Upon receipt of your Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) you will need to make an appointment with the American Consulate or Embassy having jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although you may apply at any U.S. Consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence.
You should apply for your visa well before the date you would like to depart for Cincinnati. Remember that you are required to show proof of having paid the Federal SEVIS Fee when you appear for your visa interview. The summer period is very busy at the U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, and it is important for you to have your visa so that you can arrive in time to begin your program. Appointments are now mandatory for all visas, and some U.S. embassies and consulates require that appointments be made at least four to eight weeks in advance. All U.S. embassies and consulates have a website where you can read the latest information on visa procedures. The U.S. Department of State's web site has pages where you can locate the embassy or consulate near you and find information about waiting times for visa appointments.
Before you apply for the visa, you should understand the process and the rules governing visas. Many visa applications fail. In some countries, most applications fail. Often it is because the applicant did not know the rules or was not prepared. We do not want this to happen to you. Please read what follows very carefully.
The consular officer will take a very legalistic view. In the U.S., it is considered important to be impersonal when administering laws. This is considered rude or improper in many countries, but not in the U.S., where the ideal is to apply laws equally to all, regardless of status or sex. Do not try to negotiate or discuss personal matters.
The most important rule may seem strange to you. The consular officer who makes the decision on your visa application is required to think of you as someone who plans to come to the U.S. permanently, and you must prove that you intend to return to your country after completing your program. U.S. law very clearly states that F and J visas may be given only to persons who intend to remain in the U.S. temporarily. This rule is the number one reason that visa applications are denied.
The other important rules are:
- You must have a definite academic or professional objective. You must know what you are going to study and where it will lead. Be ready to say what you want to study and what kind of career it will prepare you for in your home country. Be prepared to explain why it is better for you to study in the U.S. than at home.
- You must be qualified for the program.
- You must be definite about your choice of schools. If you do not seem certain that you want to study or work at the University of Cincinnati, you will not get a visa.
- You must be adequately financed and have documents to prove it. Except in the case when employment is specifically authorized on the Form-I-20 (i.e. graduate assistantship), you may not plan to use employment as a means of support while you are in the U.S.
U.S. government officials are convinced more easily by written documents than by spoken statements. When possible, have papers to show your connections to your home country. If your family owns property, take the deeds. If you have a brother or sister who studied in the U.S. and then returned home, take a copy of the brother’s or sister’s diploma and a statement from an employer showing that they have returned home. If possible, show that an individual or company in your home country will give you a job when you return. If you cannot get a promise of a job, try to get a letter saying that you will be considered for a job, or that the company needs people with the kind of education you are coming to the U.S. to receive. If your family owns a business, take letters from a bank, describing the business, to the visa interview with you. Do not emphasize any ties you may have to the United States or to family members in the United States. Your visa application is stronger and better if at least part of your financial support comes from your home country, even if most of it comes from the U.S.
Read your Form I-20 or DS-2019. Some of the rules you must obey are printed on page 2. Be aware of these rules - especially the requirement that you study full-time. Look at the date entered in item #3 for reporting to the school. You must apply for the visa in time to reach the school and check in with UC International services no later than 30 days after that date.
There is no time limit on how soon you can apply for the visa. The sooner you apply the better. Consular offices get extremely busy during the late summer months (July, August, September). However, you will not be allowed to enter the United States more than 30 days prior to the start date on your Certificate of Eligibility.