get the documents you need and direct you to resources to help you stay informed. They can also help you navigate aspects of your life in the US, including if you are able to work while you study, how to apply for a driver’s license and Social Security number, and answer questions about changing your major, traveling, moving residencies, and much more.
It is important to stay in contact with your DSO to ensure you comply with all visa rules and regulations. Remember to consult them if you have questions about your life in the US or are considering any personal and/or academic changes. You can also reach out to your Shorelight advisor to learn more about international student sponsorship in the USA, including how to sponsor a student visa and USA student visa financial requirements.
Financial Sponsorship for International Students
As part of the requirements for your student visa, you need to provide evidence of your ability to pay your university tuition and fees for at least 12 months. If your academic program is less than 12 months — for example, nine months — you only need to demonstrate funding to cover that nine-month period. This usually involves bank statements from your sponsor (or yourself, if you are paying for your program with your own money). Depending on the university, you may also need to provide a list of total assets. While you are not expected to pay for every year of your program immediately, it is important to prove you have sufficient funding without needing to rely on employment in the US during your studies.
The student visa you need determines the types of financial sponsors for students that are eligible to support your program. For F-1 student visa sponsorship for international students, you can use personal funds, assets, or property that can be converted into cash, or funds from other people (such as your friends and family) or organizations. For J-1 visas, you are only allowed to be sponsored by a nonprofit or educational sponsor not related to you.
Keep in mind if sponsorship for international students comes from family members, in addition to bank and asset statements, they also need to submit a Form I-134, which states their consent to fund your studies and living expenses. For funding from non-family members, individuals will have to submit a Form I-134, along with a written statement for why they are paying for your studies. Both forms are available at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Fees for Student Visa Sponsorship
When applying for your student visa, you or your sponsor need to pay certain fees during the process. Some sponsors may pay fees in advance, so be sure to check with your DSO about the most appropriate time to submit payments.
You will first have to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee, which is $350 (USD). This fee is charged for entering your information into SEVIS and can be paid online. Once you have paid the I-901 SEVIS fee, you will be given an electronic receipt — remember to keep this safe as you need it for your visa interview. You also have to pay fees for your visa after submitting your DS-160 form. This fee is $160 (USD) and once paid, you will receive a printed confirmation with a barcode. Save this form as well, as it is also required for the visa interview. To learn more about the visa interview, have a look at our F-1 student visa guide.
When considering your options for student visa sponsorship, remember that studying in the US can be expensive, so it is important to go with a source who is able to fully support your tuition. Your sponsor should also take into account your living expenses and costs related to your studies, such as additional books and tools such as calculators or software.