Visa Tips - Undergraduate

Now that you have been admitted to Canisius College, you are probably thinking about when and how to get your F-1 Student Visa. This web page will address general requirements and provide some tips for making the student visa application process a smooth one. We also recommend that you visit the State Department's Web site. It provides helpful information about obtaining a visa. 

The first thing to understand is that there are always exceptions and that the particulars will vary for each person.  It is extremely important to obtain accurate information, instructions and forms for the specific U.S. Consular post through which you will be applying for the student visa.  The U.S. Embassies and Consulates site has an official list of U.S. embassies and consulates in your country.

In general, most U.S. Consulates allow students to apply for the F-1 student visa no sooner than 90 days before the “start date” indicated on the I-20.  Canisius College’s International student arrival date and start of orientation for fall 2014 is August 16, 2014.  Some U.S. Consulates may have different application filing dates and deadlines; be sure to check directly with the U.S. Consulate through which you will apply for the F-1 visa.

There is no standard visa processing time; some consulates can review and issue an F-1 visa in as little as one week or less; some consulates may take as long as two months or more. We strongly recommend that you begin the student visa application process as soon as you can. May through August will be the busiest months for issuing student visas; allow enough time to learn about the requirements. Also allow time for interviews; you may be asked to come back a second or third time. Some U.S. Consulates may require a 30-day waiting period so that a background check can be conducted. Please do not wait until the last minute!

Most U.S. Consulates require that your passport be valid for at least six months after the date you plan to enter the U.S.  For example, if you plan to enter the U.S. on August 16, 2014, most U.S. Consulates will require that your passport is valid, at least, through February 25, 2015.  Even if the U.S. Consulate in your country does not have this requirement, it might be a good idea to make sure that your passport does meet this requirement – we don’t want you to encounter any problems when you attempt to enter the U.S.  If you arrive in the U.S. with a passport that is valid for less than six months, the immigration officer at the Port of Entry has the right to deny your admission to the U.S. and send you back home. Check your passport now – better to be safe than sorry.

There are very strict requirements for submitting your visa application form and documents at most U.S. Consulates. Some have a “drop box”; some require that you mail the application; some require that you use a visa service or authorized travel agent. Follow the instructions provided by the U.S. Consulate in your country.

Most U.S. Consulates do not accept letters or faxes sent to them directly from Canisius College.  We will not honor requests for letters of support sent on your behalf. The merits of your visa application will be determined by your own efforts and your own documents.

Some questions to consider:

What do visa officers look for when I apply for an F-1 student visa?
They must be sure that you have the ability and intention to be a full-time student in the program and school to which you have been accepted.

You will demonstrate this by presenting your Certificate of Visa Eligibility (the I-20 Form or the DS-2019 Form for J-1 visas) and your official university acceptance letter. The consulate may also require that you present documents showing scholastic preparation: academic transcripts (with above average grades), TOEFL score reports, and standardized test scores (SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.).  Sometimes the U.S. Consulate asks to see documents that the university did not require; this is their right. That is why it is always a good idea to take the typical standardized tests even if not required by Canisius College. They may also check to see if you are prepared, in their opinion, to successfully complete your studies for the major to which you have been admitted.  So if they doubt that you will succeed at Canisius College in the major/department you indicated, they can reject your visa application.

They must be sure that you have adequate financial resources to pay for all of your studies and living expenses while in the U.S. without needing to work while in the U.S.
You will demonstrate sufficient financial resources by showing the visa officer your financial documents.

If you’re receiving a scholarship and/or an assistantship, be sure that your award letter is printed on official university department letterhead paper.  If it’s not, contact your department immediately.  The visa officer will expect these letters to be printed on university letterhead.

If you’re documenting your own finances (from your personal funds, your family’s, or another sponsor’s), check with the U.S. Consulate in your country to see what forms of documentation they require. Some consulates require bank statements, past tax statements, company letters, employment contracts, etc. Others require evidence of funds for all years of study while some require evidence of funds for only one year.  You may also be asked to bring a bank draft for the amount listed on the I-20 form. Check with the U.S. Consulate to see what documents you need.  Then be absolutely sure that the documents are prepared and presented in exactly the manner required. For example, if they say “original only,” that means no copies, no certified copies, no notarized copies, etc.

Visa officers must be sure you intend to go to the U.S. only to study and that you have no intention of working. They must be sure that you do not intend to immigrate to the U.S.
This is the tough one! The U.S. Consular visa officers are required by law to presume visa applicants intend to immigrate to the U.S. and that they should, therefore, reject your visa application. The consular visa officers are supposed to issue the student visa only if they are persuaded beyond any doubt that you do not intend to immigrate. They must be 100 percent convinced you are coming to the U.S. only to study, that you will not work, and that you will return to your home country after completing your studies.

You will attempt to document your intentions of returning home by showing that you have “strong ties” to your home country and legitimate, self-serving reasons to return home after graduation.  “Strong ties” to your home country are things that bind you to your home town or homeland such as future job, family, financial prospects, property that you will inherit, investments, etc. You will need to explain how you will gain the education and talent to succeed in jobs that are in high demand in your country. You will need to show that you are a familial son or daughter and will feel obligated to return home after graduation. If the visa officer thinks that you may work or stay in the U.S. after graduation, your student visa may be rejected.

All U.S. Consulates may require a personal interview as part of the visa application process.
At my personal interview, what can I expect?
  • The interview will almost always be conducted in English. 
  • The interview will be very short (probably 2 – 3 minutes).
    Usually no other family members, friends or representatives can attend the interview with you. 
  • The visa officer will render his/her decision immediately after the interview is finished.
What does the visa officer expect from me?
  • Honesty. 
  • Short and direct answers; not a memorized speech. 
  • Good English proving that you have the necessary language skills to succeed in a competitive university in the U.S. 
  • Documents that are in proper order as specified in the consulate’s instructions.
What kinds of questions might I expect in an interview? 
  • What is/was your high school (secondary school) GPA (grade point average)? 
  • Graduate students: What is/was your university GPA? 
  • Did you apply to local universities?
    o If not, why not?
    o If yes, why aren’t you going to a local university?
  • How many U.S. schools did you apply to? 
  • How many U.S. schools accepted you? 
  • Why did you apply to Canisius? 
  • Did you do a lot of research about Canisius? 
  • What’s so good about Canisius? 
  • Why did you choose Canisius? 
  • Name five things about Canisius that made you decide to choose Canisius. 
  • Why didn’t you choose the other universities? 
  • Why did you choose Canisius over the other universities? 
  • What do you want to study? or What’s your major? 
  • Why are you choosing this major? 
  • What do you expect to get out of your education? 
  • What’s the job scope (job market) for this major? 
  • Do you intend to stay in the U.S. after graduation and work? 
  • Would you like to stay in the U.S. after graduation in order to work? 
  • Do you have any family in the U.S.? 
  • Do you have examples of any family that studied in the U.S. and then returned home (to your home country)? 
  • Does your family own any homes, businesses or property in the U.S.? 
  • Does your family have any funds (bank accounts, money markets, stocks, etc.) in the U.S.? 
  • How do you and your family intend to finance your education in the U.S.?
Don’t memorize your answers; rather prepare well and give short, direct answers.

You can see that most of these questions attempt to check and verify your academic intentions, how serious you are about your academic decisions, and your true intention of staying in the U.S. or returning home. Think about these questions carefully so that you can answer quickly and with confidence.

Final tips
  • Come to the interview well groomed and dressed neatly (but a suit or formal dress is not required).
  • Be prepared with all of the forms and documents as specified in the consulate’s instructions. 
  • Have all of your documents organized neatly and logically. If the visa officer asks for a specific academic document, test score or financial document, you should be able to pull it from your file/organizer quickly. If you have to hunt through a stack of papers, the visa officer will think you are disorganized and hence not serious about your academic future. 
  • Be prepared for quick, rapid-fire questions from the visa officer. 
  • Keep your answers short and direct. 
  • Practice your conversational English. Speak clearly (enunciate!) and with the appropriate volume. 
  • Do not argue. Maintain a positive attitude. Be friendly and courteous.