Applying for a Non-immigrant Visa to the United States: Ten Points to Remember

Courtesy of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Office of International Student Services
young men and women standing holding folders, smiling

1. Ties to your home country

Under U.S. law, all applicants for non-immigrant visas must convince the consular that they are not applying as intending immigrants. 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 United States. 

"Ties" to your home country are the personal affiliations that bind you to your hometown, homeland, or current place of residence, including: job, family, financial prospects that you own or will inherit, investments, etc.

If you are a prospective undergraduate, the interviewing officer may ask about your specific intentions 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.


2. English language

Anticipate that the interview will be conducted in English and not in your native language. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview. If you are coming to the United States solely to study intensive English, be prepared to explain how English will be useful for you in your home country and how it will be more beneficial for you to study English in the U.S., rather than in your home country.


3. Speak for yourself

Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family. A negative impression is created if you are not prepared to speak on your own behalf.


4. Know the academic program and how it fits into your career plans.

If you are not able to articulate the reasons you will study in a particular program in the United States, you may not succeed in convincing the consular officer that you are indeed planning to study, rather than to immigrate. You should also be able to explain how studying in the United States relates to your future professional career when you return home.


5. Be concise.

Because of the volume of the applications received, all consuls officers are under considerable time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make decisions, for the most part, on the impressions they form during the first minute or two of the interview. Therefore, what you say first and the initial impression you create are critical to your success. Keep your answers to officer's questions short and to the point.


6. Clear supplemental documentation

It should be clear at a glance to the consular officer what written documents you are presenting and what they signify. Lengthy written explanations cannot be quickly read or evaluated. Remember that you will have 2-3 minutes of interview time, if you're lucky.


7. Not all countries are equal

Applicants from countries with economic problems or from countries where many students have remained in the United States as immigrants will have more difficulty getting non-immigrant visas. Statistically, applicants from those countries are more likely to be intending immigrants. They are also more likely to be asked about job opportunities at home after their study in the United States.


8. Employment

Your main purpose for coming to United States must be to study--not for the chance to work before or after graduation. While many students do work off-campus during their studies, such employment is incidental to their main purpose of completing their U.S. education. You must be able to clearly articulate your plan to return home at the end of your program. If your spouse is also applying for an accompanying F-2 visa, be aware that F-2 dependents cannot, under any circumstances, be employed in the United States. If asked, be prepared to address what your spouse intends to do with his or her time while in the United States. Volunteer work and attending school part-time for recreational or a vocational purposes are permitted activities.


9. Dependants remaining at home

If your spouse and children will remain behind in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves during your absence. This can be a tricky area if you are the primary source of income for your family. If the consular officer gains the impression that your family members will need you to remit money from the United States in order to support them, your student visa application will almost certainly be denied. If your family does decide to join you at a later time, it is helpful to have them apply at the same post where you applied for your visa.


10. Maintain a positive attitude.

Do not engage the consular officer in an argument! If you're denied a student visa, ask the officer for a list of documents he or she would suggest you bring in order to overcome the refusal, and ask for the reason you were denied in writing.

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